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Originally here: http://chickensoupforthedorkysoul.blogspot.com/2011/03/male-privilege-and-cat-call.html
Every Tuesday at promptly 2 p.m., I pack up my things at my internship and call a cab back to my dorm. If it’s nice out, I spend the five to 15 minute-wait on the sidewalk, which is most convenient for me anyway because my cab can’t miss me. This is usually uneventful, unless you count the times during Snowmageddon that I had to wait over an hour to get a cab and nearly cried out of frustration.
Yesterday was frustrating for a completely different reason.
Yesterday, as I was heading toward my usual bit of sidewalk, I heard a wolf whistle. Instinctively, I turned to look in its direction and a disheveled middle-aged man was standing across the street. He waved both arms and cocked his chin.
“Hey, baby!” He was clearly approaching me, and quickly.
In a panic, I flipped open my cell phone and pretended to take a call as I rushed back toward the office building.
“Oh, hello? I just left, why– I can come back!” I’m not sure why I thought this would help my situation.
When I got inside I hid behind the wall that juts out by the elevator and waited. He saw what door I went into, I thought nervously. He knows where I am. This door doesn’t lock. If he wants to come get me, he can. I considered going back upstairs as if I’d forgot something to buy myself time, to lose him, but I decided against it. I scurried out to check if he was anywhere in sight. The coast was clear. I wasn’t sure at this point if I missed my cab. I sent a text message to my boyfriend.
“A creepy guy just catcalled me and waved at me. I went back into the building to hide from him :(”
“:(” my boyfriend replied.
Of course, I got my cab several minutes later and I survived to write this post. And all things said, it wasn’t that much of a terrible situation. I didn’t get hurt. My office is in a busy-enough area that if this man had tried anything, someone would see– and maybe that would have deterred him from going any further than calling to me. I tried all day to tell myself that this is no big deal. It’s just a catcall, you might say.
But it isn’t. When a stranger actively does something that makes you uncomfortable enough to question your safety, it is a pretty big deal. I don’t see how any older man– any man at all– could imagine that whistling at, gesturing to, and swiftly approaching a young, solitary female would be a situation that wouldn’t make her feel threatened, intimidated. I like to think I am tough and self-assured, but in those moments, I felt shaken, and I hid. I wasn’t sure whether he would pursue me– I didn’t know that person, so there was no telling what he might do. Sometimes when you run you get caught.
You could call it paranoia, but I wouldn’t go that far.
I would venture a guess that many women, especially women who live in cities, have been made to feel ill-at-ease by a male stranger’s advances at one point or another. Sometimes, when I’m not alone, it’s easy to brush off a “hey, baby!” from a passing car or a wink from a man on the street. When you’re alone and it happens, you truly feel alone– at least I did. Alone, and desperate, and trapped, not like the tough, independent woman I fancy myself to be.
What’s problematic here is that this is a problem of privilege, one that favors men and victimizes women (and I’m taking the perspective of a heterosexual woman because that is the experience I can speak to– but please share your perspective in the comments). If we were to switch roles, even if I were an older woman and this man a younger man, I doubt he would feel threatened by me hitting on him in public. I doubt that concern for his safety would take the forefront and he would hurry back inside. Whether men realize it or not in their everyday lives, they are privileged.
My boyfriend is annoyed sometimes when I ask him to do things like walk me a few minutes across campus at night. He sometimes says that it won’t make a difference for anyone’s safety (“we’ll just both get mugged!”), but I think that’s just him being a man who hasn’t quite realized his own privilege. When a woman is with a man, she is less likely to be harassed or attacked. As a woman, I do need to take my safety into account when going even short distances after dark. Is that letting the bad guys win? I don’t think it is so much as it’s realizing what could happen if I throw caution to the wind, and that, frankly, sucks. It shouldn’t be this way.
I think men often take for granted the fact that they can, most of the time, go from Point A to Point B without being disturbed. For women, it’s different. And maybe some of the men who catcall and try to approach women on the street don’t realize that what they’re doing, for many women under a variety of conditions, will make another person feel afraid. This isn’t a challenge they have to face, and certainly one I don’t like thinking about. When I think about days like yesterday, I wonder if I can make it going to and from work alone in the real world. I wonder if I can be brave enough to go on the train or the subway by myself. The minority– and I do believe it’s a minority– of people out there who want to hurt or scare people like me make me doubt my abilities as a woman to be an effective member of society.
We are asking ourselves frequently now “should we allow women in warzones?” and I have to ask “why should there be any reason not to?” But when I think of that much bigger issue– the horrible things that have actually transpired– together with the littler things we as woman face daily, like I faced yesterday, I see the problem. There are men in this world who feel on some level that women are objects, that it is okay to come on to them, to harass them, to hurt them, to grope them, to make them, by way of sexualization, feel powerless and less than. And it’s not okay. Never. Not even when nothing comes of it, like what happened to me yesterday. Not even a little.
