It seems that Twitter has been taken hold of a recent #StreetHarrassment movement. Every day, many women become victims of street harassment — limiting their access and safety to public places due to the fear of actions or verbal assault from strangers. This is a very important issue to discuss and will no doubt become a very empowering device in bringing about the awareness to men that street harassment, or cat calling, is not usually taken as a compliment or a joke to the majority of women.
While I fully support this movement, as I feel that it is important for all women and men to feel comfortable and safe in their own skin and especially in public spaces, I want to bring to light a situation on the opposite end of the spectrum: the women who never get cat called. The women who get completely ignored. The women who have eyes averted from their gaze as if the man is scared he will catch her “ugliness.” The women who feel completely invisible every day they walk outside.
To these women — I am one myself and have spoken to many others — a cat call would serve as boost to their self-esteem. To these women, who receive little, if any, male attention, a whistle on the street does not come as an act of aggression or intrusion on their personal space. It is a small reminder that they too can be found attractive. We did not grow up, like most of the women in the #StreetHarrassment movement did, being the object of the male gaze. We are not tired of getting these “advances” because it never happens. So, to us, that simple little remark is new, exciting, and ultimately, deep down, a saving grace from the invisibility we feel too often on a daily basis. With that whistle we know that we are, in fact, not invisible. We know that someone has seen us, someone has taken notice of the mere proof of our human existence. And to most women, being seen and heard is one of the most validating things ever, no matter what kind of woman you are.
In fact, it sometimes becomes an issue on the opposite spectrum — we fear to go outside because not only men, but women, will judge us, make rude remarks, laugh, point, and stare simply because of the way we look. If we get any attention at all, it is negative.
I feel that most women have grown accustomed to the remarks and gestures they receive from men. It is old news. It is degrading only because they know they can leverage that “emotional trauma” from the event to gain more attention. If it was new and exciting, you would enjoy it just as much as we do.
Let me paint you a picture: I am at work and it is 1:15pm. My stomach is growling and I didn’t bring any food to eat. Everybody else has already left for lunch. I know I can either work through lunch and wait until I get home to eat, or I can walk down the busy street I work on to any restaurant nearby and get something very quickly. The latter fills me with immense anxiety. That means I have to walk down the street, where people can see me. Most of the time they don’t see me, but if they do, it’s bad. Their glances are not kind, and I know they are immediately judging me on my size. In the off chance that a glance is thrown my way, it is never positive. And then, oh my gosh, then I have to wait in line to order my food. The people behind me see my voluptuously flabby body and are wondering why I am ordering food. Clearly I should not be eating more, even though it is a salad at a very expensive LA restaurant — they do not know what I eat or don’t eat every single day. Imaginary daggers are thrown into my back as I walk up to the cash register. I order and get out of there as fast as I can. The walk back to the office with my food (because there’s no way in hell I am eating that in public) is the same as the walk there. I finally make it back to the safety of my desk, having survived another trip out into the cold, cruel world where the only kind of attention I receive is negative.
So, my question to these women who are so intensely scarred by their cat calling experiences on the street – why can’t you be thankful for what you have? Unwanted attention can be a nuisance, but you are receiving positive unwanted attention. Sure, maybe you want to enjoy your walk without any comments or glances, but at least when they occur, they are positive in the sense that they are validating your beauty and worth in this world. They are glorifying how attention worthy you are. Be thankful. The unwanted attention that some of us receive is not as positive. And, someday when you no longer receive this attention that you have become so grossly accustomed to, you will wonder why you ever found it to be such a negative experience.
What if that is something I wanted? Why can’t I be free to want what I want?