Today, the guy who catcalls me almost every day on my way home from work was there on my way to work. And I got a ‘hey, baby’ that (although I was wearing headphones) I could clearly lip-read and put me in a bad mood at 8:40 when I was already running late.
I want to know where this man gets off. I glare at him every fucking day, have told him to fuck off a couple of times and been asked ‘what your problem is’ accusatorily. No woman ever turned around and said in their best Southern Belle accent “why sir, are you talking to little old me? I would love for you to take my arm and wheel me to work! I do declare, what manners you have!”. Especially not when you are holding a can of Strongbow whilst loitering at 8:40 in the morning or 4 in the afternoon*. Today, I am wearing a nice dress, and a couple of people at work have commented on it, but it is knee-length and high-necked and I was wearing a coat and flats and no makeup and god dammit it does not matter what I am wearing. The man who works opposite me complimented it – he said, ‘that’s a very nice dress today, miss’**, and I said ‘thank-you! what are you doing for the easter holidays?” because – and listen to this – I can take a compliment, I am polite, I am friendly and caring, and I want to have a conversation. I am everything that I, as a woman, have been socialised to be, but I do not owe these to all people in all situations, and I will not be shamed for being them.
This is important for me, because I have incredibly violent fantasies about Catcall Man specifically and, sometimes, about the world more generally. I fantasise about beating him to a bloody pulp, turning around and delivering a punch that will knock him to the floor and kicking him until he looks like the survivor in a Quentin Tarantino movie; about screaming as I lunge at him and somehow there is a heavy object in my hands; about smashing his fucking can into his fucking face so hard that it crumples and leaves an imprint and then hitting him around the head with it until he bleeds. I hate that corner – I anticipate it, feeling fear and rage before I get there, scared when I walk around it at night, scared of any other innocent man who happens to be walking by or standing on the corner. Sometimes he stands with his friends and all they have to do is laugh for me to feel fear – fear, mixed with barely manageable rage, and those tend to be the days when I snap ‘fuck off’ to a hyena chorus. Sometimes I run up the street home. Most days I am panicked as I fumble with the lock on my door, afraid of anyone – man, woman, or child – within a 300-yard radius, until I am inside. Today, I fantasised about calling him out, turning around and asking him “what your problem is” (with a lot more expletives), about other women stopping their journeys to work to stand by and support me as I reclaimed my own fucking street that I live on as somewhere that I feel safe walking. This fantasy is potentially even less realistic than the one where I deck him, because one day I might snap and react wrong. Confronting him fairly and justifiably? Would require bravery and calm in measures I don’t have, and he fucking knows it. That’s the power play: I will never have the support network I need to confront him, because he won’t comment when I walk by with friends or my boyfriend or my parents. I won’t be vulnerable in that moment; he (and other men) won’t see the chance to belittle me. But a lone woman is vulnerable, and crimes by men against women – even small ones, like a two-word catcall – are a chance to put women below. A chance to right the social structures that have disenfranchised you by not being at the bottom of the pile anymore, at the expense of a woman walking to work. Walking anywhere, any time of the day. Sitting anywhere. On the internet or as a public figure. Existing. A lone woman has the potential to be less than you, no matter how low you are in that moment.
I will not be shamed into wearing drab clothes, because it will make no difference. I will not be intimidated into taking my headphones off, because I don’t owe you that. I will not stop being polite to men I want to talk to, or rude to men who won’t accept I don’t want to talk to them (I’ve politely told you to go away. There is no hint to take). I will not stop existing as a woman because you are too inadequate to handle me being over here, living my life, not acknowledging you. I will not accept that I am wrong in this.
*I acknowledge that this is a sign that he needs help, and that he is self-evidently responding to his own lack of power by belittling me. That doesn’t make it OK. I am not a vessel for anybody’s inadequacies, I am an autonomous human just trying to get on with my own life.
**I am ‘miss’ because I work in a school. Everybody is referred to as by what the kids call them.