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Awesome name tag courtesy of Hollaback Buenos Aires!
When I was in high school (one of the many private, Catholic, single-sex high schools in Cincinnati), I was very involved in theatre. Our adult staff was on the small side, so we occasionally hired outside people to do additional music, tech work, etc. Several times a guy named Rick (who happened to be a friend of the director’s) was a guest musical director, and all the girls dreaded having to work with him. He very much gave off that creepy old man vibe and often made borderline inappropriate remarks. He was the kind of man other men brush off as “quirky,” but who women recognize immediately as being a threat- we could tell from the way he undressed us with his eyes. I tried to stay away from him as much as possible and to be cold if he ever tried to speak to me, so for awhile my experience was secondhand. That didn’t last.
He was walking by a group of us as we were listening intently to our director; it happened so fast I didn’t say anything, and I couldn’t leave to confront him without attracting attention. He “dropped” something on the floor next to me and, as he was bending over to pick it up, put his hand on my hip, letting it linger there for a few seconds after he’d already straightened up. Then he went on his way like it was nothing. I was so shocked- I had no idea what to do. As soon as I could I told a few people what had happened. They were sympathetic but thought that maybe he was just steadying himself so as not to fall over. Um, excuse me, he was NOT old enough to have to do that, and besides, that’s what walls and chairs and other OBJECTS are for, not people. Since I didn’t know how to respond, I just stayed away from him.
Later that day a friend told me she’d had a run-in with him too. She was standing backstage and could hear Rick and the director talking. He pointed to my friend (who has pretty large breasts) and said, obviously not thinking she could hear, “Girls like her are why I could never teach at this school.” That was enough to push me into taking action. I knew I couldn’t complain to the director about him- he responded to this remark with an awkward laugh and nothing more- so we went to the assistant director. He listened carefully and then told us that, while he shared our concern, we were a week away from opening the show and he couldn’t possibly find a new music director in time…. surely we understood his predicament. I was taken aback but asked him if that meant he would take it up with him, the director, and our principal after the show was over. He promised he would.
Almost four years later, he is still doing shows there.
That is what baffles me- that a man so universally unnerving, with a history of inappropriate remarks (and touching!), is allowed to stare at underage Catholic school girls to his heart’s content. If that isn’t a lawsuit in the making, I don’t know what is. How was that not taken more seriously?? I wish I had had the courage and foresight to take this further, to push until something happened to him, but I didn’t. He still does music directing and sound mixing for schools all over Ohio- if you happen to run into him, PLEASE report any inappropriate behavior so that it gets documented. He needs to not be allowed to be around underage girls.
One night I was walking home from the campus gym, caught up in my own head. As I hit the last sidewalk intersection on my way home I started hearing calls of “hey blue shorts…” the first three times I thought “god, I would be livid if someone was talking to me like that!” and looked in front of me for the blue shorts girl, but she wasn’t there. So I looked back, just a rowdy group of 6′ plus men hollering for Blue Shorts. Then it hit me. I looked down. My shorts were blue.
They kept it up, 5 and 6 times, calling out my hair style, asking if I was too good to talk to them, so I got pissed off. I spun around and let fly one of the nicest flows of cusswords I’ve ever made. I asked them how their mothers would feel, to know that their money was sending them to college so they could scare girls on the way home from the gym. I asked them if this was some f*cked up game to them, and then told them, with gusto to f*ck off. As I spun around they got irritated and told me that “bitch, I couldn’t talk to them like that” so I turned back and said “bitch yes I can! You yelled at me like a dog. I can say anything I like to you!” and stormed off to my dorm.
I was still terrified the whole last block, but I’ve never been harassed like that again.
