I was driving to work alone in my Smart Car, casually rocking out to Demi Lovato on the radio. I had only been driving for about five minutes when I noticed some movement out my left window when I was waiting at a stoplight. Against my better judgment as a woman driving alone in a car at night, I made the mistake of looking to see what it was.
It was two men, one driving the beat-up muscle car while the other hung out off his window making obscene gestures at me. You know, the usual.
I turned away and cranked my music, thinking that I could ignore them until we went on separate paths. This is usually a tactic that works for me, as I try to avoid flipping aggressive men off unless it’s a last resort.
Usually this tactic works. But this time, they followed me.
Now, let me be clear: I don’t know if they were purposely following me with the intent of scaring me. Maybe we just happened to be going the same direction and they targeted me; I have no idea. But I drove for 15 minutes with them pursuing my exact path, occasionally catching up to me and matching my pace while making gestures from their car. Fifteen minutes of being irritated, upset, and afraid. Fifteen minutes of trying to decide if I should keep going to work or change my route so they couldn’t find out where I was going. Fifteen minutes of going through all of the escape-from-vehicular-stalker tactics that they taught young women in driver’s ed. Fifteen minutes of wondering what would happen if they followed me until I got out of my car.
I was finally infuriated by the fact that I was being made to feel so afraid, stepped on the gas, swerved until I was six cars ahead of the men in question, and took a sharp left turn that they didn’t follow. I was safe.
This is not the first time that I have found myself in this situation. Two men in a muscle car, one man in a pickup truck, five men in an SUV … the list goes on. It has been a phenomenon that I never understood the purpose of. What did they think: if they followed me long enough, I would stop and they could ask me out? If they told me that they could “show me a good time”, I would leap at the chance? If they called me ‘sexy’ out the open window of their car, I would take my clothes off and let all five of them have their way with me?
No, I don’t think so. I have never once felt any sort of primal sexual urge after someone has objectified me in a public place, whether I was walking on a sidewalk, in a club, or in a car.
So what, then, is the purpose of hanging out a car window, catcalling at a woman driving or walking alone, making gestures to imply oral sex, blowing kisses, calling her “baby,” and asking if she wants to be shown a “good time?”
I was perusing my Tumblr dashboard and came across a male user asking why women hate catcalling. “The men who cat call aren’t trying to degrade you, they are simply appreciating your looks,” he said, and it saddens me to think that this guy was asking this question because he genuinely did not understand. Tumblr user fandomsandfeminism answered his ridiculous, however well-intended, question with all of the frustration at being forced to fear that every woman feels. “Why, in a culture that tells women that if they let their guard down around strange men that they will be raped and it will be their fault if they are, would women not appreciate strange men commenting on their bodies in a public place, often while walking alone?”
According to a staff contributor at the website All4Women (yes, it’s a webzine directed at women), ladies should be flattered that they are being catcalled at. Apparently men are just looking to feel validated, and “most of the time, the cat calls are harmless, while they might feel demeaning.” Women only have a “right to complain” if the men yelling inappropriate comments at them as they walk alone down the street “if…[they] feel like [they're] being harassed.” I couldn’t make this up: it’s a real article.
So it is up to women to validate men by allowing ourselves to be objectified and harassed. Of course, if women are groped, it’s because our clothing was too revealing or our bodies were just too sexually attractive. If women are raped, it’s because we were walking along “asking for it.” And why should men know any better? Catcalling is apparently allowed because “boys will be boys.” Besides, society tells them that it’s the woman’s fault: she victimized herself by being sexually attractive to her assailant.
I know that I am preaching to the feminist choir here, but catcalling is never OK. It’s never cute, it’s never flattering, it’s never funny, it isn’t something that women should have to “expect” because they are women. I was afraid of them: men who may or may not have been following me purposely because they didn’t not stop when I expressed my disinterest. They didn’t care that I was uncomfortable. They didn’t care that miming oral sex out a car window at a woman driving alone was a rude, insensitive, and vulgar thing to do.
I was afraid, and I hate that. I’m so tired of being afraid.
I would love to go out of my house alone and not fear being hooted and hollered at from a car. I would love for my roommate to go to yoga on a hot day in shorts without six separate incidents of the same ilk in the span of three blocks. I would love to be able to drive to work without having to look straight ahead and avoid eye contact with people who think that insinuating oral sex at me is a perfectly reasonable action. Just once, I would love to be a woman and not have to be afraid.
Or maybe that’s just me.
Image courtesy of Jupiter Images