I fight the urge not to roll my eyes, or laugh it off, or glare at whoever decided it would be a good idea to start catcalling a group of girls as they walk into the grocery store after a long hike. Out of the corner of my eye, I see who the voice came from, and I realize this is an all time low.
It seems to be some neighborhood middle school biker gang; they are still wearing helmets, crowded around a table outside of a coffee shop, decked out in neon athleisure and drawstring knapsacks.
“My friend wants to talk to you, he thinks you’re super hot!”
Middle schoolers are the worst. At least have the courage to ask one of us out yourself instead of dragging your friend into it. And for the record, I wouldn’t ever respond positively to the men who catcall on the street, but I would at least prefer it to come from men my own age instead of a prepubescent teenage boy.
I stare straight ahead and walk into the store; my friends do the same.
A week or so after my unfortunate encounter, I was assigned an article to read titled “The Poison of Male Incivility”. It focused on a speech made by congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez after being verbally harassed by her colleague Ted Yoho in the press. No, representative AOC was not asked out on a date by a middle schooler outside of a grocery store, and no, I was not called a “crazy f****** b****” by Ted Yoho, but at the end of the day we were both victims of unwanted verbal harassment from males.
Yoho later apologized, but he argued that because he had a wife and daughters, he clearly respected women. AOC called out his use of domestic association with women as evidence of his respect for them. Proximity to women does not guarantee that you will respect them. And only respecting the women in your life suggests that the only women worth respecting are the ones you are in relationships with.
My roommate stormed into the room one evening, clearly flustered.
“Hey Aliah, how was dinner?”
“You will not BELIEVE what just happened!”
I fought the urge not to laugh. When Aliah gets flustered she paces back and gesticulates violently. It’s very shocking in comparison to her usual soothing presence.
“You know those boys who ride around on bikes?!”
“Oh yeah, they’re weird. One time I swiped them into the caf for dinner. They got totally sugar high from the soft serve machine.”
“They just harassed me outside the caf! They came out of nowhere on their bikes and asked ‘hey girl, if I pop a wheelie will you give me a kiss?’ I tried to ignore them, but they started circling me while chanting ‘can I have a kiss? Can I have a kiss? Can I have a kiss?’ over and over again.”
Apparently we are living in some sort of nightmarish reality where the only men we attract are actually thirteen year-olds on dirt bikes. This was not the young adult life I had hoped for when I moved to San Diego for college. Aliah sat hunched over her phone at her desk, typing her thoughts on the matter angrily into her notes app. I sat in silence.
I don’t think people remember that catcalling is a form of sexual harassment. I’m also not entirely sure that fourteen year-olds are receiving an extensive education on any forms of sexual violence. The reality is that 81 percent of women experience sexual harassment. Globally, one in three women are subjected to physical and/or sexual violence. We have a problem with how we treat women, and it is not a series of isolated incidents-although whenever we hear about violence we treat it as such-but a culture that is cultivated through both violent acts and violent language.
I am not suggesting that the boys who catcalled me or my roommate will grow up to be rapists. But I do think that we fail to notice the ways in which our language matters. And if left unchecked, a boy who believes random women in the street will appreciate his sexual comments may grow up to be a man who believes his female friends, girlfriends, or future wife owes him sex.
I wish I could say that I told the boys off outside of the grocery store, right in front of all the elderly couples sipping coffee. I would’ve relished in their stares of blank shock as I quoted feminist theory at them. My friends and I debated whether or not we should say something, or just act like it hadn’t happened. We did not want to deal with the possibility of rolled eyes and the sniggers of middle school boys, and there were plenty of other people outside who could have stepped in. Why should it be our responsibility to educate the boys who don’t see the danger in what they are doing? We were hot and sweaty, tired from a hike and hoping to cool off in the refrigerated section. None of us were looking for a lecture on the patriarchy; we came looking for iced cold yerba mates. To be honest, we just didn’t have the time or energy.
So we soaked up the air conditioning for a few minutes, bought our drinks, and marched right back by their table to the car. Again, they shouted at us, again no one batted an eye. I drove away angry, at myself for not stepping in and at the men in their life who haven’t taught them to do better.
Written By: Reyna Huff