About two weeks ago I was standing at the bus stop when I noticed a young man getting off the bus across the street and then run towards me. He stopped in front of me and said, “Hey, I’m Justin.” I looked at him and just nodded and he said, “I’m 25, almost 26. How old are you?” I stifled a giggle. Did he really just say 25, almost 26? Don’t we all stop saying that when we’re 5 going on 6?
I responded, “Older than that.” He began to tell me about his love for ‘older’ women, and his 38 year-old ex girlfriend, then the bus arrived, we boarded and he sat in front of me and continued the one-sided conversation until the very next stop, where he got off while telling me how I could find him on Facebook. Apparently he’d boarded the bus for the sole purpose of speaking to me. I shook my head, laughed, and of course posted about the incident on Facebook. How could you not share a line like “I’m 25, almost 26” with your Facebook friends?
I laughed then, and I even laugh now, but I guess primarily because of the many, almost daily, incidents of men intruding in my space during my daily commute, that is mild and much more polite than the rest. Just weeks before, while walking towards the entrance of my neighborhood store, a man was walking towards me with two unleashed dogs. The dogs starting jumping on me and he apologized. Having a crazy, friendly dog myself I told him it was okay, that I understood and then, he replied with, “You’re beautiful.”
Weren’t we already speaking? Could he not continue a conversation? Did he really have to resort to that?
Uncomfortable, I nodded and entered the store. Five minutes later, almost out there door, I saw him standing outside with the dogs. I hesitated trying to figure out what to do. What could I do? I exited, he saw me and repeated the “You’re beautiful” comment as I nodded again and took the longer route home in an effort to get away.
And yet, as uncomfortable as I felt at that moment, it’s not even the worst incident. Most days I just put on my headphones and try not to hear it, but as I stand at a bus stop, and it becomes obvious that the cat calling is directed towards me because EVERYONE around me is looking at me, I feel like I am standing there naked, vulnerable, violated.
You would think that by now it wouldn’t bother me, after all, I grew up in the Chicago neighborhoods of Humboldt Park, Logan Square, and Wicker Park (before it was the Wicker Park of today) and walking the streets alone and ignoring cat calls was just one of the items on the daily ‘things to do today’ list. But it never gets easier, it never stops making you feel like you’re simply this a body made for the viewing pleasure of others, and it NEVER EVER feels like a compliment. EVER!!!
Months back, after a particularly embarrassing incident, I posed the question on Facebook: “Who is responding to cat calls and making men think that they produce positive results? A male friend I grew up with and respect made the comment, “if you thought he was cute you’d feel different.” No, I wouldn’t. Creepy is creepy, however handsome a face you put on it.
We’re living in a time when we women should have made much more progress than it seems we have. We grow up being told that we need to be independent and fierce, while we’re taught that we have to be careful and watchful, because it’s up to us–in monitoring how we dress, speak, where we walk, what we do—to keep men and their impulses at bay. Our very lives are lived with an undercurrent of fear. Fear of being physically, mentally, and emotionally violated. It’s a wonder we survive.
This week is Anti-Street Harassment Week (click the link to see how you can get involved). Did you know that? I didn’t. I happened upon an article a few minutes ago, and when I told my friends, they didn’t know either. Where is the press? Where is the awareness?
Anyway, comedian W. Kamau Bell took to the streets of NYC to ask men and women their thoughts on cat calling on his show, Totally Biased. While not enlightening, we women know and relate to what he heard, it was definitely funny, I guess.
Gentlemen, if you should feel the need to ‘compliment’ a woman on the street, first ask yourself, “Would I be okay with someone saying the same thing to my mother/sister/daughter?” Then proceed with caution