Let me tell you a little story. Last week I made a coffee run from the office, grabbing some for myself and several of my co-workers. It was a warmer day but not hot, I was wearing a long-sleeved collard shirt and long black frumpy pants. Bustling across the street, balancing four coffees in my hands and feeling good because it was Friday, I hear the sound of lips smacking and “mmmm” coming from a car parked at a red light. A man was hanging out the passenger side of his best friend’s ride, trying to holler at me.
After feeling violated and angry about what happened on the street, I did what any modern young internet addict would do: I turned to Twitter. My tweet was met with an outpouring of support but there were a few that echoed the “but why are you angry, you should be flattered!” sentiment.
If you hang out of your car & smack your lips like I’m pizza as I walk by, I have to wonder: have you ever met a real live woman before?
— Laura Anderson (@msLauraAnderson) April 19, 2013
It’s difficult to describe what it feels like to be cat called if it has never happened to you. You feel sick and exposed. You feel violated, worthless, and degraded. You feel as though your intellect and your personality have been entirely squished, flattened and run over by a truck. All of the accomplishments you’ve made in life – in school, at work, in relationships – they don’t matter. You are not a human.
If when you walk by a group of teenage boys or the classic group of construction workers and “please don’t say anything, please don’t say anything” runs through your mind, you’ve experienced one cat call too many (quite literally, one cat call is too many). It begins to creep into your life to the point where good, genuine compliments from trustworthy people can feel cheap.
So what do we do after an incident or two? We carry on. We let it slide off our backs. We ignore it. Do you know why many of us ignore it? This is the part that many cat callers that just say “har har har, it’s just a compliment” need to understand: We are likely alone at that moment and you are a strange man. See the problem? If we acknowledge it or (god forbid) verbally retaliate, there is a voice that has been pounded into us that there is a chance this man could hurt us. We ignore it.
As girls we are taught over and over to not go out at night alone, to have a buddy at all times and to not go into that part of town. How can anyone expect a woman out alone any where – day or night – to not be on guard, especially when a stranger begins saying things as a “compliment.” I cannot claim to know what goes on inside a street harassers mind, but I’m willing to bet they do not see themselves as threatening or they “do not look creepy” so that must make what they are doing alright. I have news for you: if you have ever made a comment to a stranger about her appearance thinking it was flattery, you have made another person feel threatened, not flattered. Do not let polite smiles fool you.