Good Men (and Women) can resist the empty, degrading advances of the cowards who catcall.
Hello! My name is Rebecca! If you’re like me, you’ve experienced the pain of being seen as inferior. Perhaps your personal perpetrator was a boss, parents, your alpha-male friends, your vindictive superego, or the promise of the life you never had. In other words, surely at some point you’ve been made to feel low. But as Good Men are empathetic and realistic enough to know, inferiority is much more institutionally and socially enforced when you are a woman.
Ah, womanhood! Let me tell you about that mystical, pinkly glossy world! It’s awful. It makes me feel awful every day. As you’ve surely witnessed, females (or anyone perceived as female) encounter a barrage of catcalls, wolf whistles, creepy whispers, wet-smacking kissy noises, prolonged and insistent stares, hollered declarations of expletive-laden anger masquerading as “desire,” and the occasional penis pull-out. (Really? I think that’s just foolish. What if I had a knife?)
This verbal abuse happens everywhere: walking down the street, riding public transportation, existing in the world. Being decent bystanders, reasonable men must think to themselves upon witnessing this entitled, exploitative bullying, “What idiots, that’s no way to talk to a human.” Or “What idiots. That’s no way to get laid.”
I too have thought these things, but here’s the weird thing! I’m not the Everyman standing on the sidelines, scratching my head in disapproval as I witness this marvel of human grandiosity and insensitivity, this counter-productive shaming of sexuality that encourages people to hide their sexuality (not share it with you in mutually orgasmic rapture). I’m not the Everyman who then walks off in a different direction—male and undisturbed—to shoot some hoops and play some b-ball with my dudes on the courts (because that’s what I’ve been taught you people do).
No! Being female, I’m constantly shocked to discover that I’m the one caught in the crosshairs, I’m the one the average, unthinking male is trying to trip with a banana peel and call it a “compliment.” MA, YOU’RE SEXY (punch in the face). BOO-TI-FUL *snicker* YOU LOOK GOOD (stab to the gut). Silently seething, I feel tricked. I thought I was the Everyman! Because men are the default gender, and man is the synecdoche for human, and because I was taught I was equal, I’m still reeling, unendingly indignant to be casually browbeaten.
How do I make it stop? No matter how (ineffectually) I don my (camouflaging) “tomboy” gear, I get treated like a sex slave and a school nerd getting stuffed in a locker. Street harassment makes me feel hurt (to be teased), befuddled (to have my understanding of the diversity and richness of sexuality mutated, limited and used against me), and powerless (to stop it in any way what’s actively taught and encouraged by society). It makes me want to do all kinds of non-sexual, violent things.
So what can Good Men and Their Allies (that’s me, and the rest of the XX-chromosomal crowd) do about these high-strung and cripplingly insecure individuals who are collectively socialized to dominate and be dead inside!? Since we all know it’s about power and not about seduction (since no one I know has ever been compelled to fuck anyone who verbally kicks them in the face), we must band together to push back this cowardly display of “power.”
We must speak up when they yell. Encourage your female-bodied friends, lovers, mothers, and others not to be silent, humiliated recipients to this bizarre, manipulative bullying. This unexamined aggression is the first in a series of steps that dehumanizes 50 percent of the population, makes them more liable to hate themselves, be ashamed of themselves, be attacked, be raped, be killed. So let’s take a small collective step to stop it. You can help. Follow my lead!
The Hollaback! Movement has emboldened victims of street harassment to tell their stories, confront their attackers and work for a better, less hateful world. I want to embolden you to do the same! You male-bodied people have an unfair advantage. Use it for good! Defend people when harassment happens. Confront attackers when they attack. Encourage your XX-chromosome-laden friends to defend themselves and aver your support!
How do we all do it? Here are some of my tactics. They’ve worked sometimes, with some people, in some situations. These tactics are not foolproof. These tactics may be thwarted by many fools. Thusly, I recommend their usage only when the time is right—a time one can only determine for oneself.
Situation #1: A dude with a saucy little saunter makes his way down the street. Shit, I think. He feels sad, sees my femaleness, and wants to show off. What do I do in this situation? Do I run? Hide? Look at the ground? I have tried all these methods. They fail.
