“hey baby damn you are so gorgeous why don’t you smile more sup beautiful such a pretty smile but really, so gorgeous mm hey what’s your name hey can I get your number hey can I take you out sometime hey lemme talk to you real quick hey it’s rude to ignore people when they’re talking to you hey you should thank him for holding that bus for you we just want to talk to you don’t be scared he doesn’t bite”
This is not the blog post I was going to write this week. I have a wordy and heavily sourced post challenging the prevailing myth of Chicago as warzone, and it’s still coming, don’t worry. But after running yet another gauntlet of catcalls while just trying to catch a bus home after a crappy day, I had to write down something.
For most of my adult life, I have been lucky to have a car as my primary mode of transportation. Since moving to Chicago however, I’ve relied pretty exclusively on public transportation and my own two feet. An unforeseen result of this is an exponential increase in being catcalled by (male) passersby. I began this post with just a sampling of the comments I’ve received while going about my day to day business; this list doesn’t account for honking from cars, whoops and wolf whistles, and men blatantly checking out myself or other women. This happens regardless of what I’m wearing, where I’m going, who I’m with, or any other factors that people like to say mitigate or cause catcalling. Even in the dead of winter, when I more closely resembled the kid from A Christmas Story while bundled up in my big jacket, men felt the need to let me know how they felt. Even with my best get back stare, even in a group, even during the day walking to or from work.
My gut reaction is outrage and indignation, along with a strong (and probably unsurprising) desire to tell off these guys – who do they think they are anyways?? This has translated into reactions on my part that range from dirty looks to expletive laced suggestions as to what they can do with their free time or hand gestures when they’re too far to yell. I’m stubborn and opinionated and rarely miss an opportunity to have the last word.
However. When you’re a young woman who’s 5’4, who sometimes struggles with opening doors that are too heavy, and who is often walking by herself, this is perhaps not the wisest knee-jerk reaction. There has yet to be a moment where I truly feel unsafe in these situations, but it’s uncomfortable, demeaning and frustrating to hear this perverted litany from men who see me as an object to be admired and commented on and not be able to respond, ideally with a sourced lesson in feminism and possibly a reproach to call their mothers.
I’ve been told it’s just the culture of cities, that it’s a compliment, that there’s nothing to be done. To all of that, I say bullshit. What is a factor of is men being socialized their whole life to believe that women owe them their attention and their body. And I’m not just the angry feminist yelling things into the void of the Internet here – check out some scholarly analysis of the phenomenon of catcalling and how it relates to gender privilege (x, x, x). It’s not “just a compliment,” it’s literally sexual harassment. If it’s so well-intentioned, why don’t men tell other men to smile? If it really is just a compliment, why do men honk and yell out their car window (and even follow you in their car, which is scary) at you? And anyways, what’s their best case scenario for this? I chase after them, hopelessly in love with this perfect stranger?
“Mom, how did you meet dad?”
“Well he yelled something rude at me from a passing car and we just took it from there.”
(PLEASE check out the #NoWomanEver hashtag on Twitter for about a million more snarky examples of how little women care for catcalling.)
I refuse to accept this as normal. I equally refuse to adjust my daily life to try to minimize the risk of this happening. As I mentioned previously in this post, it literally does not matter what I’m wearing, I will still be catcalled. I will however continue to challenge the patriarchal society we live in, and push back on casual misogyny. Finally, if you got through to the end of this post and were still unsure about when it’s okay to catcall someone, I have found this helpful graphic for you to consult.