My ethics class is currently covering feminist ethics. It has been a nice reminder about how angry I am over women’s place in the world. So I will now subject you to one of the many topics I climb on my soap box about.
Over the past year I have gotten pretty serious about boxing. I have gone from approaching it rather lackadaisically to attending daily classes. I have been meeting with my coach, getting involved in teaching, and getting back into sparring. I have found this to be an amazing journey of personal growth and discovery. It has changed the way I approach kink, porn, and school. It has done this by making me face my fears of weakness, and come out victorious.
But right now I want to discuss the part of this adventure which has sad implications for our culture as a whole. Because of boxing, for the first time in my life I feel safe. I am no longer scared when I am walking by myself; I don’t feel the need to wear baggy clothing when I am outside after dark. Every time I am in public without a man, catcalls threaten violence everywhere I go. And yes, I fully tend to explain to you why catcalls, which some think are innocent compliments, contribute to my lack of safety in the streets. But I would like to start out with a couple of stories.
Not too long ago I was out with a lovely female partner of mine in the city. We had decided to drive to a diner to get a midnight snack. As I got out of the car a large man started yelling compliments after me. I ignored him and kept walking, it was just two blocks to the diner. He followed me all the way into the diner still yelling “compliments” at me. He then decided to try to join my partner and I at our table so he could tell us how beautiful we are. He didn’t leave until the restaurant’s staff got involved. I didn’t take a single thing he said as a compliment, because all of it had a threat of violence attached to it. This was harassment.
Another great story is about the last time I went to buy a cell phone. It took about four times longer than it should have because of how I was treated. There were two male salesman working at the time. Within five minutes of talking to the first one he’d asked me if I had a boyfriend. He didn’t ask if I was interested in him, or if I was available; he asked me if I was the property of another man. I quickly exited that situation and went to talk to the second man. This one spent the whole time it took to get my cell phone telling me I was beautiful and very persistently asking if I was interested in him. He refused to listen to me when I said no, only listening when I made up a fictitious boyfriend. When I was about to leave he said, “Oh, you must get this all the time. You are so pretty you deserve to be treated like this”.
This infuriated me. Because I am pretty I deserve to have my “no” ignored? I am attractive, so I have to be the property of a man or I am fair game whether or not I consent to it? I deserve to have to take an hour out of my day to get a cell phone when it should have taken 15 minutes?
The worst part of this is that over half the time I use this story as an example of aggression towards women I am told I am wrong. People say, “Oh honey, you’ll miss this when you are no longer beautiful. Take it as a compliment”.
I will not take any of these actions as a compliment, and I would never miss this harassment. I have dozens of stories like this. In fact, even though I am no longer scared of their aggression, I still “dress down” as often as possible, just so I can get through my day without being objectified.
When men catcall me on the street it is a reminder of what they could do to me. It is a reminder that they might be the next person to try to follow me home. They could be the person who gets offended when I ignore them and chases me down the street telling me what a bitch I am. Even when they are telling me I have a nice smile, or other seemingly innocent “compliments”, it is a reminder that I am not a person in their eyes, I am a just a compilation of attractive features to them. To them I am just a sexual object. This is terrifying, because once someone can dehumanize you to that point they fail to attribute you your basic human rights. It is so much easier for them to attack.
Catcalls are an ongoing reminder that streets do not belong to the public, they belong to men.
So every time a stranger tells me I am beautiful I am mentally calculating their size, if they look aggressive, the time it would take them to reach me, if it’d be smarter to run or fight if they come after me. I am preparing myself if they decide to verbally assault me for ignoring them. Making sure I won’t take their insults of “bitch” or “cunt” personally.
Boxing has given my confidence in this calculation. Sometimes I don’t even bother to look at who’s yelling at me. I know that if they come after me I will be okay, I can handle myself. So it is in that way I no longer fear walking down the street.
And that is incredibly sad. I shouldn’t only feel safe because I can fight. That is not a cure for the sickness of sexism. I don’t want every woman to have to take up boxing in order to feel safe in their own neighborhoods, their own cities. I want women to feel safe because men finally realize how fucking scary their actions can be.
And yes, I know not all men do this. But quite a few of them let it happen. When their friend makes a rude comment they stay silent, or they refuse to believe this is happening because it doesn’t happen to their female friend when they are around. Of course it won’t happen when a woman is with a man, catcallers have more respect when it looked like a woman is already owned. Not enough people are explaining to men how catcalls are a symptom of the systematic oppression of women, or how disturbing it is not to feel safe in your own city.
The privilege to be able to ignore this problem is not the same thing as innocence. This isn’t a problem just concerning a few rude comments. Woman are being made to fear walking down the street, they are being taught that they have no autonomy over their own consent. This is a problem, and it needs to be addressed now.
Here are some good recourses for stopping street harassment. This is a hotly debated topic so do some research on your own and figure out what works best for you!