My friends just left the bar for the next and I hadn’t closed my tab… so I was about 5 minutes behind them, heading out solo. Its cold. Its dark. I pause just outside the door to look at my phone and I can feel the looks and smiles being directed at from the cigarette-smoking guys just outside the club. It feels kind of flirty but also makes me feel uneasy, I’m not looking for a guy tonight (or ever, really) I start up the sidewalk to the next destination that was just texted to me by my drunk boyfriend-clad friends. I’m away from the loud club in a quiet stretch of darkened windows and closed businesses and… alleys.
“Hey Sexy!” this phrase is shouted at me, and I am suddenly very aware of what I’m wearing. Wondering if it is really me this man is shouting at. I’m feeling naked now in my not-too-short sequined skirt with black tights and ankle boots. My hair is curled. My hands are deep in the pockets of my Pea coat, and I’m looking straight ahead trying not to make eye contact with this group of men standing against the outside wall of a sketchy little downtown drinking establishment.
“Hey SEXY! I’m talking to you!” I pick up my pace a bit and become frightfully aware that this is noticeable by the sound of my heels against the cobblestone. My heart feels like it is now keeping time with my quickened walking pace. I’ve noted now, that I’m afraid.
“SEXY! Why won’t you at least come talk to me? COME ON, SEXY!?” He’s yelling, offended now, and leans out from his wall in disbelief that I’m not acknowledging him. I ignore him with every fiber of my being. His bros are laughing and whistling. I am now walking passed these men and I am nearing the safety zone of a well lit establishment with a bouncer and other people who would hopefully defend me if these guys decided to do anything.
“Whatever, fucking BITCH…Go home and just be a lonely cunt forever!”
That is the last thing I hear before locking eyes with a couple walking towards me, I’m desperate to be engaged with anyone other than those men shouting at me, but they show no interest in my existence. I’m alone, on the street, and I feel like I have been undressed, degraded, and personally singled out and attacked… for being a woman? Wearing a skirt? Walking alone? I feel guilty, and angry, and confused.
This weekend was the first time that has ever happened to me in IRL. I have had the misfortune of being completely degraded and harassed on dating website message services, but never in person. I have heard the stories of friends and other people living in bigger more diverse cities, and on other people’s blogs and articles, so I thought I would be intrigued when this finally happened, I thought it would be interesting, maybe I might even like it… I never knew that this is how it would feel to be “cat-called”. This weekend was an interesting learning experience. When it happened, it was not welcomed. It was not a compliment. It was not friendly. Even now, just typing this, I feel the heat creeping up my neck to my cheeks. I’m so angry that I feel helpless and victimized. In that moment I wanted to turn around and yell something like “Does your mother know you talk to women like that!? Do you ever get girls like that!? Is your dick really that small!?” But I didn’t. I didn’t, because I was afraid, afraid that I would get harassed further, that he and his bros might threaten me or hurt me, or worse… rape me.
I was afraid of being raped.
When I got to the next bar I casually told my friends what had just happened, someone replied “Well that’s what you get for walking alone.” (That’s what I get for… existing?) Later that weekend, someone else I told immediately inquired about what I was wearing. I described my classy winter going-out style and got: “Well, yeah! What did you think would happen!?” (So I shouldn’t wear skirts or exist?) Only ONE of my friends immediately replied with disgust saying, “Wow, what a bunch of douchebags, I’m glad you’re ok, that must have been scary.” (THANK YOU!)
No one wanted to really talk further about this, it was uncomfortable for them, some of them admitting that they actually wished that it would happen to them, because it would be nice to be “noticed.” Some of them (men) didn’t seem to care that this happened at all and just said “Huh, weird.” Yeah, REALLY WEIRD, and by weird, I mean unacceptable, disgusting, degrading, and perverted.
Why are people not appalled by this? Do I really live in a world where a person (woman) can’t walk down the street alone without expecting to be harassed? Do I live in a world where people shame others for being surprised that this happened, and try to make them feel guilty and somehow responsible for their own harassment because they chose to wear a skirt in public? Is it really accepted that being called “sexy” (or mami, baby, big-tits etc) as a “greeting” by strangers is OK and should be welcomed as a compliment? Should I be obligated to stop and talk to every sexually-driven male who calls out to me in the street? Do I deserve to be called a lonely cunt when I don’t reciprocate?
- NO. NO.
But no one thinks twice about this usually because “it’s just the way it is.”
Because we live in a society where women are told their whole lives:
“Dress modestly so you don’t draw unwanted attention.”
“Don’t walk alone at night.”
“Just ignore them, and don’t provoke them.”
“Don’t get raped.”
Men live in a society where they aren’t told to do anything… they hear what women are told and they assume:
“If a woman is showing her legs or shoulders, ‘she is asking for it’.”
“If a girl is walking alone, she is a weak target.”
“A woman knows better than to say anything or fight back to a man.”
“Women are responsible for not getting raped.”
Am I mad at men?
It’s not anyone’s fault. But it is EVERYONE’s problem… and it is a problem which is part of a very large crazy-scarier problem: Women are still oppressed. We are still the “lesser sex”. We are still viewed as objects existing in a Man’s world.
You’re thinking…. “No, that’s bullshit, women get to vote, and work, and wear whatever they want! They get to hold public office, and are allowed to do everything men can do!! You’re just a crazy whining feminist on her period.” It’s ok, I’m used to that response, no offense taken, you’re not there yet and its ok, you can’t change your mind overnight.
But here is what I have to say: Women shouldn’t have to “get” to do anything or be “allowed” to do anything. We just are, We just do. We are people and no one should be in charge of what we “get” to do.
See? It is subtle, it is ingrained, it is taught and it is perpetuated DAILY and goes unnoticed by people who don’t realize they are oppressing or being oppressed. No need to be defensive, or guilty, or angry that you’re being “called out” because everyone does it. I do it. But does that mean its OK? NO.
Can we all try and see it and fix it and change it? YES.
An hour after this incident, I decided to walk a few blocks (by myself) to meet my brother at another place. I was feeling confident that this stretch of city was a little safer than the last, so off I went. A block from my destination, I saw a man coming towards me. His stance seemed confident and he was tall and strong-looking, and I began to feel the fight or flight mechanism gearing up. I replayed the earlier events and words in my head and I felt a sudden urge to run across the street so as to avoid him and any possible harassment he may offer. Was this how I was always going to feel from now on when encountering men alone? Should I?
Now only feet away, my heart was racing, I’m feeling afraid and regretting not taking a cab. I look up trying to stare right through him as if he does not exist.
“Ma’am, be careful up that way, it’s really icy…have a good night.” He says, never slowing down, with a polite nod and genuine smile.
“Thank you… you too.”