Recently, I moved to a new city, a new state. I thought the change would greatly affect me, but I’ve realized that the move has not been so bad – unless I’m having an existential crisis, thinking about money and finding a job. While in those moments, I feel myself departing into a state of constant dread, they don’t last long, disappearing almost as quickly as they came on, and I move to different thoughts (which often revolve around what I’m making for dinner or the book I’m currently reading).
Since moving, however, another experience filled me with terror.
I’m from a small town with a large Amish community and plenty of farmers. It’s relatively quiet, unless road work is being done right outside my family’s home. For the most part, there is little to fear apart from monotony. It’s quiet, quaint.
My move has brought me to another small-ish town, one that is a part of something larger. Really setting my new environment apart from my previous one is the walking. I do not live in a city, but parts of the village has the benefits of living in the city without all the negative points. I can walk to and from the grocery store and a place that offers vegan options. A variety of banks can be found just a few minutes down the street, and a library is the same distance in the other direction.
All this walking, however, has its drawbacks, and it’s more than just hearing the incessant honking the drivers in the area have deemed necessary.
For the first time in my life, I was catcalled.
I’ve heard people say women should take catcalling as a compliment, that it’s a signal that someone wants you, but that’s not what it is. If a man catcalls a woman, the intent is not to get her attention, to get her to date you. It is to get under her skin, make her uncomfortable.
Less than a week after moving, on a day when my boyfriend wouldn’t be home from work until almost 10pm, I wanted to go for a walk, venture outside the apartment alone, get some air. I spent an hour or so getting to know my new surroundings before the catcalling occurred.
After the incident, as I got closer to home, I texted my boyfriend. I told him I had just been catcalled, and he sent me a laughing emoji. I texted my brother, and his response was similar. When I told my mom, she asked what I had been wearing.
Just saying “I was catcalled,” I learned, was not enough. No one realized I just how threatened I felt.
I’m small – probably not even five-feet tall and under 100 pounds – so anyone is easily a threat to me.
At the time, all I wanted to do was explore my new area in peace, but I couldn’t even do that. Instead, as I stopped with the intention to turn and cross the street, some man began calling out from the backseat window of an SUV. At first, I didn’t think anything of it – surely, I told myself, he was looking at someone else – so I minded my own business and drank some more of the iced tea I was holding. But the voice shouted again, so I looked up, only to realize he was looking at me, directing his shouts at me.
I’m a woman on the street. This fact alone makes me a target.
My original plan had been to turn down the street that SUV was headed, but suddenly, I couldn’t. I was struck with fear and headed in the opposite direction while the SUV remained at the red light and the man’s head remained outside the window. As I continued walking, I heard a loud “Fuck you!” and knew it was from that same man who was just “complimenting” me. And again, I was afraid. At first his comments were just annoying, but now they were threatening.
I didn’t like it.
Suddenly, I regretted not forking over the money for pepper spray when I saw it a month earlier in the most random spot: near the protein bars at Giant Eagle. It was hot pink – not my favorite shade of the color, but I figured protection had no shade. I had discussed it with my boyfriend and my father, and they both agreed that though I would not be living in the city, the spray could come in handy if I got a job there or was just there for some reason. It could even be useful, my boyfriend had said, if I was just walking around town alone.
In the end, we decided I didn’t need to get it right then. First, we were not sure if it was good quality. Can you trust grocery store pepper spray? I didn’t know, and I was unable to find it at my go-to store, Walmart. More pressing, however, was that my move was looming, and there were more important things to focus on, like donating clothes that no longer fit me, throwing away the random things I’d accumulated in my drawers, and packing as much of my old life as I could into some pieces of luggage.
It was put on the back burner for another reason though: I never thought I would need pepper spray in the middle of the day. Really, I never thought I’d be catcalled at this point in my life. I’d hoped I had escaped anything like that, and I was sad – and scared – to realize that wasn’t the case.
Men who think catcalling is a compliment or a joke could do with talking to women more about it. While some might be flattered by the comments from unknown men, I can’t think of a time where I felt more in danger. I didn’t know if I would be able to escape if things escalated, as I know speed isn’t my strong suit. There are acceptable ways to approach women, and it doesn’t include yelling at her from a car as she walks down the street.
So guys? Eliminate catcalling from your life. Get rid of that bad habit, and notice how it’s mostly only men believing it is flirtatious or wanted. Your harassment isn’t helping anyone and is certainly unwanted.