By: Megan Graves, Columnist
I was at Target the other day (far from an unusual occurrence for me — it’s kind of my happy place). But when I was passing through the candle aisle, an older dude, probably around 45 years old told me, “Smile, babe. You’re beautiful” as he walked by.
A few weeks ago, while in the bread aisle of the grocery store picking out the perfect loaf, a man came up behind me and told me he wished they could clone me so that he could stare at women like me “all day.” I was so unsettled that I picked up Italian instead of my usual Honey Wheat. It threw my whole week off. Not the comment. The bread.
About a month ago, when I was walking downtown, a man got way too close to me and said, “You’re beautiful, you know that?” They never expect you to say yes to that question, and that turned me from “beautiful” to “a bitch” real quick.
At the start of the fall semester, I had someone yell “Damn, ma!” at me from down the hall of the Liberal Arts Building. You know, where I’m trying to get an education for myself.
I could go on. Unfortunately, like my Target sprees, men yelling dumb sh*t at women is also far from an unusual occurrence. I’m not some celebrity-status beauty queen (not that that would justify anything); this is just the experience shared by women who have the audacity, the nerve, the sheer audacity to leave their houses.
Let me be clear, these unwanted comments are not compliments: They’re harassment.
They’re reminders that we live in a society that gives men the power to just approach whoever they want whenever they want. Can’t a girl just sniff some candles, pick up some bread, walk on the sidewalk, and go to class without having her time wasted by an interaction that she didn’t ask for? Apparently not.
In all seriousness, catcalling can go from annoying to straight up dangerous really quickly.
It’s a stark reminder of the patriarchal power still residing in our society. Every time I’m approached and every time I have to stop what I’m doing to listen to some guy give me his opinion without my consent, my attention has been demanded, not earned.
I wish I could be firm and adamant in my response. I wish I could ignore them until they leave.
And sometimes I do. But more often, my discomfort and fear overwhelm my pride, and I usually leave with a half-assed “thank you.” It’s not that I’m afraid of confrontation or of being called something nasty. I’m afraid that telling one of these guys to f*** off could be the last thing I say. I’m afraid that my silence could seriously put me in danger. At least if I say thank you, they might leave me alone. It’s not a guarantee by any means, but my chances, as I’ve been taught, are a little better.
It’s a game of power, not an attempt brighten up someone’s day. And those playing know damn well the level of discomfort they’re placing on women when they do it. That’s the whole point.
The points I want to make here are that 1) it’s not a rare thing to be catcalled and/or harassed by any means, and 2) it’s not innocently intended. It’s just one aspect of the emotional labor women have to put forth every time they go out in public.
If you act warm and smile, people take that as a go-ahead to approach you. If you keep a straight face and go about your business, someone will tell you to smile, to stop being a bitch. If you say thank you, the behavior will continue. If you ignore it, or reject it, they could get violent. You can’t win.
And to those of you wondering how to approach women in a way that doesn’t come off like this: I don’t know, if she looks busy or occupied in any way, don’t approach her. If you feel like approaching her could make her in any way uncomfortable, don’t approach her.
If you do approach her and she declines your advances, say something along the lines of, “I’m sorry to bother you. Have a nice day,” and sashay away.
This isn’t something that women alone can fix, since we are the targets. This one’s on all my dudes out there. Take catcalling seriously, please, because it is literally killing us. Shouting at us from your best friend’s ride is violation of our consent, and we are so uncomfy.
And if you see a woman perusing your local Target, just let her sniff her candles in peace, okay?