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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.
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.
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.’
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.
I was once going to my car to retrieve something out of it. When I was finished I turned back around to find a man standing directly behind me. I thought to myself that maybe he was there to ask for change, something that I was used to. Instead of hearing the words “Can you spare a quarter M’am?” I got “I was just tryin’ to make love to you.” Not exactly sure how to react to this I started walking away. He then proceeded to follow me and he asked me where I was going. I said, “To my boyfriends!”. That’s where he grabbed my arm and said something to the extent of “What your boyfriend got on me?”. I was able to remove his hand from my arm. Luckily he just walked off. The man seemed out of it and was possibly drunk or on something else. Not much later I saw a group of horse cops in the same alley way. I approached them and informed them that a man had just come up to me and tried to pull me away and possibly rape me and that they could please stay around to keep a look out. Not only did they barely acknowledge me, but they all road off about 5 minutes later.
A while back, I got the train at around 10pm at night. I boarded the train which was quite empty and sat down and about a minute later a man got on and sat on the opposite side of the train near me. He was making a lot of noise and mumbling a bit to himself as it was very cold, I actually laughed to myself because he was making such a fuss.
The train journey was fine and I was listening to my iPod when I heard something. I took out my earphones and listened again and heard a whistle and suddenly turned my head to see the man and he winked at me. I was in shock for a moment and just stared but managed to tell him, firmly, in my nastiest tone “Go fuck yourself.”
As you can imagine he was quite taken aback by a teenage girl being so forthright, he said what? and I told him he knew what, and that I didn’t appreciate any disgusting advances from a pervert like him and turned back in my seat. He started to defend himself but I kept interrupting him telling him I KNEW he did it and to leave me alone. He denied it so much I started to doubt whether it had happened at all.
He started to get quite loud “don’t flatter yourself, don’t flatter yourself” at which point two men which were on the train further down asked if everything was alright and came over. The man started swearing about me but the men knew what had gone on and seriously, SHOUTED at him. The train conductor asked how I was when he came to check tickets as the men told him what had gone on. Needless to say the man tried to deny it and swore about me on the phone as he walked out of the station calling someone as he didn’t want to walk home on his own!!
It turns out HE was the one that would walk home scared tonight and not me. There are good people out there who will help too and from now on I will ALWAYS HOLLABACK!!!
A group of builders have been working on a restaurant close to where I work in Hanway Street, London for the past five or six months. I’d say that at least once a day I hear them say something to me or another girl who is walking past at the same time.
I used to walk different routes just to get to a shop around the corner because it annoyed me so much. Now I make sure I always have my iPod with me so I can ignore what they say. I don’t know how much longer they will be working on the restaurant but it’s frustrating to feel that they can get away with it.
I was outside of a house waiting for my friend to arrive so we could go inside to the party at the same time. It was around 3pm in the afternoon and I had been standing in the same spot for about 5 minutes when an 80 year old man (or so I think) came up to me and started talking.
He asked what I was doing and I said I was waiting for a friend to go to a party. He asked me where the party was and I lied and said I wasn’t sure. Then he said ” I would really like to make love to you”. I was so shocked, what seemed like a grandfatherly interaction had now turned into a perverted creep and even though I felt like screaming, all I could do at the time was turn away from him in silence. He then said “Maybe next time” and walked off.
My friend arrived shortly after and we went to the party, needless to say it made me feel like I need to be chaperoned to be in public.