This past summer, I got catcalled by a guy in a car as I was walking out of a bank.
“Take it as a compliment,” I’ve heard people say. Well, I am fine with compliments. A few weeks earlier, a man I passed on the street said, “Excuse me, ma’am, but I just wanted to tell you you’re beautiful. Have a lovely day.” Now some people don’t want to be interrupted to hear random opinions about their appearance, which is reasonable. Personally, I thought it was nice.
But this guy in the car yelled, “Yo Red, come suck my dick!” I hope nobody would ever take that as a compliment.
(Does this kind of demand ever succeed, by the way? When a dude yells at a woman to come suck his dick, does she ever dash over to his car, pulling her hair back in a hasty ponytail, ready to get to work? )
The rest of the interaction went exactly as you would expect. I ignored him and kept walking to my car. He yelled something about curtains and drapes. I gave him the finger, he hollered that I was a bitch, and then the driver in the car behind him honked the horn because the light had turned green and he drove off.
I usually shrug these things off, like we all do, but this one pissed me off because of the circumstances. I was about to have major surgery, and I was at the bank to get an advance directive notarized, so that if something horrible happened everyone would know not to keep me on life support. It made me mad that I had to deal with that even when I was taking care of such sober business.
I asked some women if they had ever been catcalled at particularly inappropriate times. Not to my surprise, they had.
In some cases, the timing was just odd. Isn’t it a little awkward to catcall someone while her dog is taking a dump? Does it really make sense to holler at a woman while she’s with her boyfriend and her boyfriend’s dad, pushing big carts full of stuff across the Home Depot parking lot?
Catcalling is particularly infuriating when you’re trying to achieve something, such as during a run. One of my friends was yelled at right as she went into a building for a job interview, which might throw even a cool-headed person just a bit off her game.
Several of the stories were patently horrible.
One woman was harassed right after having her dog put down after his battle with cancer. I’m at least glad she let the guy have it. Two of the women I talked to had been catcalled while going home from a funeral. One of them had stopped at a convenience store, wearing a black dress, because she had cried so hard at her friend’s service that she needed some Gatorade. A man called after her, making kissing noises and saying, “Damn girl you make that dress look gooood.”
A doctor told me possibly the worst story. She had finished a terrible shift in the ER. After declaring a 15-year-old girl brain dead, she had a painful talk with the family about organ donation. Then she admitted a 14-year-old girl who had been raped, beaten, and left for dead, and a long-term patient of hers suddenly coded and died. She came out into the parking lot at 10 a.m. and got catcalled. The family of the 15-year-old was walking out with her, and when the doctor hugged the girl’s mother, the stream of harassment got worse.
Many of us have a long history with harassment, beginning in our early teens. One of my friends thought being pregnant would make her temporarily immune. Nope. I honestly thought that at my age, I would be done with it. Middle-aged women, I am always told, are invisible. I don’t want to be invisible in social situations or at work, but on the street? Yes please.
Women get catcalled at the worst times possible, of course, simply because it happens so frequently. It’s wrong regardless of the harasser’s intentions, but I think most catcalls aren’t even about picking someone up, but putting someone down.
I hope that parents, and dads especially, will talk more to their boys about this, long before they get their driving permits. Because no matter who, where, or when, catcalling is the worst.