Two months ago, I moved to New York City from a much smaller town and I can honestly tell you, I’ve been catcalled or talked to by strangers in public more in the past two months than in my entire life.
When I’m walking down the street and a guy yells, “Hey mami, smile for me,” I’m grossed out, offended and, frankly, a bit terrified. When I’m at Jamba Juice and another customer comes up to me and says, “My friend thinks you’re beautiful, what are you doing this evening,” I feel trapped and dumbfounded for a polite way to say “fuck off” out of fear for my own safety (even though I’m at a Jamba Juice at 12:32 on a Tuesday).
Many men have called me dramatic for saying things like that, but I honestly get scared of getting raped or assaulted every time a male stranger talks to me, and I believe many women would agree.
I really had no clue why men catcall. Did they honestly think that a woman would drop whatever they were doing in their everyday life and have sex with them? Do they do it to bother women because they are sexually frustrated or to exercise their patriarchal foothold? Or do they do it to play out some sick Danielle Steele/Lifetime Original Movie Fantasy about how dating should work? While all three of these might be true, I’m gonna unpack the last idea.
I had a conversation with one of my male co-workers about this subject and he offered me some perspective, and while he wasn’t willing to hear my side of this, I learned a lot from him.
His logic regarding why many “normal” men (he specific “normal” as opposed to those crazy construction workers 'cause that’s “insensitive and rude”…um) catcall and talk to female strangers in public is that if they see a beautiful girl in the street, why not try to see if she likes you because, “you can’t hurt a person for trying.”
In a Nicholas Sparks universe full of strangers bumping into each other on the street after their dropped papers fly everywhere or their dog's leashes get mixed up and they lock eyes, this is sorta valid logic.
HOWEVER, that is the furthest thing from reality. As a woman on the subway, or in line at Starbucks, you can bet I’m not looking for a man. I’m tired, I need coffee, or I’m just trying to get from point A to point B. And while my coworker's logic is all fine and dandy, it’s forgetting one huge element: the woman involved.
When I told him, “but what if women aren’t looking for a man, and they are just trying to get from point A to point B,” he said “but how do you know if you don’t try?” As I pondered this I remembered a vital part of human nature that he seemed to forget: BODY LANGUAGE.
When I’m walking down the street with my headphones in, I do not want anyone to talk to me. I don’t want to be hollered at, or asked out on a date by a tourist’s wingman. I’ve got my bitch face on, my brow is furrowed, and all I want is a shower, a PBR tallboy and a Matilda-sized slice of chocolate cake. These are all signals that I’m not interested in a casual conversation.
When I’m at the club with my freakum’ dress on, with my hair blown out, my lip gloss poppin and I’m making sparkly eyes at you, that is the green light to talk to me. I’m physically giving you the go-ahead to approach me, because I’m ready to meet people, and potentially make out with someone, and assuming you’re not a tool, that person might be you (with consent of course).
When I reminded my coworker of body language he said, “what if they fake body language,” and then I quickly gave up because he was being difficult, proud and the conversation was going nowhere.
I had a recent experience that reminded me a lot of my co-worker's logic when it came to women. I walk into Starbucks on my lunch break and right in front of me is Parks and Recreation actor Aziz Ansari. I immediately hung up the phone and just stared at him, bewildered. He clearly noticed that I was staring and looked away. I so badly wanted to make a joke, or say hello but, with a little help from his body language, I could tell he didn't want to chat. I could've bothered him and, who knows, we could've become great friends and driven off into the sunset with grande frappucinos in hand.
However, in reality, he probably would've been hella irritated and forced some enthusiasm. So instead, I respected his distance and didn't say hi. I didn't even take a spy picture, because guess what? I'm not entitled to anything from him.
At the end of the day, some men will make up excuse after excuse, but ultimately it comes down to the fact that they will never understand the fear women have when walking down the street. They will never understand why we feel it’s necessary to carry pepper spray, and they will continue to feel entitled, to conversation, to sex, etc. Or worse they find harassing women funny… *sigh*. So reject the patriarchy boys, and prove to us that we have no reason to be afraid anymore.