Privilege exerts itself in a lot of insidious ways, and this is one of them. If women feel unsafe walking down the street, how can they be leaders? How can they be journalists? How can they be taxi drivers? How can they be government officials? How can they be anything? Maybe they should just stay inside where it’s safe.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want that to be the only safe choice.
It was last call at this bar. I was ordering for our table but the bartender said, “I’m sorry I can’t give you anything unless you show me your tits.” He reached out and tried to pull my shirt down. The manager was watching the whole thing. I tried to slap the bartender. At this point the manager tried to throw ME out. I told him that my friends and I would never go back and I had the police investigate the bar. Unfortunately, because an officer didn’t see it and there are no cameras in the bar they couldn’t do anything. Next time someone gets groped though, they have more evidence to go on I guess. I wish that bartender was fired and the bar was no longer in business.
I was working at the cafe where I volunteer and it is open very late, from 1am to 6am (meant as a midway place for those who have been out partying and want some food or coffee before going home).
One night I had just said goodbye to the last customers and was shutting up the cafe. I went to close the shutters which involves going into a small room that you can see into from the street and using a key to lower them.
Two men walked past the window as I was closing the shutters. They asked if they could come in and I explained we were shut. They then asked if I would come out with them, to which I replied that I was busy. They both started kissing the glass and trying to get me to come out of the cafe and kiss them (luckily the front door was locked so they couldn’t get in).
After a few seconds one of the men unzipped his pants and took his penis out and wiggled it at me whilst shouting lewd comments to me. His mate just laughed and mimed touching my tits.
I was utterly disgusted, I looked at this pathetic worm and gestured that his package was tiny so he started swearing and banging on the glass. I was genuinely scared as the bouncer had gone home by this point. I thought about calling the police but the men ran off when I took my phone out.
That I couldn’t do anything was the worst thing, though I was scared about what they’d have done if they could have reached me.
Last Halloween I was out with my friends at my favourite nightclub in Manchester. It was pretty packed and at the bar we started chatting with some guys. They seemed friendly and were asking us about uni and things. We all moved onto the dancefloor and it was all quite innocent.
Suddenly, one of the guys stuck his hand down the front of my jeans and tried to get into my underwear. Shocked, I moved and told him that if he did that again I would slap him. He apologised and then did it again! This time he managed to get into my underwear before I could shove him away. I walked away and he followed me. I told him that I would report him to the police for sexual assault if he didn’t leave. He called me a frigid bitch and walked off.
I went to the bouncers and told them about this guy, they just shrugged and said it was probably an accident. They weren’t prepared to cause a scene even though by this point I was crying and felt so awful.
I’ve spoken to other girls and they’ve had this sort of thing done to them before. Nightclubs and bars need to be prepared to take action when things like this happen.
By MELISSA FABELLO
I was living in India during its last festive season, which includes the celebration of Diwali, the Festival of Lights, arguably the most important holiday in the nation. We (the other Westerners with whom I was living and I) were warned by our Bengali counterparts to be careful. Diwali, after all, is commemorated with flashing lights, and it’s a common practice, we were told, for “Eve-teasing” to be taken to another level: sometimes, to show their interest, festive men will throw lit firecrackers at women. I figured that if I could survive Dengue Fever (which I suffered twice), I could deal with second-degree burns, but the frequency of “Eve-teasing” in India is, honestly, something I never actually got used to, despite its pervasiveness.
I recently learned that the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) released a statement, quoting that a survey of 1,000 teenage boys in Mumbai “showed that the overwhelming majority viewed the practice of Eve-teasing as harmless and inoffensive,” and I wasn’t at all surprised. I forwarded the report to my English-cum-Indian roommates with the headline “Sneaky Gropes,” which is the term we fashioned to describe the crime. But why wouldn’t boys take it more seriously? Used as a catch-all term in Southeast Asia to describe what we would call harassment and assault, “Eve-teasing” sounds innocent and playful, and therefore implies that it’s all in good fun, like stealing kisses on the playground.
Unfortunately, what Eve-teasing in public places really is, is street harassment. “And sexual harassment on the street,” Aisha Zakira, Director of Mumbai’s local HollaBack!, says, “is a gateway crime that creates a cultural environment which makes gender-based violence okay.”
But what I can tell you from personal experience is that the practice of Eve-teasing is not okay. Once, in a rush to meet my friend for lunch, I forwent my usual rickshaw ride for a bus, and what happened there left me rather distraught: one of the employees on the bus reached under my shawl and groped me – an unmistakable, no-way-that-was-an-accident squeeze – twice! I pushed him away the first time; the second time, I jumped off of the bus and walked the rest of the way to my stop. Looking up, I saw the man hanging out of the doorway of the bus, yelling at me, as if I were the jerk for not being receptive to a little jovial fun. I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out if the assault was my own fault. But, truthfully, there is no fine line here between avoiding ethnocentrism and demanding respect: the beauty of the country of India is easily undermined when you’re being groped repeatedly under your shawl on a bus, or when a man grabs your ass on your way onto a rickshaw.
