For me, the interesting thing about catcalling is that it feels the same as being bullied– just like the verbal abuse I heard in middle school.
Of course, the comments are different. They used to be:
Do you own a different belt? Are you even a girl? Hey, nice tights.
You’re too big here and too small there, etc. etc. etc.
Now that I’ve graduated from taunts to catcalls, the comments sound like:
Heeeeey girl. I know what you want. Okay, just ac’ like you don’t see me! etc. etc. etc.
So, acknowledging these differences, I ask: why do the two situations feel identical? Here are 3 similarities between being bullied and catcalled, as I’ve experienced them:
1. In both situations, I feel vulnerable.
Whether I am twelve years old wearing my favorite, worn-out old belt, or twenty years old wearing my favorite dress, being called out in public makes me uncomfortable, especially among strangers. These comments draw attention to my body, and that attention doesn’t feel like respect or admiration. It feels like the desire of an outsider or a group to dominate me with invasive words and prying eyes.
2. In both situations, I feel afraid and I don’t know how to react.
I am unsafe. Should I respond at all? If so, should it be with a snarky comment, a scornful scolding, a glare, or a politely-worded objection? There are so many options and only a few seconds in which to respond… And what if my aggressor follows me? What then? How long can I continue to ignore the comments? How long will it take for the person to get bored, or for me to find a safe place?
3. In both situations, I feel embarrassed.
The thing is, I don’t hold any illusions about my beauty: I am average at best, but I am okay with it. What is not okay, is when someone catcalls me and I feel ashamed of my body because I perceive sarcasm in their words. What a funny joke: call the frumpy little nerd “sexy” and see how she reacts. Will she believe it, or will she catch the irony?
You could say that this is a self-esteem issue on my part, but I wouldn’t be convinced. Anyway, some women just don’t want to be called whatever names you’re shouting at them. A quick example: Have you ever met a petite person who hated being called ‘cute’?
For my middle-school bullies, dim-witted sarcasm was the tool of the trade, and I definitely see parallel behaviors in catcallers. They hurt my pride just as much as taunts did when I was a kid. As always, it only hurts more when I feel afraid to stand up for myself, lest I attract more unwanted attention or anger the person who’s aggravating me.
My purpose in writing all this is to explain to people (boys and men, generally) why I am afraid of catcalling, even though I’ve never been assaulted, followed, or faced any dangerous consequences.
And as a side note, all of this is also related to my sour reaction to my male friends and boyfriends who have (at some point) called me hot or sexy. I don’t believe that any of them said what they said with the intention of hurting, upsetting, or dominating me, but the impact was the same: The sentiment expressed in these comments doesn’t feel like respect or admiration. Unless we are very intimate, it sounds to me like a catcall, and a catcall feels just like an attack from a bully.
Thanks for reading. I’d really like to hear some feedback about this; I know fear and vulnerability are common reactions to this kind of attention, but I’m curious about what others think of my feelings of embarrassment.
love, caprice cake