In light of the wave of voices speaking up about harassment, I think it’s time I added mine.
I must have been about 14 when men started cat-calling me. Despite the fact that I was underage, despite the fact that I was a child, despite the fact that I would only be walking down the street, men yelled sexual comments at me.
Every weekend of my life, until the age of 18 when I left home, I would visit Papakura to stay with my mum. In all that time, I only went for a run once. Running down Great South Road, as a 16 year old girl, I think three cars honked at me or yelled something out the window. New houses were going in near Drury, and every construction site I ran past was the site of another comment. Adult men asking a young girl (because no matter how adult I thought I was at 16, I was just that – a girl) for her phone number, to show them body parts she’s barely even grown.
As I got older, the harassment didn’t stop. I used to stay at uni until 9.30pm for the meetings of a club I was in. One night, walking home (a ten minute walk, max) a group of men were coming towards me in a relatively secluded part of the footpath. They’d been drinking, and as soon as they saw me they started yelling at me. I ignored them and carried on walking, but some turned around and carried on yelling, following me. Eventually they gave up, and carried on down the street. I got lucky. Another girl that night may not have.
I remember telling a male friend about this occurring, and saying how I’d cross the street if I was walking home alone and there was a man who looked suspicious coming towards me. He was surprised that I’d assume the man was going to assault me, and said he’d get offended when he saw women do the same to him on the street. I couldn’t believe that he thought his pride was more important than her safety. While my friend may have been a nice guy, she didn’t know that. And honestly, I’d say the majority of men who harass women think that they’re “nice guys”.
More recently, I was speaking to another male friend about going for runs in town, mentioning that I hated running through the city because of the comments men would yell at me. I preferred parks, I said, because they were generally full of runners too busy exercising to notice you, and were away from men in cars. The fact that I would be regulated by the actions of men had never occurred to him, as he’d never had to worry about where an when he ran (even running at night alone). He was obviously distressed by finding this out, but I was just amazed that he’d never even had to think about his own safety.
Too often, men don’t realise the extent to which women are subjected to the crass, mortifying, and terrifying comments that men make. So many of them think that cat-calling and assault are isolated incidents, which only happen to a minority of women. Hopefully, the “me too” campaign will shed light on the fact that nearly every women you speak to will have experienced some form of harassment in their lives.
I think one of the most interesting things that happened to me when I cut my hair short, was that the cat-calling halved. As I went from looking like a 16 year old blonde (even though I was 18), to a 20 year old with a pixie cut, men seemed to lose interest in me. It was the most freeing time of my life. Apparently, losing the stereo-typically feminine persona I’d worn for so long, now marked me out as some kind short-haired lesbian. Even at clubs, men seemed less inclined to grab me or speak to me. That alone was enough to inspire me to keep it short.
I was speaking to a friend about this exact topic recently, and she told me how her height and short hair meant that she basically never got cat-called. Only if she was wearing a dress or other traditionally feminine clothing, would men react. Even though men seem to cat-call no matter what a woman is wearing (yes guys, it doesn’t matter if she’s wearing track pants or a mini skirt, some loser will still yell at her. How about we stop it with the victim blaming aye?), it’s incredible to me that feminine qualities seem to be an invite to harassment. As if we should exclusively wear masculine clothes to deter men (insert eye roll emoji here). Wear whatever you want, gal.
Cat-calls are not compliments. I am not “flattered” by the attention you so lovingly gave me, as you leaned out your car window on Queen Street in traffic and called me ‘baby’. It’s not just a joke. For women, it’s the difference between getting home safely or being assaulted. For women, it’s potentially life or death.
Women, make your voices heard.
Men, keep ya damn mouths shut.