Fortunately, women and men in countries like India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan are starting to find a voice, and they are using it to shout back against street harassment. In Bangladesh, the High Court recently ruled that the term Eve-teasing demeans the severity of the action, after activists demanded change.
If we can change the vernacular, then we can change the attitude. Similar to men in the United States swearing up and down that their lewd comments are “compliments,” men in Southeast Asia calling harassment “Eve-teasing” is nothing but a misnomer. Let’s start calling it what it is, and calling it out on being wrong.
Melissa A. Fabello lives in New England, where she volunteers for various feminist organizations and runs the lesbian blog and community ToughxCookies.
See, I’ve never really had it where people have shouted about how much they want to have sex with me. It’s always about how much that they DON’T want to have sex with me. One incident that comes to mind is when I was about fifteen, still living in my small town in the UK, and I was walking home from school, so I was in my uniform. There was some building work going on at an old mill, converting it into apartments, so builders were crawling all over it. Anyway, when I walked by, they all started shouting down about how I was an ugly bitch, and barking at me. I hadn’t even looked up at them or provoked them, and when I saw, they were all maybe late twenties, early thirties, old enough to have daughters of their own. I ran home crying, and when I told my dad and stepmum, they said that I just shouldn’t let it get to me. What kind of world is it when grown men can terrify teenage girls and not get into any trouble??
I had yoga after work; it was a hot so I wore a regular tank top and work out pants. Near my studio I saw two men unloading a truck into the shop next door – they were calling out to every single woman who walked by. Immediately I felt uncomfortable and on guard; as I walked into the building I heard one man shout “hey girl with the pig tails, come back and play with me;’ I kept walking. I didn’t feel ‘sexy’ or ‘flattered’…I felt awkward, embarrassed, and mad at myself for what I was wearing. But no more. I am in my 30s now and I am tired of feeling small and meek; I am tired of wondering if my top is too tight or if I should tie a sweater around my hips…So no more. I will no longer stand for wolf whistles, cat calls, lip smacking, and all the ‘pretty lady compliments.’ I’m tired and done with it…from now on I will ‘hollaback.’
My best friend was groped in the breast by the owner of a bar in Devils Lake, ND. Apparently, he has done this to countless victims. Beware!
Remember that sicko we wrote about a week ago? The “journalist” who published his desire to meet and ass rape a Hollaback activist? Well he still has his job. What can you do about it? Sign our petition. The editorial teams of all the publications he works for receive a notification email every time you and your friends sign it. They may come to realize that publishing his trashy internet rants aren’t worth the price they pay from all the negative attention we garner for them. Please sign it today and let your friends know to do the same.
I was walking home from Nob Hill to Union Square after a Halloween party. I was a small 19-year-old, just transplanted from a tiny country town, and even though I was streetsmart enough to ask friends to escort me home at 2 AM, they remarked about being very tired and wanting to go to bed. So I decided to go home anyhow, alone. Cabs were expensive so I didn’t think to take one. I had walked home from Nob Hill alone before. It was usually deathly quiet around the rich neighborhoods that late at night, which I took mistakenly as a sign that I would be safe until I got home.
I was walking up Clay street, and when I passed the Jones st intersection, I saw a 40’s-ish man in a trenchcoat standing on the sidewalk. He didn’t look hostile but he seemed slightly uncoordinated – I should have taken that as a sign and crossed to the other side of the street, or turned around, but I kept going. I figured he was just waiting for a bus.
As I got closer it was pretty apparent that he was drunk, and from his wardrobe he seemed pretty affluent, not that it makes any difference. As soon as I walked past him and he saw me, he fixated on me.
“Hey, doll, how’s it going?”
I think I mumbled “fine” and kept going. But he started walking in the same direction. He kept calling me doll and asking me questions, although he was drunk/slurring/mumbling. Although I distinctly heard him say, “You look just like my daughter, doll.” That was the last straw. I crossed the street quickly – fortune seemed to be in my favor, because I saw a cab approaching the next intersection, and furiously waved him down, and was driven home.
I was mortified and spent a few days feeling surreal and freaked out. Since then, I find it almost funny how I have never been accosted by a homeless person (not that they’re harmless either) but it’s always affluent, well-dressed, middle-aged men who are the ones who hit on me, and always in a, “you’re young enough to be my daughter and I like that” kind of way. I’m very short and young-looking (I’m 23 and I was charged 17 & under admission at the museum) and I find it disturbing that so many men that age find underage girls so appealing. Gross.
I live in a smaller town now but I never let my guard down. I have come into my own as a feminist and as a person who is aware of rape culture, and I’m glad to have found Holla.