Chapter Tease: Say NO to Catcalls
This morning, as I was walking to the little coffee shop down the street where they serve the amazing jacket potatoes and have the brown leather couches that I love sinking into for a full day of writing, I was sexually harassed.
There's only two blocks between my flat and the coffee shop, but sometimes two blocks, and two blokes with bad manners is all it takes. And it's not as if I were even wearing anything revealing—baggy boyfriend jeans and a sweater—to provoke such harassment (and even if I had been wearing shorts or a skirt, or say something that showed my legs, I don't think a woman's choice of clothing should ever condone harassment).
"that ass, girl," said bloke number one, as I passed the duo on the sidewalk.
And even when I showed no reaction or acknowledgement of his inappropriate comment, he proceeded to make smooching, kissy noises loud enough to be heard from the 6 paces I was ahead of him.
"keep walking, baby," hollered bloke number two. And I did just that. I kept walking, disgusted by the echo of the lip-smacking I could still hear in my head.
You might be reading this and think I'm being a little melodramatic.
It's not such a big deal, you might think.
You've likely been in a similar situation yourself.
Lighten up, you might think.
And in fact, it wasn't long ago that I likely would have been flattered by such vulgarity. But in the subsequent exploration of what it means to be a female, and what it means to be a feminist (I'm still figuring this one out), in writing littlefoolbook, I'm also learning what it means to respect myself, and how to find my self-worth from the inside out, instead of the other way around.
An excerpt from littlefoolbook:
Every parent (both of yours, I’m sure) has their own rendition of the same story:
They’ll start by telling you just how freaking cute you were as a baby (even though you’ve seen the pictures, and you look a bit jaundiced and what’s that crusty stuff on your cheek?) They’ll tell you how when you were born, you were literally the most perfect thing they had ever seen in their whole entire world (as if something changed, right?!). And if you’re parents are so bold and proud as mine, they might have even told you how people used to, no joke, actually stop them on the street—when they were pushing you in your carriage, or had you bundled to their chest, or were just casually carrying you around like the little bundle of joy you were—and ask to see you, to pet your little baldish head (as if you were some kind of animal, but cuter), and what would follow is a symphony of “oohs” and “ahs” and gushing and gawking.
And then, after they’ve told you all that; after they’ve told you how your big baby eyes and toothless smile used to stop people dead in their tracks, they’ll make this big, unproven and grandiose statement, like, “Honestly, you were the most beautiful baby in the world.” And for a little while, you’ll feel all important and blushy from the compliment…until you realize, when they’re telling you this wildly exaggerated version of events and boasting of your perfection, they are really just complimenting themselves. Because they made you, after all.
My parents told me this story.
Despite the fact that they are now 15 years divorced and can’t agree on much, they both still agree on each of their matching and fully corroborated versions of this story. And as a child of divorce, that’s gotta mean something.
“It’s your eyes,” my dad would say. “They were so big and bright and always wandering, and you have your mom’s long lashes.” (A fact I’ve been forever thankful of my mother for.)
“And those little Barbie lips,” he would say, referring to the same slim lips with the deep angled cupids bow that he passed on to me (though, you can’t see his “Barbie lips” unless you ask him [very nicely] to lift up his expertly grown moustache).
And so I grew up, believing I was a child of great beauty (this might also have been the root of my illogical longing to be a supermodel as referenced in chapter 5 of littlefoolbook). But the problem with growing up with this mentality, was that I never felt beautiful enough.
Catcalls and compliments became like a sort of currency to me. With each one I collected—whether fished or unwarranted—I felt a little rush, a blush of flattery, a sense of importance. With every hoot, holler or whistle, society tells me that I should have felt violated, harassed, disgusted; and while I did feel a little nervous or off-put at times (like when the man grabbed me by the wrist in broad daylight on Abbott Street to tell me I had beautiful eyes), I mostly felt pretty, sexy, and lauded.
While crude comments like, “…Oh the things I’d do to you,” and “I’ve got something you can ride,” (yes, a complete stranger of a man actually said this to me) paired with smacking sounds and licked lips revolted me on the outside, on the inside I was adding it to my own personal scoreboard. On the inside, I was tallying up my self worth.
What I didn’t realize at the time (what, in fact would take me a very long time to realize), is that with every hoot, holler or whistle that I so proudly collected, and catalogued in my memory bank—storing for when a moment of low self-esteem would strike—I was only increasing my own self-objectification. My whole living, breathing, thinking, capable and talented being was being disassembled into just body parts.
We are more than body parts.
As Shannon Deep writes for The Huffington Post, "When men catcall, they essentially foist their sexual desire onto women who have done nothing to solicit it except go about their daily lives. In a country where 1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime, where slut shaming and victim blaming run rampant during rape trials, and where spousal rape has only been illegal for 38 years, street harassment becomes a less acute, but just as pervasive extension of toxic cultural attitudes about women and about sexuality. Normalizing or even encouraging "compliments" from street harassers broadcasts the message, reinforced at seemingly every turn, that men are entitled in both small and large ways to express verbally and physically their sexual desires for women who have not consented to being a part of them."
While it's one thing to be stopped on the street when you were a little baby bundle in your mother's arms, it's another thing entirely to be stopped in the street and objectified, smooched at, or sexualized for simply existing. It's time we all—men included—say NO to catcalls.
Have a thought, comment or opinion on the subject matter? Have a similar story or experience? Share in the comment section below :)