I’m a medium-sized Black guy. Needless to say, I don’t get catcalled. If anything I’ve felt like people commenting on my appearance in the street would help resolve some of my self-esteem issues. That’s because, until recently, I didn’t truly understand what it would mean to have people doing that every time I stepped out the door. Like some White people who believe racism doesn’t exist because they don’t experience it personally, catcalling wasn’t something I thought about every day because I didn’t have to. In my mind, it wasn’t a big issue. Every now and then I’d see a sarcastic Tweet by a woman poking fun at things men have said to her. Or, I’d read a feminist list blog or watch a funny BuzzFeed video about it but that was the extent of my involvement. I figured catcalling was like receiving junk mail. Something annoying but you just dealt with it. (No, Discover, for the last time, I don’t want to open a credit card account with you. Can you take a hint?)
But then, while browsing the Internet, I saw a link to a video of the woman silently walking through New York and getting harassed in the street. We all know the video I’m talking about. I was horrified within the first minute. I’d assumed she’d get a few comments here and there and just wave them off but soon the frequency with which men commented on her physical features made me feel very uncomfortable. It started to look like a scene from an old horror film when the suspense is built-up and the female character is being chased by some psycho-killer. I wanted to shout at my computer screen, warning her not to walk down the street. To hide in the nearest closet. The women looked like a gazelle walking through a crowd of hyenas that stalked her as she passed by. I live in New York and walk down the streets featured in the video every day. Suddenly, those very streets seemed like a hostile place.
I discussed the video with my female co-workers and was sad to hear that this was part of their daily routine. One woman said she couldn’t go to the laundromat around the corner from her building without at least one guy making lewd comments at her. She talked about it as if it weren’t unusual, just something that came with the territory of being a woman. In her mind, she just had to deal with it.
I was upset after that conversation. Women shouldn’t have to deal with this. Why can’t men just mind their own business and leave them alone? I kept trying to figure out why men harass women in the streets. I mean, do they really expect a woman to turn around and smile after being told she has an ass like J-Lo and hips like Nicki Minaj? Some do, but for many men, it’s an issue of power. To be able to make a woman feel uncomfortable, even though you have actually no chance of getting with her, is part of a power trip for some men, and it needs to stop.
I remember one time I went to a party and saw a woman who I thought was stunningly beautiful. So much so that I felt the need to tell her. I ended up not doing it, mostly because I was nervous about how she’d react. After all, I wasn’t trying to date her. I just thought she ought to know she was beautiful. In retrospect, I’m sure she gets that all the time, and I would have ended up looking like a creep. It was better that I didn’t. The party wasn’t a beauty contest. She wasn’t inviting men to assess her looks; she was just having a good time like everyone else. By offering her my unsolicited opinion, I might have been contributing to the problem.
Here are some possible solutions that might put a permanent end to street harassment. Maybe women should be allowed to carry hidden blades like assassins and shank any man who threatens their sense of security. Then, in court they can just claim self-defense. Or all women can move to the mythical Amazon Island and live together in harmony while enjoying Amazon products with free 2-day shipping. Or, my favorite option, women and gay men can join forces to found our own exclusive country. Our motto would be “Together we can rule the galaxy.” Seriously, someone should make that happen.
Of course, I’m being facetious. The thing is, it’s not women’s responsibility to fix this issue at all. The mantle falls on us guys to do something about it. Women shouldn’t have to alter the way they look lest they attract unwanted attention from the opposite sex. If anything, the video proved that the way women dress isn’t the issue at hand. You can wear a skimpy red dress or a t-shirt and jeans and men will still have something to say about it. We have to change the culture and let men know it’s not okay to harass women in the street. Men need to find better ways to express and deal with their insecurities. I don’t know exactly how we can do that, but I want to be a part of the solution. Does that make me a feminist? I don’t know. I’d rather say I’m just a decent human being.