Before I learned how to drive, or started High School, or kissed a boy, or went to my first school dance or any of the other wonderful things that comes with growing up, I learned what catcalling was.
I’ve always loved to be outside; running, walking, swimming, biking- you name it. But, even in the safe, Southern California suburban neighborhood I grew up in, I learned quickly that this luxury I got, of working out or just simply being outside in public came at the price of uncomfortable and unwanted stares, smirks and shouts. So, as soon as I reached the age where parent supervision wasn’t a requirement, I learned to adapt.
This meant wearing long sleeves on a run in the summer heat, only wearing one Airpod so I could hear everything around me, and learning the different routes of my neighborhood in case I needed to quickly change my running route. Even now, back on my college campus, I’m met with the familiar stares and smiles of men as I go for my campus loop run. Although I feel safer running through these neighborhoods, as I know a lot of the students that live in the houses, I still have a constant fear and the need to look behind my shoulder.
Now let me make something very clear: I don’t hate men. I am fully aware that there are respectful men with good intentions in this world. I know it because I have seen it. But, that doesn’t mean I should discredit how I feel at the expense of this minority. I can’t keep telling myself that the older man driving past me on the street as I ran slowed down to make sure I safely crossed the street. Or that the trash man rolled down his window as I ran by just to get some fresh air. Or that the man in the truck whistled in my direction because he was having a pleasant day. We all know this isn’t true. By doing this, I am a part of the problem. I am allowing myself to be the problem, rather than directing the attention to the root of the issue: Men.
As young girls we are taught not to talk back, not to get angry, not to engage. To let it happen and move on. To let men eat up everything with their eyes, to let them say vulgar things about our bodies, and to let them whistle and yell and shout. And to be unphased.
And this is normalized. This is how women have existed and continue to exist. As much as I wish I could yell back, or flip them off, I don’t. Not only is it not safe, but it isn’t the solution to the problem we are facing.
The problem does not start with women. The problem isn’t that we need to buy different clothes, or travel in groups or learn how to protect ourselves better. In fact, the problem entirely has to do with men, and the gender conditioning that has been created in our society.
Our society is set up in a way that allows leeway for men to do and say whatever they please, with virtually no consequences. Young boys are excused for their inappropriate behavior on account that they are “still learning”. Or their actions are forgiven and absolved in fear of tainting their “bright futures ahead”. Across the board, men are given a free pass to live in a world free from blame and responsibility.
This is not okay. Although harassment can occur regardless of gender, this is an area where male attention is desperately needed. Awareness is needed. Education is needed. On a foundational level, society needs to relearn and break down traditional gender roles. Equal respect and responsibility needs to be ingrained in each and every individual.
And this can start with us. It can start with how we treat those around us. How we chose to call out our friends when they do or say something inappropriate. Who we chose to support and spend time with. How we chose to raise our children. How we chose to stand up for ourselves and those around us. While this is not an issue that starts with us, it is one that we can actively do our part to stop.
So what’s stopping you?