October 11, 2015

Time to Add Catcalling to 'The List'

I was walking the dog when I heard Heeeeyy girl…You’re looking goo-ooo-ood today!

A car had slowed down next to me, just enough to keep pace as I walked. The driver’s eyes slowly laser-swept my body, beginning at my chest, ending at my thighs and slowly back up again. Then he drove off.

At 13, I was still adjusting to my developing body. I was all breasts, a bubble butt and stick legs. My body was foreign, yet I was the same awkward, introverted girl who wanted nothing more than to be cool and feel like one of the 'pretty girls.'

But this was unwanted attention from a stranger in a strange car. It was frightening. What if he went around the block and came back to kidnap me?

Even though I was completely freaked out, I didn’t tell my mom about it when I got home.

My immature brain thought it was my fault and that I must have done something to invite it. I felt dirty.

Of course I know better now. I’ve learned over time that the catcalling guy in the car and countless other assorted guys and assorted catcalls from that time forward, were harmless. I know I didn’t do anything wrong. All I did was walk the dog that day.

Every woman knows about catcalling. We ignore it, we laugh it off, we say thank you, we roll our eyes and on occasion, we cuss someone out. It’s been happening since the dawn of time, but it starts for each woman at a tender, awkward in-between-space where we feel like strangers in our developing bodies.

That same space where my 13 year old daughter is right now.

She and I were walking to the car and she was in clearer view of the busy street than I was. A car whizzed by, and a guy hanging out the window waved and screamed Heeeeey-now!

To her.

I knew what it was, but she didn’t:

Mom, do we know them?

Nope-No we don’t-Just get in the car.

She and I talk a lot about a lot of things – our periods, good fitting bras, acne and the awkwardness of this weird developmental phase. What we haven’t talked about is catcalling or even that frightening day when I took the dog out walking.

I guess I forgot about it and buried its memory in a place where I thought it would never surface again. Maybe I just forgot it starts at her age.

But Heeeeey-now! brought that memory to the surface and reminded me that catcalling should be added to the list of things we talk about.

Maybe I should tell her that:
Catcalling’s harmless. It’s just what guys do. You’ll get used to it.
But that makes her responsible for the catcalls instead of catcallers being responsible for their behavior.

Or, I could say something like:
You aren’t dirty and you did nothing to make those people act like that. You have every right to exist as a living breathing kid on your way to womanhood without being harassed.

But would that leave her believing that catcalling is a normal part of her development? And what happens if/when someone tries to cross a physical line?

Maybe I'll tell her something like this:
If anything feels wrong, or scary or if you are made to feel anything less than who you are, then you speak up and speak out. Your body is your property – and NO ONE has a right to touch it, ogle it, make obscene gestures at it without your permission. Ever. And mom and dad have your back. Always.

Maybe our catcalling after school special chit-chat is a mash-up of everything above along with anything else that comes to mind.

Anything that gives my daughter the tools to healthily process catcalling internally and deal with it better than her old mom did back in the day.