I got catcalled less than 12 hours ago. It was the first time I’ve had “positive” comments yelled at me by a stranger. Just like when they were intentionally hateful, I almost started crying. I did start shaking. It felt the same as the hateful ones.
I’ve had body image issues since I was a little girl. I’ve dealt with bullies, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse. I’ve gotten harassment from strangers, online and offline, including abusive comments, rape threats, assault threats, and death threats against myself or family members. I’ve been told I was so ugly that I would never be loved by my grandfather and by total strangers. I’ve had acquaintances of my family tell me at my abusive grandfather’s funeral that I would be so pretty if I’d just lose the weight. I’ve been negatively compared to my gorgeous older cousin since I was little by other family members and, worst of all, myself. I’ve been called “earthquake” and “human manatee” and all sorts of other loathe some things. I’ve had grown men that I didn’t know tell rude things out of their cars at me when I was a preteen and a teenager. So when I say I’ve had experience with harassment, I mean it.
Maybe when the guy yelled into my car from his place of work that I was “looking good” and “gorgeous”, he thought that was nice. Maybe he meant it as a compliment. Maybe he thought I would appreciate it. It wasn’t nice. It wasn’t a compliment. I didn’t appreciate it.
I was in my car with my mother. I thought I was in a place where I wouldn’t have someone harassing me. I thought, for lack of a better term, that I was in a safe space. All of a sudden, this comment changed things. I couldn’t hide from this person. I couldn’t get away right then. I just had to sit there and let someone I didn’t know objectify and dehumanize me.
I had no out.
If someone asked him about it, he might not even have registered that the incident took place. It probably isn’t a blip on his radar. If he did, he might say it was the dress I was wearing. It was strapless and short. I wore it so the physical therapist could check an incision from hip surgery that took place on Monday. I didn’t wear the dress to be noticed. I wore it because it’s practical and appropriate in warm weather. Even if I’d worn it for more superficial reasons, he would have no right to reduce me to an object the way he did.
I don’t even know what this guy looks like. I didn’t try to look for him. I was more concerned with getting away from him in that moment. And it wouldn’t matter what he looks like anyway, except that I would know to avoid him if I ever saw him again.
I know there are people who would think I should feel grateful. Well, I’m not and I hope I never am. There are ways to compliment people that aren’t harmful. Those are the compliments I’ll feel grateful for. There are truly wonderful men out there who know how to compliment and not objectify or harass women. Men like that are the ones I’ll applaud for their behavior. I will not applaud being harassed, objectified, disrespected, or abused solely because some random guy doesn’t know how to behave properly.