“How you doin, sexy,” the presumptuous lad definitively puts forth. He is putting on a performance. I see this. I tell him, “Oh, hey. What did you call me? Sexy? That’s weird. I don’t feel sexy. I feel like I’m walking home.” Annoyed, confused, he sputters, “That’s the way it is around here… Brooklyn neighborhood… blah blah blah.” “Yes! I see why you’d say that. I guess it’s just that when someone I don’t know sort of aggressively speaks to me in an intimate manner, it makes me uncomfortable, like I have something in my teeth. But I’m sure you’re a wonderful/kind person with interesting ideas that I’ve never thought of, etc, etc, flattery, etc.—but I think it’s beneath your intelligence to oppress fellow humans the way perhaps you feel oppressed.”
We shake hands. Introduce ourselves. From now on, if we see each other on the street he will call me Rebecca, and I will call him by his name: Mohammed. Success! And how did it come to pass? I made connections, flattered him but showed him that his “opinion” was not unique. These dudes are buying into a corrupt system (of strong, dumb men and weak, compliant women), not being macho renegades.
I also find it better not to use the word ‘woman’ in these conversations and instead opt for ‘human’ in that it shows that it’s a universal thing—not about us v. them, not a gender thing. I (try to) behave myself with respect! I speak naturally and honestly, while being responsible and protective of myself. Ultimately, if I have an impact, it will be based more on my actions than words.
Situation #2: An intimidating, yet pathetic, contingent of men who are scared to go out alone bobs theatrically in my direction. They wear similar outfits. They spew the same vitriol. They would clearly be BFFs if friendship and connection weren’t so, I don’t know, gay? This group says nothing to me, but stares hardly, meanly, and unforgiving-ly at my body.
I feel enraged and violated, so what do I do? Turn away, cross the street? Nope! I take out a Kleenex, loudly blow my nose and pantomime a hyper-stylized yawn, all while slouching my body and reaching my hairy armpit up to scratch an imaginary itch on my neck.
The scaredy-cat gaggle of too-cool boys recoils and looks confused. Can it be? It appears I am not their expected sexy girl victim. I am a weirdo. They can’t touch me. Success! They walk down the street, too befuddled to even tease me.
Situation #3: Walking past a presumably empty pickup truck, an elfish fellow pops out of the side door like a creepy jack-in-the-box. “Hey baby!” Surprised, I reflexively walk on. “Why you no like me, baby?” He whines, taunting. I feel my blood begin to boil. “Hey, hey, HEY.” His whisper-shouts intensify and are interspersed with wet-kissy smacks and cold, glassy eyes. I start to think about rape.
What were you wearing? Baggy jeans and a jacket. What were you doing? Going for a walk. “Hey baby!” I feel sick with fear for his hypothetical daughters. I feel paralyzed by the slack, sloe-eyed gazes and possessive leers of Anonymous dudes reminding me I am not in control of the street.
A deep, murderous, cross-eyed, clown yell wells up in my chest cavity. I want to scream, tear at my torso, do psychotic jump-squats against a bike rack like a venomous jungle monkey with little beady, red, poisonous, glowing eyes, yawping and caw-cawing against the bike rack in front of that piece of shit’s innocently parked car. OOH OOH AHH AHH AHH AHH!!!
My fantasy of myself makes its way slowly into reality, and I hiss back weirdly at him, imagining myself a poisonous near-naked nonsexual beast (to clarify: because they don’t deserve to witness the raw and miraculous power of my sexuality, only my righteous rage). I cry! I sputter! I imagine that I evoke fear in the breasts of all idiots who harass women! I am their protector, their international secret weapon: a wronged and rabid primate who pounces on predators and bites off the heads of men who were raised violently, men whose own experience with women was violent.
I yell: OOH OOH AHH AHH! No more belittlement, no more fear! The elfin bully-man looks at me with a face that is superficially contemptuous, but actually disturbed. In any case, he’s ceased his mating calls. Success.
In conclusion, street harassment is awful, as is the gender hierarchy, as is any system of oppression that rewards some for humiliating others. However, because we would all go to jail if we assailed our assailants and because responding to aggression with a non-response both encourages assailants and makes me personally feel impotent (rimshot/look, I feel weird about my metaphorical “phallus” too/we’re all in this together!), I suggest action.
Suggest action to your loved ones. Take action when you see harassment. Respond to objectification (of yourself or someone else) by engaging kindly, addressing people directly, or acting like the crazy person you know they really are. But don’t act like a victim because you’re not a victim. I’m not a victim; we’re all just people, man/woman. Street harassers are fundamentally fearful and contemptuous of lady humans. All people combating street harassment should upset their expectations by being kind, intelligent, direct, or weird as hell. Just do something.