Anxiety, fear, embarrassment, shame – the emotional process of being catcalled and harassed in the street. Why, still, are we having to deal with it now as much as ever? And how do we deal with it?
A couple of weeks ago I posted about that Realisation Par dress, the one that got slammed for being sexist for its product description. It cited that men just love sun dresses, and that it’s a kind of get out of jail free card for when you have an oops I slipped up moment and need the big boss guy to forgive me because you’re pretty, yes? And as much critique that snowballed around it, they were right in saying one thing, men really love these dresses. And I mean really. It’s impossible to walk by a group of men in something of this style without their eyes seemingly drift away from staring at the pavement, or Pokemon Go, and fixing them right on you instead. You all know what it feels like – sundress, gym kit, no matter what you wear – but why is it still as prevalent now as it was ever?
This dress had me thinking about what a nice world it would be to live in where you can wear something that makes you feel great, without being leered at, subsequently replacing your feel-good-factor with an awkward sense of shame and hyperawareness of everything about your body. Is my skirt tucked into my pants? Has one of my nipples gone rogue and slipped out? Is this dress too short / too low cut? Do I look bad? Oh god, he can see that I haven’t waxed my moustache in about six weeks cant he?!
It happened just yesterday, going on a 10am coffee run, when two houses down from me a group of scaffolders all stopped their work to say “Good morning darling! Don’t you look beautiful today?!” And what am I supposed to say? Go fuck yourself? I panicked, all conflicted inside, and just muttered “thanks…” only to met by a brief silence as I walked away, and then the bellowing “Phwoaaar, now that is just something else! Bladdy hell!” as I was still totally in earshot. And like that my coffee run on a beautiful Sunday morning was ruined as I knew I was going to have to walk by them once more. The second time I was met entirely by the most cutting silence you’d ever not heard, which served only to intensify their stares. Of course, I could still hear them talking about me through the open window of my bedroom a few of minutes later.
How should we even respond when they say alright darling, hello love, or nice tits, or whatever? I know I’m not alone in recalling previous experiences of ignoring them has often led to aggressive and embarrassing follow ups from the catcaller like “rude bitch” “fuck you then!” which obviously makes it even more humiliating than before. And what if we shoot them a cheery, or even just polite, “Hi”? Well, that’s just encouragement, is it not? Making it seem acceptable to do such a thing. Why should we be nice to someone who makes us so uncomfortable with such intimidation on the street?
You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t – it’s as simple as that.
More recently, the only way I’ve dealt with it is shooting them a deadpan “alright” and an eye-roll so violent my eyes might fall onto the floor and cause an earthquake, making them clearly aware that they are so not worth my time and energy. But, still, I’m succumbing to them nonetheless.
When Laura Bates, founder of the brilliant Everyday Sexism project, interviewed a teenage girl about when a man had stroked her legs on a busy bus, she asked her what impact it had on her. The girl replied, barely audibly, “I learned that you shouldn’t wear shorts, even if it’s summer.”
Is that not the most devastating thing? A young girl thinking she should have to change out of summer clothing, in the height of summer, for the actions of an uncontrollable man?
We live in a society that focuses on the actions of the victims. What were you wearing? How were you walking? Had you put on lots of makeup? We should be free to wear whatever we want – including sun dresses and shorts in summer – and look and feel good, without any fears or anxiety. When will you and I, and countless other women and girls, feel we can walk down the street without having to put up with this?