Let’s Stop All Sexual Harassment
Kill the Catcall — Let Women Walk Down the Street in Peace
The first time a man pressed down hard on his car horn to tell me I was female, I was ten years old.
I can remember exactly where I was and, more significantly, I can remember what I was wearing. It was a white t-shirt and short, lilac and white checked skirt. I recall looking down at my legs, already long and slim by that age, and thinking I shouldn’t have worn that skirt when I was out on my own.
It breaks my heart to remember my younger self drawing that conclusion.
I have lost count of the times I have felt my heart explode from my chest as a passing car horn ruptured my peace. Men have opened their windows and smashed their fists on the metal of the car door, in case I missed their acknowledgment of my existence. Some have screamed at me as they passed, my feelings of safety disappearing with their tail lights.
The Labour MP, Melanie Onn, has recently called for wolf-whistling, catcalling and other forms of low-level harassment to be made illegal. France outlawed street sexual harassment this year, and I am convinced they have made the right decision.
‘You’ll be sorry when it stops.’ Said my Mother, but she’s from another generation. She and her old colleagues laugh as they reminisce about the man who used to grab them in the photocopy room in the ‘60’s and put his hand up their skirts. They devised a system for alerting each other when he was around. ‘That’s not funny, Mum,’ I try to tell her, ‘It’s abusive.’
My Mum didn’t see me, shaking and scared, having dropped my university notes in the road after three men all shouted obscenities at me from the same car. She wasn’t there when leering men winked and deliberately walked into me on a wide-enough pavement.
The last time I was whistled at from a car was about a year ago. I’m now in my mid-40’s, but, from behind, I imagine the gland in question saw long blonde hair and youthful clothes, so thought he’d beep his horn and screech out a whistle in case his fragile ego missed an opportunity to be noticed. The car slowed as it approached the traffic lights and the thug looked back at me. He said, ‘Sorry, love.’
That apology was very clearly meant as an acknowledgment that he hadn’t meant to beep an old bird. His affirmation of flesh was meant for someone fresh and youthful.
So, not only had I been told by multitudes of uninvited men that I was young and attractive, they were now in a position to tell me I no longer was. I was shocked. It makes a funny anecdote, but it is an example of how utterly fucked up a society is when this kind of harassment is tolerated.
My husband has witnessed the shouting, honking and jeering. We’ve been together a long time and at first, he was astounded at how regular and intimidating the intrusions were. Then he was angry. ‘Can’t they see me?’ he asked. He is well over six foot and built like a rugby player, but it wasn’t relevant that he had his arm around me. It wasn’t about him, it wasn’t even about me. It was about those men’s response to a piece of flesh.
That’s a big issue here. Why do some men see a woman and feel they have the authority to pump their hormones in her direction? I have, in unguarded moments, asked myself, ‘Who is bringing these men up?’ then I realise I’m failing the Bechdel test right there. This isn’t the fault of a mother. It is those few uneducated, over-privileged, weak men who choose not to control their Neanderthal impulses. They need to stop it, and if they’re too feral to do it themselves, then the law should intervene.
This is no humble brag. I’m not trying to be boastful, saying I was the kind of woman who always got attention from men. I was a young girl, terrified by unwanted attention and loud, sudden explosions of noise. I was a woman who couldn’t walk past a building site without tensing every muscle in my body to shield me from the jeers and comments.
I am now a woman who has been informed in a callous, throwaway moment that I am no longer worthy of the attention I never asked for in the first place.
I am also a mother, with tall, long legged, beautiful daughters and I want a different, kinder world for them. Kill the catcall. Please.