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.

 

Short Story: Insidious Demands

– Hey there pretty lady, are you sitting all alone? A beautiful lady like you shouldn’t be alone.

– Oh, erm, hello, I’m just waiting for my friends, they’ll be here soon. Any minute now.

– Why don’t I keep you company then, hmm? You look like you could do with some company, just until they get here.

– Well, um, I’m not sure… it’s a bit of a school reunion, you see? Not an official one, just the old gang getting together again. I’m really quite nervous, it’s been so long.

– That’s why you need me to talk to, make a new friend while you’re waiting for the old ones.

– Well maybe, I mean. Maybe they’ll think it’s rude if I’m talking to someone else…

– Hey now, you shouldn’t be worrying about that, when we’ve got this chance to get to know each other, hmm?

– Well, I suppose. And it’s the kind of thing that we used to do back then, just start chatting to some random stranger. Kirsty especially, I could tell you some crazy stories. Whenever we took the train we’d end up talking to some boys or making friends with an old tramp.

– Well that’s great, I think you and me already have a real connection, don’t you? How about I buy you a drink?

–  Oh I don’t want to start drinking yet. Once the others get here, then I imagine it will be a free-for-all. More alcohol than you can shake a stick at, you know? Not that we were alcoholics, but we did like a drink.

– You don’t need to be so uptight about it, just have a drink with me.

– Oh Kirsty would love you. She did like a pushy fella who’d buy her a drink, she liked to play with them, she wanted the risk. Oh, I can’t wait to see the old gang, I haven’t seen them in years, not that it should matter, I mean when you’re friends with someone, that’s it for life, isn’t it? They say your teenage friends are your greatest friends, right? Didn’t they say that in a film once? But we were all very different back then though, and there were reasons we stopped being friends…

– Right, well that’s interesting…

– Kirsty especially got out of hand, not violent exactly, but, well there were incidents. Not that it was her fault, if I’d had that man as my father I’d have done a lot more than throw bottles at a car. Of course it would be all different if we were kids now, we’d spend our whole lives on the phone chatting to paedophiles. And you know kids today, the only time they actually look at one another is when they need to take a selfie, or a we-lie, or is it an us-y? I don’t know why they need to keep making up new words, like there aren’t enough words to deal with already. I mean there’s a whole dictionary full of the things.

– How about I get us that drink..?

– Anyway, I was telling you about Kirsty, you’ll like her, all the boys did at school. It’s odd because she was never that fastidious about personal hygiene, but then they say attraction is all about pheromones, so maybe she just didn’t wash hers off as much. You’d think the feet smell would mask the pheromones though wouldn’t you?

– Mmm.

– Fastidious, now there’s an interesting word that kids today never use. They’re too busy with their OMGs and YOLOs. But anyway, Kirsty, apparently she’s a big shot consultant now, earning a fortune in the city. Well it’s not really surprising, she was always clever. Clever and bored, that was her problem, school just wasn’t enough to occupy her, she could pass exams without even studying, lucky cow.

– Well that’s great, but maybe…

– Anyway, we all found each other on Facebook, it’s amazing isn’t it? Modern technology? Fifteen years, all five of us scattered across the globe. All going about our business never expecting to see each other again. Then a few clicks of the mouse and there you are, the whole gang together. Kirsty, Jennifer, Archisha, little Sarah and big Sarah. Of course big Sarah is not so big now. She actually looks fantastic. Not that she didn’t when she was a teenager, but, well, you know what it’s like for larger girls, it’s tough. Except it’s probably fine now, now that obesity is so common. Big Sarah would probably be considered quite svelte. Quite svelte Sarah we’d have to call her. Although I expect we’d be arrested under the Political-Correctness-Gone-Mad Act for it. You know at my son’s school they actually have a points system for bullying? Like with driving, you get too many points for picking on other kids and you have to take an anti-bullying test. Well, I said to the teacher, that’s just another form of bullying isn’t it? You’re bullying my son now, how about you take a test? How about I set that damn test? And yes, I did swear, but you can’t let these teachers push you around, can you?

– Ok, um, I really need to go now…

– Oh sorry, sorry, I got totally side-tracked, I was telling you about the gang, wasn’t I? Well there was Jennifer, sweet, mousy Jennifer. All the boys who didn’t go for smelly Kirsty, went for Jen. I never really understood why, I mean, she was pretty in a bland, unthreatening way, but there was no spark to her. Maybe that’s what they liked, someone who’d make them feel sparky by comparison. Boys don’t like to try too hard do they?

– Lady, let go of my arm…

– But I haven’t told you about Archisha and she’ll be here any minute. And hers is such a lovely story. When she joined the gang she was much like Jennifer, mousy. She followed us around with those big eyes, trying to make jokes, but she wasn’t funny, just awful. Then one of the boys took a shine to her and then she started to take a shine to herself, you know? I mean, we helped her out with make-up, lent her clothes and so on, but it was a total transformation, she blossomed. Became a bit full of herself to be honest, and she didn’t stop cracking those awful jokes, but the boys would just laugh and laugh, trying to impress her. I suppose they thought she was exotic, or is that impolitically correct now too?

– I need to go, please let me go…

– Yes, that’s right, you run along now. Run right along.

 

Originally posted March 19th 2016