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My Feelings on Catcalling

November 30th, 2018     by R. Mahal     Comments

Photo by gato-gato-gato (Flickr)

Catcalling. Women all around the world have dealt with catcalling for as long as we can remember. Before we even knew what objectifying was, it was happening to us. Doing the simplest of things, like walking in the mall, or going to the movie theatre with some friends, we would hear whistling or degrading comments. It is a reality for a number of people, of all colours, religions, shapes, sizes, sexual orientations, etc., and not a reality that any of us appreciate.

The first time I was catcalled I was just 12 years old and on my way to a friend’s birthday party. I got dressed up, did my hair as nice as I possibly could at that age, and even put on a little makeup with my mothers help. My friend’s house was so close, and it was such a nice day out, so I told my parents I would walk there. I had always loved taking walks. I loved being able to walk silently and just think, so that’s exactly what I was doing. As I reached the end of my street, about to turn the corner, I heard a car honk twice. I looked back quickly, seeing there were no other cars, no other people, just a man sitting in a car smiling at me. I turned around and started to walk quicker, now feeling uncomfortable. As I continued walking, I came across a group of high school boys sitting in their driveway. My stomach did the same thing it had when I saw the other man in the car. I started walking faster, and had almost made it past the driveway when one called out, telling me I looked pretty, asking me to slow down and come back. At 12 years old, I did what I was told, not understanding that I didn’t have to. They told me to “come hang out with them for a while”. At this point, I knew I wanted to be out of this situation as quick as I possibly could, so I ran back the direction I came from.

I ran home, scared and feeling sick to my stomach. By the time I got home I was crying, and I explained to my mom through tears what had happened. I told her I did not want to go to the party anymore, so she washed my makeup off and she tucked me in to my bed, allowing me to nap for the first time in years.

As I lay in bed, I remember feeling more confused than anything else. I knew that what had happened made me feel scared and upset, but I didn’t know what exactly had happened. No one explained to me what those men did to me. No one explained that it was not my fault in any way, or that it actually happened to many women. At 12 years old I was left to deal with this on my own.

Catcalling may not seem to be a serious issue at first glance, and it may seem like something that can be brushed off and forgotten about. But to a young female, it can stay with you. It makes you feel uncomfortable, violated. And when not properly explained, it can seriously play with your self esteem. It makes you want to hide, cover up, and stay as silent as possible. It gives the impression that as a woman, you should be quiet and get through the day as quickly as possible so you can avoid those comments that make you feel so uncomfortable. Countless men have told me to get over it, or take their disgusting comments as a compliment. The key word in that sentence is “men”. The men tell me this because it doesn’t happen to them. They don’t understand the fear that comes along with having strangers talk about your body, or make comments and judgements about you. In today’s day and age, women are preprogrammed from grade school to be wary of what they are doing, how they are dressing, where they are. Instead of teaching our boys not to degrade women, we teach our women to avoid the degradation. As if that behaviour is unable to be stopped. We are taught that these things will always continue to happen, so we must learn how to deal with it. This of course is not all men. Men can very much be allies and supporters of the people experiencing street harassment, just as much as women or anyone else. By men, and essentially everyone, acknowledging these very real issues, we can all take a step forward in dramatically decreasing the rates of catcalling in our society.

In our society, catcalling has become a norm that women simply have to deal with. It has become something that young women will experience eventually, and learn to ignore, because we are told that “complaining” won’t accomplish anything. This mentality teaches women that they have to either change themselves or silence themselves, because there is no other option. Instead of these two very patriarchal and outdated options, let’s create the option of teaching our boys not to degrade our girls, and teaching our girls how to stand up to this degradation.

Further Readings:

- Canadian Women’s Foundation: Street Harassment Isn’t a Compliment - Draw The Line [Ontario] - Government of Canada, Report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women: “Taking Action to End Violence Against Young Women and Girls in Canada” (Report: March 2017) - MacLean’s: “What men can do to help eliminate street harassment” - IHOLLABACK - Stop Street Harassment [USA] - #YouOkSis

Tags: art, body politics, violence

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