I leaned against the advert for some phone company, eating my French fries and waiting for the train home. It’d been a good night out, just the usual suspects at the usual place with the usual indulgence in the happy hour with the half priced beer. The same thing we’d been doing since it was legal for us to drink at 16 (go Switzerland!), though now only it was on the holidays when we weren’t at university.
I’d made a quick stop at the late-night food stand outside the train station before heading to my platform, hence the French fries. I felt perfectly safe as I ambled around the station killing time before my midnight train. That is, until I turned the corner to take the stairs up to my platform.
A group of four or five men were lounging on the stairs, joking around in French and giggling drunkenly. As I passed by them, several of the men called out to me, saying I had a great ass and wouldn’t I like to get to know them a little better. One of them, an older guy about half a foot taller than me followed me up the stairs and kept trying to speak to me. Ignoring him, my face an impassive mask, I made a beeline for the advert, which just happened to have a transport police officer standing next to it. Police tend to be effective deterrents for men who harass you.
I’ve perfected that face, the one simultaneously of complete disdain and complete indifference. No catcall or attempt at conversation can even get me to turn my head. It’s a mask, and it’s something that I’ve developed over time.
The fact I have to have this specific face I put on just to safely walk alone in public is complete bullshit. I’m so over street harassment, and for the life of me I don’t understand how it continues to even be a factor in our society.
When I first started to go out, I didn’t know what to call it. I knew that past a certain time of night, or in certain places in town, if I were to walk alone or with my girlfriends I would be catcalled, I would be followed. Men would whistle, some of the cars zipping by would honk, and I’d have this uneasy feeling of malaise until I got home and locked the door behind me.
It took me the longest time to realize why these men felt it incumbent upon themselves to trail behind me on my way home, or describe why they wanted me, or to even try to touch me. They are threatened by the very presence of women, especially in places and roles long considered masculine, and lash out in an attempt to put us back into the neat, gender normative box into which they presuppose women belong.
Those who resort to harassing women on the street show their hand like a bad poker player, they’re showing their weakness, their frantic and desperate attempts to reclaim power they feel they have lost. Sadly enough for the misogynists, women are here to stay. We are an integral part of society, at all levels, in all industries and professions. We have more power than ever before, and that fact alone is enough to make certain men feel insecure.
Unfortunately, judging by the omnipresence of catcalling, whether it’s on the streets of a medieval Swiss town or on Georgetown’s campus, boy do they ever feel insecure.
Being harassed on the street makes my skin crawl. I’m used to standing up for what I believe in, and I do so with the impunity inherent in the naïve stubbornness of all twenty year-olds. The men that catcall, the ones that whistle, the ones that honk their car horns, they take that power away from me. These men, and far too frequently boys, make me feel like I have no control over the situation, over perceptions of myself, even over my physical self.
It was worse when I was in high school. I was a teenager, young and impressionable. More than that, I was battling anorexia, and the crass shouts of the disgusting men who harassed me only reinforced my distorted paradigm of perpetual judgment about my body. It took me a very long time to feel comfortable about my body in public, and while I certainly don’t entirely blame catcalling for that fact, the shouts and whistles absolutely did not help.
But whatever power I felt like they took away from me with a couple of crude things said about my figure, I realize now means nothing. The dominance over me that they were trying to assert is not a lasting one. It ends the moment we no longer accept that street harassment ‘just happens’ and that we should just allow it. That’s some patriarchal bullshit right there, and that’s quite enough of it.
Street harassment is no compliment, and it is certainly not benign. By allowing it to continue, as a society we are guaranteeing that women will feel unsafe and unwelcome. It is so unbearably quotidian, and it’s a permanent reminder that, unfortunately, rape culture is still very much alive and kicking.