I believe I was 12 years old. It was at the mall with a group of 3 guy friends, waiting in line to go to the movie theater. A few college guys filed into the line behind us, and one of them caught my attention. His eyes made their way to my breasts, and he turned to a friend to comment on them.
Then the comments made their way to me. I didn't know how to react. I was too young to understand how offensive and disgusting his comments were. Instead, they were almost flattering. I had never been noticed like that before, and it took me off guard. But my friends snapped me out of the moment when, instead of coming to my rescue, they laughed. They not only laughed, but started agreeing. They started to make comments of their own, which are still hard to think about to this day. These were my best friends. They weren't supposed to look at me like that. They weren't supposed to talk about my body, my sexuality, or anything of the sort. But they took the opportunity and ran with it.
From that point on, my sexuality seemed to be fair game to them. It was as if they had realized it was okay to objectify me, and once the floodgates were opened they could never be shut. I started to think that maybe I was overreacting. Maybe this is just how guys and girls are supposed to interact. After all, they talked about other girls that way. Why wouldn't they talk about me like that?
Looking back, I hate that I didn't stand up to them. I hate that I let them objectify me. I allowed them to talk about other girls that way, which made it okay to talk about me. I didn't understand the significance of their comments and their attitude, but I would give anything to go back to that moment and stop them. I no longer felt like their best friend, but just an object for them to pursue.
I thought that I had to laugh along with them in order to maintain my relationship with them. But I didn't have to do that. Nobody has to do that. But because I was never taught this, I settled for objectification. I settled for less than I deserved.
"It's a compliment" was what I was trained to think ever since I was catcalled at a young age. "You're beautiful, that's why they do it." While I believe my family and friends' hearts were in the right place, this negative thinking affected me for many years. At one point in my life I had the dangerous thought that because men aren't shouting sexual things at me at this moment, am I not attractive? I had been conditioned to find my self worth in the animalistic sounds creepy, pervy guys made when I walked past them.
Thankfully I've learned that catcalling is dehumanizing. It's shouldn't be taken as compliment. When a man is shouting things about my breasts or dress length and not expecting a response, he has to see me as less than human in order to justify such an action. Though many people don't see catcalling as a serious issue, men yelling at me affected the way I saw myself and the world in general. I wish that I could go back and tell myself to find my worth not in things men shouted at me, but as a beloved daughter of the King.
I was always familiar with street harassment. I knew it would happen to me. But I was under the impression that I was still viewed as a child and wasn’t at the point in my life when men would judge me for my body. I just didn’t think I was considered a woman yet. I was still in girlhood, adolescence, I still should have been considered off limits.
And then I heard him. My head shot down towards the sidewalk and I refused to look him in the eye. His truck rode past me and shame filled my body. Sure I was afraid, but my initial reaction was shame. And in that moment I knew that I wasn’t safe anymore. No one considered me a child. I was fair game for their whistles and words. I felt a loss of my innocence. I was a woman and this was my right of passage.
I am a believer in Jesus and know that I am loved. I am a feminist and I know that women are strong and valuable. Women are strong and their stories are powerful. I know now, more than when I was first catcalled, that the men around me, these men I consider my brothers in Christ, need to hear my stories. They must hear of the shame and that filled my body. They must know that experience.
They also need to know the power of their treating women with respect and what a testimony it is to the love of our God. So many women are hurting because of these experiences and redemption will come when we learn to listen and men learn to see the power of their actions or inaction. Redemption is still possible. We can learn to undo shame and replace fear with confidence that we are deeply loved. But we have to start talking.