Every time I step outside my door to go about my daily business, I brace myself for the inevitable catcalls and various street harassment. I am used to these catcalls. Catcalls are a constant reminder that I am a woman in a patriarchal society. However, I still get angry at the catcalls and the unwanted, unsolicited attention thrown my way on the street. I still get riled up when I am accosted on the street by strangers who have no qualms about asking me to smile for them. Even though these are daily occurrences, I still get angry and sad each time it occurs. For example:
Just this morning I was rushing to make an appointment, when out of the blues, a guy suddenly stuck his coconut shaped head mere inches from my face and asked “Where is the smile?” I had to take a deep breath to resist the urge to make a snarky comment like “Your coconut head just smashed a month’s worth of smiles from my face”.
It still beats me why men think every woman who dared to walk the street owe them a smile. I bet this toady, ignoramus man would not dare stick his coconut head on the face of another man he hardly knows on the street and go “Where is the smile?” He would probably get punched in the face and people would say he deserved to be punched. But, if I as a woman had reacted that way or even caused a scene, I would be called an overreacting, sensitive, ungrateful bitch. Yeah, it’s a sexist, chauvinistic world alright, different rules apply. All I could do was side-stepped his coconut head and walked away from his toady eyes without a comment. I was not about to let one of the many chauvinist ignoramuses walking the street make me miss an important appointment. The sad part is, most times, women do not even have the choice to just walk away as my next sexist encounter shows.
I moved house not too long ago and signed up for the gym about ten minutes’ walk from my place. Problem is, the ten minutes’ walk to my gym is always marred by catcalls and men blaring their car horns to get my attention. A few days ago, a guy honked at me, he tried to chat me up while driving. When I did not give him the attention he wanted, he parked his car and started walking with me to the gym. Gist of the matter, he felt I should be pleased that my beauty was captivating enough to make him turn around and accost me. At this point, I stopped long enough to give him a lecture on why I couldn’t give a rat’s arse about his opinion of my body.
- Man, the fact that you find me attractive enough to leave whatever it was that you were doing or supposed to be doing, just so you could give me unsolicited, unwanted attention, does not add anything worthwhile to my CV or person. The fact that you find me attractive enough to ogle does not in any way boost my ego neither does it pay my bills
- You know nothing about me beyond the curves you obviously lust after. It is just my body, not my whole being. If you stood on top of the roof to sing praises about just how attractive you find me, I wouldn’t be impressed.
- I am not impressed when strangers lustfully look at me and tell me I am beautiful. Just same way I cannot be bothered if anyone disdainfully looked at me and told me I am ugly. Point is, your judgement of my beauty or lack of beauty does not move me. It does not concern me. It does not validate me. It is your burden or pleasure to bear, not mine.
Needless to say, this did not go down well with my ogler. He went on about why I should no longer refer to him as a stranger, since now that we are talking, we are no longer strangers. Hmm, really, we are now best chums cos you forced your attention on me on the street? I don’t think so.
This persistent admirer wanted to at least know my name. He emphasised that people who met on the street can become friends. This is an argument street harassers often use. To prove a point, I handed him my business card. It has my details including my blog, YouTube channel and my book. I figured that if he was interested in my person, the least he would do was check what my interests are via my social network sites. This is one effective way I use to get guys off my back. He did call to ask if I would go out for a drink or meal with him and my response was that he should give me a reason why I would go out with a stranger and what we could possibly discus at this meal. He was like, oh we aren’t strangers anymore and he further got on my nerves by telling me how when a man is chatting up a woman, he should do this or that. I asked why he could not just see himself as talking to another human being instead of a gender. I take offence when people relate to me as a gender rather than a human being.
Also, it was obvious he had not bothered to check out my interests despite having my card. So what exactly would we talk about on this proposed drink/dinner date? Or was I just supposed to sit there and watch him ogle my body? This just proves that going out with him for a drink or meal is never going to be about knowing me, it is just an opportunity to ogle at a closer distance. I would loathe to have to sit through a meal spending the whole time explaining feminism 101 to a date. I don’t need the hassle. Well, he did ask if he could call again after checking out my profile, thankfully he never called. Did he check out my write ups and got put off? I don’t know. Most probably, like most chauvinists, he realised he was not gonna get anywhere with this mouthful, lecturing feminist.
Is there a possibility of having a relationship with any of my catcallers? While it is possible to become friends with someone we met on the street, I know for sure I would not be friends with someone who catcalled me. Catcallers are about one thing and one thing alone, objectifying women. I do not wish to be objectified by anyone. I am a human being not just an object of fantasy for someone to get off on. As catcallers are basically strangers, I wouldn’t risk my safety with a strange man who feels the best way to get my attention is to catcall. Catcallers are often a pain in the ass as my next sexist experience shows.
