Let me first preface this by saying that I am by no means a model, or even a beautiful and desired woman. I am a simply a female, and I can guarantee that any female relates to this – it depends not on looks or race or anything aside from the sheer fact of being a female.
Literally as I sit down to write this right now my heart is racing. The funny thing about females is that we are almost predisposed to being like cops (I imagine, I’m not actually a cop); we are constantly surveying those around us, always aware, ready to make a split second judgment call, and always assessing levels of potential risk in our surroundings.
Just now I was a few blocks from my apartment and I saw a man who was visibly stoned, which I deduced from a quick glance noticing severe delays/imbalance in his physical movements and red and lagging eyes. Once he saw me he changed directions in a way that indicated to me he might be trying to follow me. Now, any male reading this might think, “Yeah, of course you’d assume he’s following you, way to flatter to yourself.” Well, good thing I’m not a novice in this. I whipped out my go-to trick for when you want to make sure you are or are not being followed. Walk a little bit and continue to act normal to make sure you’re not just being paranoid; then, if he’s still walking steadily behind you, come to an abrupt and complete halt and rifle through your bag, or take off your jacket, or act like you are making a phone call – and let the guy continue walking in front of you. If he does so and there’s no issue, you have dodged the proverbial bullet – or in actuality, you have succeeded in not just becoming a victim of sexual assault or a mugging. If he was going to do something, there’s a good chance you’ve thwarted his plan or startled him or you can at least get some sort of running advantage now in the other direction. Congratulations! Unfortunately, you still have to get home before you can completely rest assured.
So with this man, I kept walking. I walk fast to begin with because I’m 5’9” so I have long strides and little patience for sidewalk sluggishness as a New Yorker. But after two blocks I could hear him keeping pace with me, which is not okay for a man who was approximately 3 inches shorter than me and did not possess gazelle like legs. (Note the ease with which females can assess the important features necessary to ID men in line-ups*) So I came to a complete halt, took off my raincoat as if I was overheated because of the humidity and let him pass me. He slowed down and stopped at the corner about ten feet ahead, turned to face me, and waited for me to get there. At that point he started speaking to me – “Hey!” approaching me directly; “HELLO,” getting more agitated/angry that I didn’t respond to the initial greeting. At that point my adrenaline kicked in, initiating full-blown panic and discomfort mode. I made a game-time decision to basically bolt through an intersection that said “Don’t Walk” because it was that or this strange man who I was 95% sure was on drugs and coming towards me fast. Because hey, it’s an average Monday at 5:15pm, and this is actually nothing out of the ordinary realm of possibilities for a walk home alone.
So you might think: “How often does that really happen, it was just that one guy who was probably crazy, that doesn’t happen all the time.” Yes, not every guy in the street follows me, or every other woman everywhere they walk. But I did just walk home from the subway to my apartment and was catcalled no less than five times in the span of a 10-minute walk. Yes, only one male turned out to be semi-aggressive in his pursuit, but I still had to judge every single catcaller by his potential danger. I still had to consciously think to myself, “Okay, he said something and then moved on, he’s not coming towards me, keep walking, only one block from the subway, almost there.” My best friend still employs the “buddy system” at age 27, and will otherwise stay wherever she is overnight in order to avoid walking to the train/taking the train/walking home from the train at night and a cab fare would be too expensive – because who wants to take the risk?
I may be a white female in a suit traveling from a not-so-nice area in the Bronx to my apartment in Harlem but let me also clarify that being in a bad area doesn’t mean being catcalled per se. I’ve been catcalled in affluent areas, rural places, suburban places, in various countries, and by men of practically every race – including, may I add, privileged white adolescent or 20-something a**holes, so again – this is a general male problem. The fact is that this happens. The fact is that even the word “Beautiful” coming from a strange man in the street when I’m walking alone makes me think that I may be about to be raped. The fear is always there. The fact that I have a plan in place to try to avoid or solve the situation if a man is following me when I’m walking alone is in itself pretty evident of this reality.
This is why it is never okay to catcall a woman, under any circumstance. Because guess what: we are already walking around just hoping and praying to be left alone and to safely get ourselves to our destination. I have never met a female that would argue otherwise. It is something that all people want: to be left alone so they can safely get to where they want to be going. How would a guy feel if some dude twice your size said “look at this little chump” or “hey sexy” to you as you walked by him? Let me venture a guess and say that if you could choose between that not happening vs. it happening that you would choose the former. So think of it like that, except that every guy is that dude twice our size, and this is what we have to deal with all the time. And yes, I’ve been told men too have to walk around with that fear, but the difference is they don’t carry around that fear – it doesn’t become such a factor in their lives, necessarily, that they have to come up with plans, or different routes, or only go places in groups or pairs, or try to get home before it gets dark out. You catch my drift.
May I also add that catcalling does not become appropriate merely because a female is with other females and “can feel safer” either. I was in Montreal once and two males started following my female friends and I down the street at about 7 o’clock at night, at which point we crossed the street because we felt uncomfortable. They proceeded to follow us back to our hotel, calling at us, terrorizing us. They started running towards us to catch up, and one actually spit in our faces (ended up hitting me in the eye) and we got into a physical match as they tried to force their way into our hotel and we tried to get all of us in and get the door closed without letting them in. This was two teenage boys vs. four twenty-something females. Lest I just say, we don’t know what could happen when males start calling at us or making remarks towards us, whether we’re alone or together, so seriously, just don’t.
Not so remarkably, I have never been catcalled in the presence of my boyfriend or any other male. So you can take from that what you will. I personally, as a female, truly appreciate this profound respect males show their fellow males in this way, the decency of which and obvious lack of fear is so blatantly not present when it comes to my gender, but I digress.
In any case, what probably compelled me to write this the most is the fact that men are generally “shocked” at how frequently this catcalling and inappropriate following phenomenon occurs, in my experience. Even worse, a lot don’t see it as a big deal, and I haven’t met any guy that truly understands how terrorizing it is/can be. I can assure you that most females don’t share in this naiveté.
Believe that females have to be aware every single second that every male is a potential threat, unfortunately – so no, we don’t take it as a compliment when you yell at or call to us or make noises at us if we are walking past you – it is generally downright frightening, and at the very least annoying because we suddenly have to go into adrenaline or panic mode because yes, we have to worry about the potential nightmare of being raped, assaulted, or mugged. So the moral of my story is just leave us alone. If you really want to be nice, if you truly are well intentioned, then do every female on the planet a favor and please keep your mouth shut while we pass by.
If you don’t believe me, listen to Grimes explain it.