On an afternoon, a couple of weeks ago, a friend and I were walking down the sidewalk, when a man rode by us on a bicycle and yelled out that he liked my hair.
I smiled, politely, and thanked him. Not because I was actually thankful to be yelled at about my physical appearance while trying to walk down the street. But because that’s how I’ve been conditioned, as a woman, to respond to unwanted attention. You smile, you seem thankful, and you do so because you’re hoping that such a response will satiate the catcaller and that things won’t escalate further. With every man that yells out at you from a car or on the street, you pray won’t be followed or attacked in some way.
If that kind of fear and worry in response to a man calling out a compliment about my hair in the street, sounds extreme. Then, you’re right, it is. But the problem is, you really never know if the catcalling is going to end just with the ‘compliment’. There’s always the possibility that this will be one of the days things go further.
Like, when this particular guy on his bicycle stopped a few yards ahead of us. Like, when he started slowly pedaling next to us, continuing to say things about on my body. Things like, “Hey baby, you’re looking sexy today.” Like, when it became clear that his intention was to follow us where we were going. That’s when my friend and I stopped walking in front of a frozen yogurt shop and my friend told him that it was time for him to move on and leave us alone.
Here’s what a lot of men don’t get about why we fear catcalling. The line between catcalling ‘compliments’ and enraged aggression is paper, paper thin. Because catcalling is not about wanting to give a compliment. It’s about ownership. Ownership of any woman’s body on the street. And when that ownership is challenged, when a woman says, “You don’t own my body, and I don’t want to talk to you,” men can snap very, very quickly.