Just a few days ago, I was coming from the gym, all sweaty and looking forward to a good shower when this random guy on the street ran after me and said “Hi”. I responded with “Hi”, thinking maybe he wanted to ask for directions. He started the usual “You look good, just smile” silly chat up line. Well, no need to go into a lengthy lecture with this asshole, so I just moved on and tried to ignore him. He persistently followed me and asked if I lived local. At that point, I stopped and told him that I really would like to walk alone. He was like “OK, I mean no harm. I will just be silent and walk with you”. Walk with me? No thanks. I told him I don’t need a stranger to walk with me. When he realised I was not going to move an inch, he suggested that I walk in front and he would just walk behind me. I knew there was no way I was gonna walk the four blocks to my house and bring out my house keys with this guy tailing behind me. So I just turned back and walked the opposite direction. I was just a minute or two away from my house but I had to walk the opposite direction. It took me another 10 minutes to get home all because an entitled asshole thought it was ok to harass me on the street. After all, to him and his ilk, I am a woman who needs to smile for them and handover my details including my home address when they demand it. Cos well, I am a woman and he is a man who finds me attractive and that is all the credentials he needs to demand my attention and details. The sense of entitlement is so sickening.
Unfortunately those guys feel no qualms about being bad role models to the younger generation as my next encounter with yet another sexist asshole shows.
I was combining window shopping with a bit of business on a busy high street, when a group of middle aged men started whistling at me from the opposite end of the road. I just walked on but a teenage boy was made by his lousy uncle to cross the busy road, run after me so he could get my phone number. He caught up with me and said “Please my uncle wants you to give him your phone number”. I was like WTF! And true enough, the uncle was grinning at me from across the road with his buddies. I asked the boy if his uncle was physically handicapped, which might explain why he felt he had to send his nephew to dash across a busy road just to get a woman’s number. He said no, he was not handicapped, so I stopped long enough to explain to this teenage boy why his uncle was such a bad role model. I told him how catcalling objectifies women and why it is not a good thing to do. I also told him never to emulate the behaviour of his uncle and his bad friends who obviously have no respect for women. The teenage boy seems the gentle kind, he was just around my son’s age and it broke my heart that the adult black men in his life were already teaching and normalising such nasty behaviours around him.
It is sad when young ones emulate this bad behaviour as yet another of my nasty catcalls experience shows. There was the time I was headed for a TV interview, as I was approaching the studio, some young guys in a speeding car honked and screamed “wow booty”. Next thing I knew, they threw their almost but certainly not empty canned drinks at me. Was I surprised? Sadly enough, I wasn’t. Well, it is all part of the process of normalising the dehumanisation of women. To those men, I am a woman and therefore just an object.
Unfortunately, the nasty habit of catcalls is not limited to cis men only. A few years ago, I had a nasty experience at an ILGA conference in Vienna. I was going to my hotel room after a session, when someone sitting amongst a group of fellow participants at the hotel reception started making catcalls at me. I told the offending guy to cut out the catcalls. He was a Trans Female to Male going through transitioning at that time. He seemed to think my annoyance at his catcalls was due to transphobia, something like me not considering him man enough to catcall me. Transphobia my foot! You don’t get to throw catcalls my way whatever birth, assigned or preferred sex or gender you are. This isn’t about your sex or gender identification, it is about your attempt to objectify me based on my sex or gender identification.
I have seen some dykes try the ‘masculine’ crap of catcalling women as a way of trying to ‘prove’ their masculinity. Identifying as a dyke or transitioning into the gender you are comfortable with, is not an excuse to imbibe the patriarchal culture of sexism. Catcalls is about power and control. Your ‘dykism’, gender identification or transitioning is not about power, it is about being who you are. Do not conflate transitioning process, gender identification or being queer with patriarchy.
Patriarchy deprives women of so many things men take for granted. For example, I love taking long walks especially on quiet streets, I do get writing inspiration especially for poems when I am out walking. Unfortunately, taking a walk can sometimes be a burden. When I moved away from my quiet area to settle in the busier side of town, taking walks became a burdensome nightmare. I would step out on the streets and immediately the harassment would begin. Unwanted catcalls, guys tagging along insisting I smile for them while they run a commentary on my body. Their thoughtless, entitled attitudes often leave me in a foul mood. Walks that were supposed to be mentally and physically rejuvenating often left me drained and angry from all the street harassment. As a woman, I don’t get the luxury of walking in peace on the street. Men, their catcalls and unsolicited attention make taking walks a nightmare rather than the pleasure it should be. And for the ten minutes’ walk to and from my gym, blaring car horns and catcalls are a fixed part of my gym routine. The ever present attempt of men to dehumanise women manifests in every car horn and catcall.
You might think your catcalling is harmless, but it is not.
When you objectify us, you dehumanise us. You can’t empathise with us because we are nothing but objects of pleasure to you.
When you objectify us-
- You feel entitled to force yourself on us, after all we are just mere objects for your pleasure.
- You feel entitled to throw your drink cans at us, after all we are just mere objects for your pleasure.
- You feel entitled to command us to smile, whistle at us, after all we are just mere objects for your pleasure.
- You feel entitled to demand that we have sex with you, after all we are just mere objects for your pleasure.
- You feel entitled to rape us because we are just mere objects for your pleasure.
When we don’t comply with your demands, you feel justified to force us to do your bidding because you see us as objects for your pleasure.
You might think that we should be flattered that you noticed us, gave us your time and attention, but really we are not.
- I am not flattered that you see me as an object.
- I am not flattered that your eyes are closed to our shared humanity.
- I am not flattered that I am nothing but a body to you.
- I am not flattered by your objectification of me.
- I am not flattered that you think women are on earth for your pleasure.
Stop the street harassment.
Stop the objectification of women.
Stop the catcalls.
We are not flattered by your sense of entitlement.
Damn your everyday sexism!