A letter to ‘harmless’ street hecklers

by Anna Buckley / Beacon Staff • November 4, 2015

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You didn’t realize my gender didn’t automatically warrant you to make a pass at me.
You didn’t realize my gender didn’t automatically warrant you to make a pass at me.

This is an open letter to the catcallers of the world—those who whistle at women when they walk past, who approach ladies without any invitation, who refuse to consider the repercussions of their self-indulging actions. Our patriarchal society demands I excuse your behavior by taking your actions as compliments and seeing your advances as warranted, because you’re a man and I’m a woman. But rather than defend the aggressor, I’m speaking out against the sexist slurs that I, and all of my friends, have silently endured over the years.

The only reason I’ve remained quiet is because, starting the day I hit puberty, I was indoctrinated into the mindset that I have to protect men from my female ostentatiousness. My mother trained me to believe my cleavage was offensive, and if I put my curves out there for the world to see, men wouldn’t be able to help but stare—which would be my own fault. But my body is my own. It is not for anyone’s viewing pleasure. If I choose to wear a plunging neckline, I’m not doing so for the attention of men. I’m doing it for me. 

Once, when discussing catcalling horror stories with a close friend, she admitted that she’s resorted to flipping them off. At first, I was shocked at her aggression, but then I realized: Not only do I not have to defend the ignorance of the catcaller, but I have every right to loudly and boldly defend myself, whether you call me a bitch to assuage your own ego or not.

So, to the middle-aged man who crooned as I walked past on Tremont Street, “Oh, you’re gorgeous, yeah, you’re beautiful,” while I stared straight ahead, not acknowledging you: You made me uncomfortable, you made me feel dehumanized, and you made me feel like a piece of meat you picked out at the market because it was to your liking. 

To the old man who approached me while I was sitting alone in the Boylston Station waiting for my train late at night, and asked me, “What are you doing here all by your lonesome?”: You made me feel cornered. I sat there while you asked me where I lived repeatedly, ignoring my deliberate evasiveness. I endured listening to you tell me that you wanted to be able to knock on my door so you could see my smile again. You continued to talk at me, even when I had pulled out my phone to answer a well-timed call. You didn’t realize my gender didn’t automatically warrant you to make a pass at me, or that it is not an open invitation—nor is it a hindrance in my ability to get myself home, alone. 

To the chorus of men who catcalled my friend as she walked from her apartment to the T stop nearby: You made her so uncomfortable with your comments she was forced to put in her headphones, volume up full blast, to drown out your vulgarities, which was actually a form of verbal harassment, believe it or not. A woman’s body is not inherently sexual—the sexual objectification comes from you. 

To the young guy who came up to me at a party when I was sitting outside and proceeded to harass me: You made me feel more marginalized as a woman than I ever have as you proceeded to point out the color of my lipstick (which was bright pink) and tell me what my lips would look like after I finished performing oral sex on you. After I yelled at you in outrage over your sexist degradation, you asked me why I couldn’t take a joke—the ultimate catch-22 of sexism. Whenever a woman takes offense at a repugnant comment like that, she is called crazy, oversensitive, or a bitch. But the real the truth is suggesting a stranger perform oral sex on you when they have expressed no interest in you whatsoever is masochistic and morally callous.

To the man who told my friend to smile when he saw her walking down Boylston Street to class: Women do not exist as emotionless dolls for your viewing pleasure. We’re human beings who feel stress, sadness, and anger, too. 

To the man who biked past me when I was walking home from the Jackson Square T stop one night, asking if I was lonely: No, walking by myself does not make me lonely, nor does it mean I want to come home with you. My existence as a woman does not dictate that a man be at my side at all times, nor does my being alone grant you the privilege to start talking to me if I haven’t indicated any interest in talking to you.

These men would most likely tell me, “Calm down, I didn’t mean anything by it.” And most likely, they didn’t. But I refuse to defend their insensitive actions based on the notion that they know not what they do. Take this open letter as your lesson in female objectification.