It’s about 10pm and I’m walking by the depot to let my dogs out one last time before bed. I’m wearing a loose sweater over a tank top and jeans. I usually walk my dogs here because it’s the closest grassy area to my apartment. People are usually wandering about, walking dogs, going to and from places or waiting for the train. I’m on the grass, intently watching to make sure my naughty ex-street dog doesn’t sneak an improperly discarded chicken bone or snap up a live mouse.
“Hey Girl! You need a bodyguard.”
Fucking cool. What woman doesn’t love an unfamiliar man yelling passive aggressive cat calls while out alone at night? This yell is clearly directed at me, but I ignoring the comment and inconspicuously checking my surroundings. Noting the 5-7 men standing near the train platform on my side of the guardrail, dressed in dark but otherwise nondescript clothing. No one else is nearby for at least a block.
“You’re too sexy to be out here alone like this.”
And my mind begins the whatever-it-is-exactly that it does (to varying degrees) countless times throughout the day, every day. What, presumably most women’s minds do countless times a day, every day.
Are these men a legitimate threat?
Is it worth the risk to find out?
Should I respond?
Do I laugh pleasantly to most politely and quickly leave this situation? (Will he think that’s an invitation to continue talking at me?)
Do I call him on his misogynistic bullshit? (Will he become aggressive and potentially violent if I do?)
Do I keep ignoring him? (Will he become aggressive and potentially violent if I do?)
If I need to run where’s the best direction to go?
Am I wearing good shoes? (Eh. They’re okay.)
Will my dogs not be weirdos and actually run together and not trip me? (Hopefully.)
I keep ignoring him, pretending I don’t hear his ever-so-lovely…compliments? I move casually to the sidewalk and head back to my apartment. My keys now strategically in my dominant right hand, dog leash in the the left. I’m nonchalantly swinging the tethered metal ball that serves the duel purpose of key chain and potential weapon of desperation. My stomach is knotted. Partially because I’m intimidated and nervous, but mainly because I’m so fucking angry.
“Hey baby, why don’t you get up on this pimp?”
“Look at those legs man, you know what I’d do to her?!”
“Girl, I’ll fuck you good.”
Like most women, I’m familiar with catcalling because I exist in the world and leave my home and happen to present as female. My go-to response is ignoring it and occasionally flipping them off as I walk away. Other times, if I’m nervous or intimidated, I politely chuckle (as if viewing me as nothing more than a suitable-being-to-put-a-dick-in, is such a clever joke!) An internally resented pleasantry I’m resigned to for my own safety. I’ve been conditioned by society that being agreeable is least likely to provoke a potentially threatening response: “Oh! It’s lovely not being seen as an actual human! [demur giggle] You’re so darling! The way you compliment me with your significantly off-putting remarks makes me want to run off into the sunset with you and have all of your babies!”
But this catcall stuck with me. His words left me frustrated and angry for a couple of days. I reran the scene over and over in my mind. Over and over. Because ultimately, I just wanted to confidently hold my ground and say–
“Come, the fuck, on. Can we just not? All I want to do is walk my fucking dogs for five goddamn minutes before I go to bed and just be left, the fuck, alone. Why?! Why do you think that just because I’m a woman existing in the world I owe you my time and energy? And why do you think it’s appropriate to say–that I need a man along to protect me? To protect me from you?! Is that what you’re actually implying? Because that fucking sucks. And then justify your statement with some weird-ass ‘compliment’ about how I’m ‘too sexy to be out alone’?!
I mean, fuck you, man. And fuck your asshole friends for thinking talking to another human this way is at all acceptable. This! The fact that you think this interaction is okay IN ANY WAY is what’s really fucked up about our culture. No woman is too sexy (or too unsexy) that she should ever not be safe going in public without a bodyguard. That isn’t a thing. What. The. Actual. Fuck. I just can’t with this shit.
I don’t owe you anything. I don’t own you my time or attention. The fact that it’s physically easier, on some base level, for you to end my life, than it would be for me to end yours–doesn’t make you superior to me. We’re all just people in the world.
Leave me the fuck alone.
But I didn’t say that. Of course I didn’t. Because I know, as a woman speaking up is a risk. And every time–I have to assess that risk and decide if my actions are worth it.
We all know the world is dangerous for women, more dangerous for pregnant women, more dangerous for women of color, more dangerous for trans women, etc. And yet, this lovely gentlemen not only felt he had the right to share his unsolicited opinion regarding my appearance, and how my appearance made me worthy of his unwanted comments. He also added that I “shouldn’t be alone”. Thereby implying that it’s understandable if women are sexually assaulted when “they’re just too sexy and go out unescorted”. It’s this weird round-about victim blaming that is so culturally ingrained, he didn’t possibly didn’t realize the full significance of what he was saying in those two short passing remarks.
Yet, it should be common knowledge that women get assaulted, raped, or even killed because they wanted to stand up for themselves against this everyday misogyny–because they simply wanted to defend the little bit of space they’ve made for themselves in world. Women are attacked for not staying quietly in “their” place. So every day, we go through life and we pick our battles and hope we don’t get murdered.