Last Friday night, I had dinner at a small Mexican restaurant on St. Clair West. Sitting at a table next to me was a group of 5 women who were out on what I presumed to be a girls’ night out.
They seemed to be having a good time, enjoying each other’s company, laughing and talking about their lives. However, they were talking quite loudly and it was impossible not to hear their whole conversation, which I didn’t mind; sometimes strangers’ conversations can be enjoyable and interesting to listen to.
Since I couldn’t tune out their conversation, I decided I might as well listen in, After all, why not? At first, they mostly told funny stories about their kids or bad traffic. Then the conversation turned to one of the women sharing the story of something that happened to her in middle school. It was not nearly as lighthearted as the ones they’d been swapping earlier.
The story she was telling was about a day in grade seven when she was followed home from school by a middle aged man. She knew he was following her the full six or so blocks it took her to get home, and she was scared but didn’t know what to do. When she was about a block away from her house, he stopped her to tell her she was very attractive and then proceeded to grab her arm. At this point, she yanked her arm away and ran, terrified. Luckily the man didn’t follow her any further. She ended this story by reiterating to her friends that she was in grade 7 when this happened. She was only 12 years old and a grown man thought it was okay to stalk her and then make sexual comments about her to face. Some people might say he meant it as a compliment or that he was actually being nice, but anyone who does something like that is a pedophile and a creep.
After hearing this, I immediately felt sorry for this woman, though her story was not shocking in any way, I myself had similar experiences at twelve years old, and this woman and I weren’t the only ones. Her friends all began to share their own stories, every one of them had experienced sexual harassment form grown men on the street by the time they were 14. In fact, 67% of women experience catcalling by the age of 14. Based on these facts, I wasn’t surprised to hear one of them say she was afraid to have daughters for exactly this reason.
This whole interaction really resonated with me because they weren’t complacent or even just upset about it. They were angry. They were angry that no one was calling out the grown men who harass girls on their way home from school or around their towns. It’s a common misconception that the people who harass women on the street are creeps, not functioning citizens with jobs and families.
But catcalling isn’t just something done by creeps with nothing better to do, it’s a display of power and a way of giving yourself control over another person by making them fearful of you. When a stranger takes photos of you running, or yells obscene things at you from a few feet away, you don’t yell at them or start an altercation because you don’t know what they are capable of and your primary objective is keeping yourself safe. Add to that the fact that street harassers often congregate in groups and prey on women when they are alone, and you have the perfect recipe for power and fear. This is why many men who feel powerless in other aspects of their lives, whether it be financially or in their relationships choose to harass women on the street, it gives them control in their lives where they had none before. Because catcalling is a tool to create power over another person and also because of the fear it ignites in its receiver that catcalling is never a compliment, and is a disgusting thing to do.
If you’d like to read more about catcalling and how it affects women, I’ve attached a few links below. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this subject in the comments, or you can send me an email through my contact page.
Thanks for reading!