Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of people, some men and some women, complain when a woman says they do not like getting compliments from strangers, or that they feel fearful when being catcalled on the street. I’ve heard men say something like “it’s a sign of the times that women can’t take a compliment” or “maybe he was just trying to be nice” etc. It worries me just how many people think that it’s okay to treat women this way, but then I think “Can we blame them?” Street Harassment is everywhere; in cartoons, in television shows, movies, commercials, advertising; it must be alright, right? Women love it!
Women should be free to go out in public and be left in peace, we should have the ability to leave our homes without unwanted attention from strangers. It doesn’t feel good to be called beautiful by a strange man, it is terrifying. I don’t want someone to thrust their groin at me while I walk down the street because I don’t know that he will stop at just grinding the air, I don’t know that he won’t try to rape me. I don’t want a stranger to whistle at me or call me a degrading name, I don’t know where his actions will end.
For example; I work out in the country, and I mean IN the country, no street lights or even any light pollution, I carry a flashlight to my car after work to be able to see my way there. I serve drinks in a restaurant/bar and usually our clients are nice well mannered people who have a drink or two and head home, not too many people come to this particular establishment to drink until they pass out. A couple of weeks ago, there was a man sitting at the bar, I hadn’t been serving him, but he was beginning to show signs that he was becoming intoxicated. He asked me my name, which isn’t an uncommon occurrence, so I gave it to him, he started to ask me some other personal questions which I dodged around and avoided answering, so far it was ok. But, then he told me my name was beautiful, that I had gorgeous hair and nice eyes; then I started to get scared. Then he asked me if I had a boyfriend, I answered yes, “that’s too bad” he retorted. Now I could feel my hands begin to shake and I was desperately seeking my exit strategy. I hurriedly went to serve my tables, but every time I walked behind the bar he would say something else, or ask me another question, “Where are you from?” “I’m local” I would answer, as to avoid telling him where I live. “You’re a really pretty girl…” “thank you” I would reply, but I really wanted to say was, I am a woman, and please leave me alone. But, I can’t upset a paying customer. Eventually he left, but I was set off for the rest of the night, I was terrified. What’s to be scared of? You might be thinking, well, here’s the answer. I was afraid that when I walked to my car that night in the pitch black darkness, he might be waiting for me. I was afraid he would drag me off into the field and do goodness knows what to me, and there would be no way I could stop him, and there would be no one around to see, and no one for me to call out for help to. In the end, I was of course fine, and maybe he was just trying to be nice to me, I had to spend the rest of that day scared out of my mind that something could happen to me. I went home that night opened up my laptop to research whether or not I could carry pepper spray or even bear spray in my bag (turns out, I can’t). So, in the future when someone says they don’t like being catcalled or whistled at on the street, don’t think that they can’t take a compliment, realize that it instills a fear of so much more. Realize that men don’t have a right to make you feel uncomfortable or afraid to walk a certain route, or petrified to walk to your car in the dark. We own our bodies, and no one else.
For more perspective check out this great video, outlining the dangers of street harassment, including the experiences of a Miss America contestant. Please note there are descriptions of sexual assault and use of strong language in the video.