What It’s Really Like to Not Get Catcalled

Juda's code014

This is a huge lie: “You’ll miss getting hassled in the street when it stops happening.”

When I was younger (teens, twenties and thirties), I frequently got harassed in the street. It was probably because I walked a lot on my own – I did this because it was, and still is, one of my favourite things to do, a time when my imagination can let loose and fly. Harassment would vary from shouts, to being chased by cars, to being followed on foot; from a friendly chat that would slowly, inevitably become aggressive to being grabbed. It felt relentless and meant that I always kept my head down and tried not to look anyone in the eye. On a couple of occasions when I accidentally looked up and caught the eye of a passing stranger, they turned around and started following me so that I had to hide in shops to avoid them.

I’m not particularly good looking and I’ve never dressed in a sexy manner, I was just a young woman on her own, walking around. And I hated it. Not only because it was scary and dangerous at times, but also because it interrupted my flow of thoughts with something tedious and banal. However, when I complained, what many men and women told me was:

“You’ll miss it when you’re older and it stops. Then you won’t feel attractive any more, you’ll feel invisible.”

And since I’ve noticed this is a common message in our society, I would like to point out,

It’s absolute bollocks. Not being harassed is fucking great.

Firstly, I haven’t become invisible. People, more often men, still make eye contact, but instead of this leading to trouble, it leads to something mellow and friendly – maybe a smile, maybe a hello. It’s lovely, and because I don’t have to worry about it suddenly turning nasty (which almost always used to happen, and never happens now), I can feel safe making that eye contact. I don’t feel invisible, I feel like a normal member of the human race amongst other normal members, instead of feeling like a frightened mouse with a flashing light on my head drawing in trouble.

Secondly, I know we are taught that how you look is incredibly important if you’re a woman, but people ‘being attracted’ to you is a pain in the arse a lot of the time (I put ‘being attracted’ in quotes, because I’m not sure that’s really true, it’s more that you’re present and female). Useful if you want someone to fancy you, sure, but when I’m walking around with my head in a daydream, I don’t want anyone to fancy me. I’m busy.

And finally, I didn’t feel attractive back then. I think having constant comments on my looks made me too aware of them. Even if all you hear are compliments, it makes you aware of your flaws, tense about the prospect of not being attractive, so the result is you feel unhappy with your appearance. Now that strangers are polite and disinterested enough not to interrupt me to tell me how I look, I just don’t think about it that often, I can keep my thoughts to things I actually care about, such as rambling on like this.

Bust magazine image
Image: In the Crimean city of Sevastopol, February 29, 2012. Reuters/Stringer

TLDR: I’m aware that most men don’t harass women, but it is surprising the number of men and women who still think it’s not a big deal, not worth complaining about. When women do speak out (which they’ve been doing a lot recently) others get quite annoyed with them, “It’s only a compliment!” they say. My point is, I don’t think street harassment is just annoying and occasionally harmful, I think it buggers up how all people connect to each other, it makes both men and women angry with each other. Not getting hassled means that women can have calm, friendly connections to others, and it takes some unnecessary tension out of life. Which seems like a definite good thing.

Anyone else feel the same? Anyone think I’m talking nonsense? If so, why? All comments welcome, I love a chat.

 

26 thoughts on “What It’s Really Like to Not Get Catcalled

  1. I love this! It’s so true, too! When I was younger, I was quite attractive, and, just as you say here, it was a pain in the ass. For so many reasons, not the least of which was feeling like a piece of unintelligent meat; no one cared what I thought, just how I looked. I stopped wearing all make-up and “dressing for success” when I turned 21, trying to ease the pressure on me.

    I’m now 53, and for the last decade or so, not a single person (male or female) has shown any interest in my body at all. And I love my life today! I love being able to strike up a conversation with a stranger without worrying if I’m leading them on. I love being left alone when I want alone time. I love being able to look around without worrying who might think I’m looking at them. I love being heard rather than just seen…

    Having said that, though, I realize that sexual violence isn’t about attraction at all. That’s perhaps the saddest realization of all for me. Because most of that “attention” I received back then WAS because people were attracted to me. It was an incredibly disrespectful, humiliating way to show it, but chances are, most of them probably meant me no harm; they just wanted to win my attention.

    I think, in general, we need new ways of expressing interest that don’t involve degrading, humiliating, intimidating methods…

    And no… I don’t miss it at all!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Brilliant! I really glad to hear it’s not just me. The message we’re force fed is that getting older is some terrible thing, but I love it too. Like you say, being listened to instead of just looked at; getting praise in my job and knowing it’s because I’m good and work hard, instead of having to worry that my boss is after something. Thank you for such a true and delightful response! 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

