It started when I was about 11. I remember walking by a near construction area, on the way to the beach where I was going to meet my friends. Suddenly, right when I turned left on the corner, a gust of wind pulled up my light dress and the bottom of my flowery (and very childish) bikini got exposed. Two of the men that were working on the street whistled and screamed: “Hey, can we come with you?“I was terrified and profoundly embarrassed. My reaction was to run, at the verge of tears, while I could still hear them laughing in the back. I never told anyone.
At some point, I almost felt as if this was normal, as if I deserved it, just because I was a woman.
After this accident, it became pretty common. As a family tradition, before we went out, my dad would look at my sister and me straight in the eye and he would say: “Please, don’t come home by yourselves. If anything, and I don’t care where you are, how or with whom, call me. I’ll come get you.” We got used to it. It didn’t matter if it was 12 am or 12 pm, it could always happen. Men didn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that I was just a child or surrounded by people. At some point, I almost felt as if this was normal, as if I deserved it, just because I was a woman.
I started to speak about this with my mother and my female friends. Some of them, the bravest ones, admitted they had never been scared. “Men do this all the time,” someone said, “it doesn’t mean they’re dangerous.” However, I couldn’t help but feel endangered every time it happened. I would quicken up my pace, grab my keys tightly on my hand, think about the easiest way out.
The scariest experience came when I was 17. It was close to midnight and I walked past one of those burger places that delivers 24 hours a day. A man on his bicycle came out just as I passed through the door of the restaurant. He hurried up and pulled up next to me. He got down of his bike, looked at me and simply said: “Hey, how are you? You have quite a beautiful smile.” I swear to you, I wish this wasn’t something that immediately freaked me out, but he was around 65 years old, I was alone, far from home, and it was dark. With all this thoughts running through my mind, I didn’t answer.
He insisted: “What’s wrong? Are you scared or something? I was just trying to be nice,” as he got closer and closer. I was almost running at this point, but he was keeping up. It was obvious I was scared and not interested in anything he had to say. Consequently, he started to get aggressive. “I was going to ask you politely, but turns out you’re a bitch. I don’t care, I know girls like you. I’ll pay you if you come spend the night with me. Maybe even the weekend. C’mon, you don’t look that expensive.”
I panicked. I started sprinting, but he had a bike and he quickly got next to me again. He was about to grab me and I screamed. A girl was walking her dog across the street. Luckily, she saw fear in my eyes as she crossed the street sprinting, came next to me and said: “Oh, honey, I was waiting for you. You’re late.” I hugged her. The man kept going, act as if nothing had happened, and I waited, shaking, crying, thanking the stranger for what it almost felt like saving my life.
She walked me home and told me that she felt something was wrong when she was crossing the street, because it looked like I wasn’t comfortable. Obviously, it looked like he wasn’t my dad or friend, so she sticked around just in case. When I got to my door she smiled and said: “I’m sorry this happened to you. But you’re safe now. Go home and shower. This world… It’s fucked up. Men are fucked up.” I hugged her back and got home, never ever mentioning this again to anyone.
Please, dear cat callers, let us go home in peace.
Catcalling is one of the examples I use the most when I try to explain my male friends why feminism is still important, “now that women can vote and even lead countries” (Wow, thank you world. It almost looks like you consider us human!) Yes, I tell them. We’ve gotten better. But I will need feminism as long as men feel they have the power to leave me feeling terrified every time I come home by myself.
“Dear catcallers: It’s not a compliment.” That’s what Noa Jansma has tried to show us in her project. During a month, she’s taken pictures with each man that has harassed her in the streets to try and show the magnitude of the problem and how unaware men are that this is causing us serious issues. Sadly, we could all have our very own collection.
Don’t give us an opinion we haven’t asked for. Not even if you think it’s kind to let us know we’re beautiful. It’s still harassment. Please, dear cat callers, let us go home in peace.