Cab driver #640 picked me up, along the way he…
1) Waved his gun at me 2) Told me his “self help book” didn’t work, that he’d found it near impossible to in it’s suggestions to remain calm 3)Told me he “literally” wants to murder the next person to pay w/a credit card – in his shed, or he wants to put his pepper-spray in their mouth, lock them in the cab drive them to his house and kill them. 4) Told me I saved my own life by paying in cash, while his hand was cocked like a gun 5) Was twitching his head left & right because he’s crazy; while letting me know he wants to murder someone – while slamming the glass plate divider in anger 6) Told me Jesus wants him to kill people with credit cards – all the time 7) Told me his shed out in the suburbs tucks between his yard and the woods – so no on would see him kill 8) Told me “i don’t mean to scare you but…” followed by 5 minute rant about hurting people
I was walking through London yesterday, and a man in a van shouted out, “Nice tits, love!”. I gave him the middle finger and continued walking, and he proceeded to stop his van and roll down his window and say, “Whack ‘em out! Come on, babe! Whack ‘em out for me!”, whilst he and his friend were laughing and making sexual gestures. I shouted at them to leave me alone, and the man who drove the van got out and proceeded to come up to me angrily. I was so scared, I was shaking. The man got right in my face and said, “I was only having a bit of fucking fun, sweetheart. No need to get rude is there?” His tone was so aggressive, I went home and cried for hours. He could have raped me. I could have been a rape victim. It’s all that keeps going through my mind.
“Fat ass”. And when I didn’t stop running or turn around, there it was again, “Fat ASS”.
I’ve been living in New Haven for about two years and was nicely surprised by the lack of harassment received from builders on the street, men outside pubs and bars, white van drivers, and the like. I’m from England: in my home country, these kinds of men are often more liberal with their commentaries. So when I’m running in New Haven, whatever does come my way resonates that little bit more strongly. And there is a difference between receiving a wolf-whistle or a car horn honk: non verbal appreciation can at least be explained away by me into more positive categories of admiration. As a runner, I find some of the street responses come from a genuine respect for a woman who runs in all weathers, as when a car horn honks at you during a downpour and gives you the thumbs up. That’s fine.
But “fat ass”? Really? I’m turning the corner, I’m sprinting, I’m wearing lycra because it’s more streamlined and comfortable and warmer, necessary for that time of year (January). And this guy yells this at me. And repeats it. Louder. And what’s worse, I don’t know if it’s a compliment and he likes the butt I have, or its derogatory, in which case, he might consider that running would help it. Either way, my ass is not fat, and it’s not for his viewing pleasure or censure either.
A few years ago I was visiting my friend who was studying abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France. She had warned me before I arrived not to speak English loudly in public, so I wouldn’t draw unwanted attention.
We were walking down a pedestrian walkway to get to her University. It was broad daylight. There were plenty of students scattered along the length of the long walkway. A large group of young boys(18-19 years old) approached us but I didn’t pay any attention to them. One of them came up to me and said “You are so beautiful” in French, grabbed my breast than walked off laughing with with his friends. It happened so quickly all I could do was make a disgusted noise, which all the boys mimicked and laughed at.
The thing that gets me is that my friend and I were walking silently together. He didn’t grope me because I was speaking English or drawing attention to myself or because I was a tourist. He attacked me because I was a woman and he wanted to put me in my place. And he knew he could get away with it.
Once we arrived at the University we told her friends what had happened. They tried to comfort me. One of her male friends said that a French man would never do that, so they must’ve been Arab immigrants. He said a French man would yell or say things to me, but never touch a woman. That did not comfort me at all. And sure enough before my trip was over “real” French men catcalled me without groping me. I felt violated and disgusted when that happened too.
On another note, it seems to me that a lot of catcalling is initiated when a woman accidentally makes eye contact with a man (though this wasn’t the case in my story above). As result I try really hard not to make eye contact with men on the street. But I wonder how much that I (and other women) miss when I am looking at my shoes or staring off into space. Do I clumsily walk into things more often than necessary or put myself in danger just because I can’t look forward like a normal person? Or even am I just deprived of enjoying the sights and scenery around me? Maybe this has just been my experience, but I’d like to know what other things do Hollaback readers and contributors think they miss just because we are forced to look away?
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.