On Being Catcalled, and the Nature of Fear.

Warning for profanity and mentions of lewd acts: 

Dear Men of The World (and particularly Men of the Large Cities I’ve Lived In),

I’ve noticed you before. Sometimes, on late night runs to the corner store for chocolate bars and cheap champagne or early morning forays to the bakery for croissants and ten-cent rolls you’ve followed me with your eyes. Sometimes you’ve said “hello”, or “how are you” or “let me fuck your tits” or “why are you ignoring me you whore” as I’ve gone on my morning jog. I have ignored you vigorously. I have not made eye contact or slowed my walk or turned my head. I have not said one word. I have walked on the side of the street with the working streetlights and never been distracted by my phone. I have stopped running on the roads you frequent when I know you are there. Unfortunately, this is most roads and most times, so I mostly exercise in my apartment now. Running used to be my stress relief, but braving the out-of-doors in my running pants isn’t worth it when you’re there. Thanks for that.

I’ve noticed you on my morning commute to work. You make comments about my belly when the wind blows up my shirt one single inch. You make comments about my ass when I crouch down to tie my shoes. Even when I’m dead tired, no make-up on my face, hair swept up in a haphazard bun, you still have something to say. Sometimes you try to sit next to me on the bus, and kindly older women give me that look. The look that says ‘sit here, honey, I’ve been there, I’ll watch out for you.’ I always squeeze into the seat next to them, even if I’d have more room to spread out in a seat closer to you.

I’ve noticed you when I walk the city streets with the children I care for. 4-year-olds who don’t understand why we can’t take their favorite shortcut home. 7-year-olds who don’t know why we can’t stop and have a chat. 10-year-olds who know what those dirty words mean and see the power they hold over me. You see me with children and you do not care. You have no shame. There is no setting an example, or thinking of others. I wouldn’t be surprised if you go home to your wife or stand up in your church and talk of how virtuous you are, but none of that matters on a city street when you’re walking past me playing with little ones in a public park.

Since you have been so helpful to me, Men in Large Cities, I just want to take some time to give you a few tips:

When it is 4 in the afternoon and I am walking home from work and I do not have my headphones in, it is not an invitation to talk to me. When I walk faster to get away from you, I am not in a hurry to get somewhere. I am scared.

When you say “hello” and “pretty girl” and “let’s be friends”, I am not flattered. I am scared.

When you ask me to talk to you, kiss you, hold you, fuck you in English, Spanish, Arabic and French — just to cover your bases — and I do not respond, I am not shy. I am scared.

When you and 4 of your friends follow me through the park, ignoring the families and the mothers with strollers and the couples and the men and tell me you are just being friendly, I am not frigid. I am scared.

When one of you runs to keep up with my quick, long, increasingly frantic strides and tries to grab my arm and I do not turn my head or yell or scream or speak and just walk even faster, I am not stressed. I am so very, very scared.

Please do not tell me “don’t be afraid”, “no stress, baby doll”. Do not ask me to “smile, beautiful girl”. I will not smile, because I am scared. You scare me. Me, a strong, smart, independent, well-informed woman who is unafraid to travel thousands of miles to start new lives. I am so very, very scared of you.

I am tired of being afraid. It isn’t fair. It isn’t fair that you think you have a right to me. To my body and my mind and my words. It isn’t fair that you think you have a right to my city, to every street and park and subway station. I am so tired of having to know the shops that don’t mind when I duck in, of counting the blocks to my building, of cramming my keys between the knuckles of my third and fourth fingers, of bypassing my apartment and stopping for food I don’t want and waiting until you stop leaning against the window to finally, finally go home.

I am scared and I am tired and there’s not much that I can do about it. I can’t fight back, because if I fight back I’m asking for trouble. I can’t just ignore you, because if I ignore you and then you hurt me, I was clearly asking for it. I have no power here. You, though, you have lots. While I can’t do I anything, you, my friend, can do a whole hell of a lot. Think about it, won’t you?

Sincerely,

The Lady You Catcalled on the Subway Today (and many other days, too)

–S

Day 13: January 13, 2017

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