I just came across this Huffington Post article on Facebook with tweets by women recalling the first time they were catcalled. As expected, it made me so angry. The article itself isn’t what pissed me off but the overall reactions women get when we insist on talking about this. I’ve heard so many times “you’re exaggerating!” or “learn how to take a compliment!”. But when you’re just six years old (SIX FREAKING YEARS OLD) and a grown man whistles at you from a car, or when you’re just starting to learn about the insane changes going on with your body and some STRANGER thinks it’s OK to touch you, IT IS MOST CERTAINLY NOT OK!
I personally can’t even remember the first time I was catcalled. Living in Brooklyn, I’ve got numerous stories of varying levels of grossness, and they go back YEARS! I still haven’t quite figured out how exactly to respond. But what struck me was that one of the women from the article said that when it happened to her, the adults around did nothing to correct the behavior.
I remember literally being groped in the hallway in middle school during period changes. My friends and I were walking to class and a group of boys circled us and started shouting, whisting, and grabbing at our butts and breasts. There were a number of teachers milling about, but NOT ONE said a word. I recall making eye contact with one. He didn’t do anything. It wasn’t the first time I was made to feel self conscious about my body, but it was one of the first times I felt completely unsafe in school. It was also one of the first times I lost all trust in adults. Your parents always teach you that if you have a problem and you can’t come to them, talk to a “trusted adult”. Usually teachers fall into that category. That day, my teachers fell short!
A major part of the problem is that kids are often taught that girls’ bodies are at the same time something to be afraid of and something that is literally up for grabs, and that boys will just be boys. A lot of times girls learn that their body is never really their own, and boys learn that since they can’t help but be distracted by girls’ bodies, they are then entitled to it. This helps to create a culture where girls and women are incredibly self-conscious. It also creates a culture where even the simple acts of getting dressed and leaving the house are almost immediately assumed to have been done for the benefit or approval of some guy. And when we decide not to live in these little show-boxes, we’re either punished or shamed for being distracting or prudish. When we decide who or what to give our time and attention to, we run the risk of dealing with sometimes fatal consequences.
When things like catcalling start before a girl even loses all of her damn baby teeth, it can really affect her relationship with herself and the other half of the world: boys and men. We need to teach boys and men that it’s not funny, it’s not complimentary, and it’s NOT OK. And it’s really not that hard! Sure, it’s nice when someone thinks you’re pretty or your outfit is flattering, but if you wouldn’t want someone saying or doing those things to your mom or sister or, down the line, your daughter, then don’t say or do those things to girls and women you see on the street. Men are not animals, so let’s not excuse their behavior as such. And women are not meat, so let’s actually listen and do better NOW!