  2. You’re right. Really irritating. It’s also very creepy when you are a teenager. I remember one time I was walking the dog and some men in a car who looked middle-aged to me, gutter crawled and tried to pick me up. I tried to ignore them and headed off down the street fast in the opposite direction. Any form of unwelcome harassment is annoying and an invasion of your personal space and is something we can all do without.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve been trying to figure out why teenagers/women in their twenties are such a huge target. I’m not sure it’s just because younger tends to equal better looking, I think also predator men assume that young women and girls are more vulnerable, less likely to get angry.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes. It’s much easier to have “attitude” when you are over 30 and can confront these types of harassers. It also does not pay to appear meek and shy when walking down the street alone or you become a target. I found doing a self defence course for women gave me more confidence, as well as learning all kinds of strategies to get out of dangerous situations. It’s sad reality that this type of thing is necessary.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It’s great you learned to defend yourself and gained confidence, whatever the circumstances that’s a great thing to do. Because I started walking around on my own at night quite young, I got quite good at the confident walk, it didn’t stop all trouble, but it probably minimised it. Hopefully the tide will turn now and things will change, it’s amazing how huge this has grown.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. “You’re going to miss being harassed.” Wow. You have to love people who think they know what YOU’RE going to miss and you’re going to regret, beyond even the ridiculousness of that statement. Walking (and when I was able jogging) is one of the best ways for me to either come up with ideas or solidify solutions in my mind. Driving works, too, but walking is much cheaper 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, I get that driving too (I’m terrible at running), I wonder what it is – the sense of movement keeps your mind moving? The constant change of scenery? It’s a great feeling.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Loved this! So true! I feel so much more free these days. I get more engagement of the preferred sort from people which feels genuine and friendly precisely because I project these qualities now as an older woman. I also go for solo walks or jogs now with no dog to ‘normalise’ it to whoever may pass me or see me. I simply don’t care what anyone thinks, and it feels great! Lovely post and well expressed!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t think I’ve been catcalled much, but I don’t have the best memory. Probably not as often as my high school friends because I was a wallflower, never liked wearing makeup, never went anywhere really. Which is not to say that only women who wear makeup get shouted at on the street, but it seems like more of a spotlight. But I’ve always been anxious and always had the feeling of eyes on me wherever I was.

    No, actually I remember being catcalled once. I was in seventh grade and on a summer trip to Italy with some classmates. We left a gelato shop and a small heard of Italian guys started following us, then our chaperone hurriedly got us into a cab and back to the hotel. I think that was in Pisa. Very unsettling.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think any of the attention I got was due to how I looked (i’ve never made too much of an effort either, make up is too much fuss 😉 ), more because I liked walking around a lot, so I was there to be shouted at, I’d walk for hours every afternoon/evening. I can relate to the feeling of ‘eyes on me’, I’ve always thought invisibility would be a relief, you could know you’re being ignored and not worry.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s funny, I was talking with some people not too long ago about this subject. I’m in my mid-thirties, and I’ve never had guys in the street do this to me. I figure that there are several reasons, starting with the fact that I’m not much of a looker because I’m overweight. I wouldn’t call myself ugly exactly, just that my looks are kind of so-so, so I don’t get a lot of people who look twice.

    Some of the women I know who are younger and prettier complain about this topic more just because they’re better-looking and get more attention. In particular, they complain about getting hit on by guys at the grocery store. When I thought about that, thinking that not only haven’t I been hit on, but I haven’t actually seen anyone else getting hit on either, I realized something: I tend to go to the grocery store in the morning because I’m often picking up something for lunch as well as general groceries. I think that the weirdos probably sleep in, so I never see them! XD

    But, no, I’m not anxious to have them hitting on me so I can feel better about my looks. I already know what I look like, and I don’t think highly of people like that, so their approval doesn’t mean a whole lot. It’s kind of like with jelly bean counting contests: I don’t enter them because I’m not very good at that sort of thing and I don’t even like jelly beans, so I wouldn’t know what to do with a great big jar of them if I actually won. So, what would be the point? I never really thought that much about the absence of harassment before because I just kind of go about my life, wrapped up in my own concerns. I have a lot of other things to think about without people like that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for a very thoughtful response. Your last sentence really sums the whole thing up for me: I have other things to think about. Every person has so many different skills to offer the world – wisdom, empathy, love, invention, imagination, creativity, hard work. We are each complex, multi-faceted beings, but still women are told in a number of different ways that our appearance is more important than almost anything else we do. It’s unpleasant and it’s a waste, it restricts, being free of that allows to explore your other abilities.
      I don’t know why you don’t get catcalled much – maybe it’s where you live, maybe you carry yourself with a presence that frightens the idiots away. Whatever, the reason doesn’t matter, I’m just really glad that you have the intelligence and strength to value you yourself for all that you are, and to dismiss the opinions of idiots who dismiss you.
      Have a delightful day 🙂

      Like

      1. Besides my looks, I think a lot of it is also where I live and when I’m usually out in public. Like I said, I tend to go grocery shopping at odd times, when I’m not that likely to encounter single guys who act weird. I also live in the American southwest, where it’s hot for much of the year, and we live in kind of an urban sprawl. Lots of people drive because it’s a fair distance to shops and stuff, and walking in the heat can be difficult. People do go walking and biking, but the suburbs where I live don’t get the high levels of pedestrians that someone who lives downtown would see. The younger women I know have spent more time around the university and downtown than I have lately. Plus, I probably do give off a vibe that I’m not there to flirt.

        I think the closest I’ve been to being hit on lately was the odd guy in the bookstore who walked up to me and asked me if I liked books. He didn’t ask me if I liked mystery books, which was the section I was in, just if I liked books. I was holding books and looking at books on the shelves at the time. I talked to him for a few minutes just I was curious. I asked him what kind of stuff he liked, and he said that he was into psychology and reading about drug information. I asked him if he was in the medical fields, but he said no. He just likes reading about different kinds of drugs. Then, he quickly said that he didn’t actually take drugs. I hadn’t asked that, although I was thinking it. When I told him that I had to be going, he said, “Wait, could I see you again?” I said, “Why not? I pop up every now and then. See you around.” Then, I gave him a cheery wave and kept going. I haven’t seen him since. So, I guess I do meet some odd people, just a different kind of odd. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. He certainly sounds a bit more interesting than the usual common-or-garden harasser. It’s good to be sought out by odd people, more likely to make you smile than some unimaginative idiot shouting at you to ‘smile! it might never happen’ 🙂 . Bookshops are a good place for odd, as well. I worked in bookshops for a few years and met a cornucopia of different kind of odd people.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s