On Catcalls

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In light of the recent, long-overdue buzz over street harassment of women, I thought I would add to the discourse a narrative of the particular type of harassment that I, and many women like me, have had to suffer through daily. I am an Asian woman, early 20s, who walks paths all over the city: from East Harlem to the Lower East Side, from the West Village to Brooklyn, and most often, in the heart of the NYU Manhattan campus. But regardless of where I am or what time it is, the one experience I've gotten used to in life is the catcall. And not just any catcall--I am referring to the racially charged catcall that seems to haunt my steps.  

For some reason, my ethnicity has yet again seemed to take the priority in my outward identity. "Hey China doll, why don't you come on over and show me a happy ending?" 5pm. In the middle of winter. All he could see was my face, but that was apparently enough to warrant the comment in broad daylight, surrounded by two of his buddies and a few random strangers walking by on the sidewalk. Unafraid, in broad daylight, because he knew that his comparative status of a man with a few friends, versus mine, of a lone Asian woman, made his abuse beyond reproach--as long as I cared about my safety. All I wanted was to get from point A to point B. What I got instead was discomfort and raw nerves for the rest of my commute.

 

It is at this point that I’d like to address the naysayers and haters--because I know you’re already raising your hackles. “But not all men are like that! Surely you must have been wearing something scandalous...and if you’re walking around at x time, you’re practically asking for it. How can you expect not to be catcalled? Take it for what it is--a compliment.”

 

To all of this, I say hell to the no. There is nothing flattering about being catcalled. As brilliantly summarized in a cartoon by Robot Hugs, catcalling and harassment is not about appreciation or desire: it is all about power and control. It is an act of aggression, a hostile vehicle used to project dominance and reinforce a feeling of superiority. There is nothing anyone can do to deserve this kind of treatment at any time. Women have the rights to our bodies as much as do men, and we deserve the freedom of expression so easily given to our male counterparts. If women have learned to avoid the darkness for fear of rape and unwanted advances, surely it must be common knowledge that this harassment is both a common and unacceptable problem, that no woman is an exception to this crime. How could we expect not to be catcalled? This should be a no-brainer. Because we’re human beings. Because we deserve respect. Because men should know better.

 

For women of color, there is one more layer added to this harassment. All catcalling is horrible and is unjustifiable in every way, and the addition of racism to this harassment is downright unbearable. Not only am I a victim because I am a woman, I am made into a victim again as an Asian. The color of my skin is no excuse to further disrespect me.

 

Despite their immense relevance to life and their too-belated trending, #yesallwomen came and went, and so will the buzz over this video. It’s up to us to make sure this conversation doesn’t end, that we keep making the important points, that our experiences are no longer belittled, that men and women alike own up and take responsibility and do their part to make street harassment a thing of the past.