On Friday I wrote about the first time I was catcalled as a way to introduce a series on street harassment. Each day this week I'll be featuring the words of some of my dearest friends as they detail their experiences with harassment, and it is my hope that in doing so, they take back some of the power that was stripped from them in these moments of verbal abuse.
Today I'm featuring the stories of Amy, Natalie, and Kate.
I remember the first time a guy yelled out his car at me. I was in junior high. I unfortunately lived through the era where short shorts were rising in popularity, and in an obvious attempt to look like everyone else, I squeezed my (not so) little 8th grade-self into these tiny new shorts. I remember feeling a little nervous about them, but also knew that they were what everyone else were wearing.
I donned my new shorts on my walk to the local blockbuster (those were the days) and there were a few boys in a car who yelled out something at me. I don't remember what they said, but I instantly thought, "Oh man, I guess my shorts ARE too short." In my very small understanding of the world in 8th grade, I figured no one would yell things at me from a moving car unless I somehow provoked them with my dress.
A few years, a few more inches on my shorts, and many more cat calls later, I learned that was certainly not the case.
The first time I remember being harassed on the street I was about 14 years old. I was walking to the farmers market with my best friend, and I was wearing a baggy shirt from Hot Topic and some cargo shorts of an unflattering length (puberty was an unfortunate-looking season for me). A truck slowed and the window rolled down to reveal 3 or 4 men, they whistled and shouted for a few seconds and then they were gone.
It was nothing earth-shattering, to be sure, and I would eventually come to realize that this was nothing out of the ordinary, but this first instance got me thinking. I wondered if it meant that I was “attractive” now.
It seemed to me that my friends never experienced the awkwardness in their quest for feminine beauty, it came naturally to them. I had recognized that boys noticed them, but that particular attention was lacking in my general area. Now that I had been “noticed,” I wondered if this was my initiation and maybe I had finally arrived.
It didn’t feel as good as I had hoped. In fact, it felt degrading and scary. I didn’t realize that along with this new found male attention came a certain kind of helplessness and potential danger. I didn't realize that men were now the authority on whether or not I was pretty.
I’m fairly certain that every girl has at least a small collection of cat-calls, honked horns, and offers out of car windows. And if I can lend my voice to the matter (which, thanks to my dear friend Sarah I can), I would say this: the attention is not flattering, it is not validating, it does not instill confidence. Street harassment is another reminder that my appearance is simply an invitation for men to assign me a number from 1 to 10 or to point out that they approve of certain parts of my anatomy. It’s another reminder that I am not in control.
I honestly can’t remember the first time I was yelled at on the street. And no one experience sticks out as being particularly offensive.
This, I’ve discovered, is because each of the four or five times that I can remember being “cat-called” was just as confusing as the others. Each time has made me feel just as small and inhuman as every other time.
Every single time some idiot has hollered in my direction like that, it has always taken me a few seconds to realize what has just happened.
Me? You’re yelling to me? But, I’m just walking. I’m going to get some pizza. I’m literally just a person, walking in search of pizza. And you’re “whooping” in my direction? How the hell did you ever think that was a good idea? It honestly makes no sense. Now you’ve made me angry, and you’ve distracted me from my quest for cheesy goodness. So now I’m hangry. And now I probably won’t even enjoy the pizza once I get it, because I’ll still be upset by the way you are perpetuating the completely unjustified objectification of women.
I’m literally a person, walking in search of pizza, and it makes me hangry when you shout things about my body from your ugly car. -Kate
Stay tuned for more stories tomorrow!