When I was 12 years old, my cheerleading coach decided that our gym wasn’t an adequate space to work out in, leading him to bring us on a run on the side of the road in rural Georgia. So, 20 girls, ages 11 through 16, ran to the closest gas station and back, and in turn received many whistles and shouts from men passing by in trucks. We were never allowed to do that again.
That was the first time a man catcalled me, and it certainly wasn’t the last. It seems, as I get older and live in new places, these events happen more frequently and are more vulgar. And every time I’m left feeling dirty and just want to wear baggy clothing and climb into a hole.
For example, last week I was walking to class here in Boston, when a man walked towards me on the sidewalk. As we approached each other, he expressed his interest in me by shouting “Oh, damn” and then began to get more descriptive of what parts of me he approved of. I proceeded to block him out and look down as we passed. My hair was in a ponytail and I was wearing a large winter coat and snow boots. But it shouldn’t even matter what clothes I was wearing. What should matter is the fact that he felt he had the right to say these things.
Some people tell me to “just take it as a compliment,” and I did try to do this one of the first times it happened to me. I was 16 and home alone. I had ordered a pizza, and as I closed the door after taking the pizza from the pizza guy, he decided a catcall would be the best thing to do. And I tried to think, “He just thinks you’re pretty, that’s nice of him.” But the thought “I’m alone, he could’ve just walked in here and there would have been nothing I could’ve done to stop him” kept crossing my mind. And it still does.
Why is it that I don’t feel safe just ordering a pizza anymore? Why is it that I want to take the short walk to class with someone else? Why is it that I hesitate from taking a run in the park in front of the building where I live? Why do I have to live this way? Why is it my responsibility to avoid these situations, instead of the people causing them to recognize that having boobs is not my body giving them permission to express their opinion?
But I guess that’s too much to ask. It’s too much of a hassle for them to control themselves for the 30 seconds I’m in their vision.