Let’s Talk About…: Why A Catcall Isn’t A Compliment

I was 16 years-old, the first time I was catcalled.

Well, the first time that I remember anyway.

The first time it negatively affected my perception of myself.

Beside the bus-stop in the small town we lived in was a community center of sorts. It could be rented out by local organisations, but the room’s most constant visitors were that of the members of Alcoholics Anonymous. I had just stepped off the bus and was walking to the corner to cross the street, en route to the library. I do not recall my outfit being particularly revealing – in fact, at this point in my life, I dressed a lot like early Avril Lavigne (think baggy and camo).

Focused on my destination and halfway over the cross walk, in the middle of the street, there was the sound of a, “Hey!” shouted behind me. Obligingly, I turned around and made my way back to the corner, were a man, possibly in his early 20’s, was standing. I said nothing.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

Three words, but his intentions were already clear as day.

Now, at this point in the story, you might choose to play devil’s advocate. You could say:

“Come on Mars. You’re just ASSUMING this poor guy’s intention. Maybe he wanted to tell you that your shoelace was untied or something.”

Allow me to continue…

Sensing 20-somethings’ intentions, two words dropped from my mouth:

“I’m 16.”

Shock, pure and naked arrested every feature on his face. It was almost comical as mouth dropped open, eyebrows shot sky-high and the stranger took a physical step back, as if I had bitten him.

“Seriously?!” disbelief laced his tone, as if I were joking – as if I were simply being coquettish.

“Yup,” I answered, flatly.

“…You look older.”

As if that were an excuse. As if that fact was in my control. As if I had gone out of my way to taunt him with something he couldn’t have. What’s that term…………….Oh, yes. Jail-bait.

20-something, taking one last look, turned to return to his group members, loitering and smoking in front of the building.

I turned and continued my own journey, though I could feel that I was no longer the same.

Just before leaving earshot, I was able to hear 20-something exclaim, “I know! They fill out so much earlier now…”

So many times, this single moment has replayed in my mind and I’ve wondered:

If this man were suddenly here before me now, what would I say to him? How could I make him understand the decades of harm that one encounter foreshadowed?

And after many years and much thought, I think I would try to describe how it feels.

 

You find yourself hating every iota of your being: hating your breasts for filling your shirt, for sticking out so much; hating your hips for providing their basic function. You hate your legs for their length, your hair for its shine, your lashes for their natural curl. Anxiety rises. Your mouth turns acidic as the smallest tinge of vomit rises to the back of your throat, putrid and hot. You lose all sense of humanity as you are forcefully molded instead into some faceless, sexualized being, like clay being violated by invisible, inescapable hands. You find yourself asking, ‘Why did I have to wear these shorts?’ or ‘I shouldn’t have put so much makeup on.’ because that is what society teaches you.

“Did you see how short that dress was? She was totally asking for it!”

“Well, she shouldn’t have been walking out, so late at night if she didn’t want that to happen!”

“He just couldn’t help himself. Boys will be boys, you know?

You find yourself silently begging people to stop looking at you and you stand less tall in an attempt to make yourself as small as possible. Your gaze remains glued to the ground unless necessity requires otherwise, but you take every pain not to make eye contact with the opposite sex. Personal space becomes a four-foot perimeter that you maintain at all times. You never go out alone and if you go out at all, you watch your drink like a hawk. All the while, there is a low, constant tickle of feeling unsafe whenever a male is in the general vicinity, be it rational or not.

 

Now, allow me to happily take a moment to acknowledge that all people are different. I know plenty of individuals that swell as a whistle or a, “Hey, baby! Where you going?” herald their arrival. This collection of words is a reflection of my thoughts and feelings, and will only resonate as true with a small group of individuals.

However, I am not the kind of person who desires that form of attention. And I definitely wasn’t at 16.

A simple phrase can erase humanity and replace it with a shallow creature of lust. “Hey, there…” with a wink and a particular inflection has the power to make an innocent child feel dirty for reasons they cannot understand. It is a stripping of goodness. A minimizing of dimensions. Should we not all be seen for the multifaceted individuals that we are? Why have us reduced to curves and genitalia? Wouldn’t it be kinder to simply show us the basic respect all people deserve and keep any thoughts you may or may not be having to yourself?

A catcall is many things. However, to me and to many other people on this planet…it is not…and will never be – a compliment.

Mars, signing off. ◊

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8 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About…: Why A Catcall Isn’t A Compliment

  1. This is written so amazingly! And 100% it is the worst thing, people think we should take it as a compliment and feel all happy after something like this happens, but it honestly creates a sense of fear almost, not due to vanity, but just a general discomfort! I couldn’t agree with this more! This is such a good post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love everything about this post!!! It is so fitting to the times.. I don’t know how I would prefer to be approached but I dont like cat calls… I dont like to feel like the intention is to always want to see me naked right away… maybe that is wishful thinking??

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad! And there’s nothing wishful about it – everyone on this planet, be they male or female or other – deserves the basic respect to not feel like a piece of meat on the sidewalk. We are individuals and so much more than just our bodies. I know I for one would be a totally different person if men hadn’t (figuratively) shoved their sexual attraction to me down my throat since I was a child.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Mars, thank you for writing this piece. I like it. It is written with truth, honesty, and clarity of emotion. I imagine it must’ve been cathartic and means a lot to you. I live on the other side of your world, and I too have experienced my share of catcalling. I don’t remember exactly how old I was the first time it happened, but I do remember vividly how it (and other subsequent experiences like it) made me feel: uncomfortable in my own skin. When I shouldn’t be, really. Because it’s not my fault. Sadly, one of the things women learn earlier these days is that part of living as a woman is learning to deal with the male gaze.

    And I do agree with you. A catcall is NEVER a compliment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad this post could resonate with you! 🙂 Many times, writing posts like these is the only way I can work through my frustration in a constructive way. It can happen, no matter where you are and that deeply saddens me.

      You’re absolutely right – it is never your fault when someone chooses to disrespect and dehumanize you that way. That choice is completely on them. I wish I could shield all women and girls from that reality – some sort of giant umbrella perhaps? I’m still working on it. haha The best I can do now is remind everyone – it’s not your fault and it’s not a reflection on your body or soul.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That giant umbrella sounds really useful, wish I had one. 🙂 But you’re doing great sharing your own insight and reminding other girls & women of their worth, and letting them learn what they can from you. Not a lot of women would bother to do this (sad, but true), and it’s a good thing that you care so much to do whatever you can.

        Sending you positive vibes and well wishes to continue being a light for others and for yourself. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’ll start working on it! haha I just know how dirty and undesirable being treated like that makes me feel. And though I know it has nothing to do with me or my worth, I still subconsciously shrink every time it happens.

        I never want any other person to carry that alone – thinking they’re tainted or less than just because some tasteless idiot had something to say. It’s of the utmost importance to me.

        Thank you so much! I can use all the good vibes I can get.

        Like

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