I was cat called today.
It wasn’t the first time, of course. I’ll go so far as to say it won’t be the last, something I’ve never once said out loud but have thought every time it’s happened. Because saying something like that could, and probably would, be taken as me saying, “I’m so attractive these things are just inevitable.” I’d be met with side-eyes. Maybe, depending on who I said it to, I’d be told I think too highly of myself. People from both groups would tell me to take the cat calling as a compliment. The people from the latter group would never see the irony in telling me to accept being cat called as a testiment to my attractiveness or desirability, while simultaneously insisting I shouldn’t believe I am actually attractive or desirable. Catch-22, being a female sometimes. You can’t win for losing.
I was cat called today and it reminded me of the last time I was cat called, just a handful of weeks ago. Both times, I stopped and I stared, incredulously, after the men who’d done it. Both times it was as though a bucket of ice water had been dumped on my head. I did the ice bucket challenge recently, I know what that feels like for certain. And that’s what being cat called is like. It pulls you from your own world and head space. It smashes what you were expecting, usually nothing, just a walk, in the face. For me, personally, I’ve never felt physically threatened or intimidated by cat calling alone, but I’ve always felt — shocked. Imposed on. Uncomfortable. Vulnerable. I’m suddenly hyper aware of myself, my surroundings, what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. It jerks me from my own reality, my own existence, and shoves me into theirs. A place where I’m something to be yelled at. Whistled at. Where I’m no longer a person full of ideas and goals and motivations. I’m not a living breathing thing who matters and instead I’m merely an object whose wants and comforts don’t.
I was cat called today and it felt like an intrusion.
It’s as if a stranger came into my house, kicked in the door and then stood in my living room, ignoring my presence, and yelled at the top of their lungs about my possessions. Their wants and their desires and their need to — what? Offer critiques? Scream barely distinguishable compliments? Make a weird medley of noises with no real substance? Whatever it is, it was more important than my own wants, despite the fact it was my house they barged into uninvited.
That’s not flattering. That’s invasive. That’s rude and unnecessary as all hell and anyone would be angered by it. Yet when it happens on the street, to a female who is minding her own business, she’s expected to take it as a compliment, despite the fact that in the blink of an eye, she ceased being a person and instead became a thing.
I was cat called today, told I was pretty in a way that felt like a threat, a verbal reminder that maybe I wasn’t allowed to be where I was, and it pissed me off. I tell my boys all the time that girls want to be told they’re pretty. We do. We like, on some level, to hear that we’re attractive. When it’s appropriate. When we’re actually open to hearing it. That never happens when we’re walking down the street and it’s being yelled, usually crudely, from a car. It’s never when it comes repeatedly and forcefully. When it becomes less of a compliment and more of a means of shutting us up or intimidating us. I tell my boys that if telling a girl she’s pretty feels more like their desire to say it, rather than her desire to hear it, to keep their mouths shut. Girls aren’t hard to understand, despite what boys like to say. Girls are easy to understand, most boys want to feel like they’re not so they are excused from even trying.
I tell them that a compliment should never be an imposition, an obligation. A compliment should never feel like a threat or a bucket of ice water being dumped over a girl’s head.
I was cat called today and my boys were with me. And while the men who did it were still within earshot, I looked down at my boys. Boys who I’m determined will never become men who hang out of a car or yell across the street, and I pointed at the offenders. “That is exactly what you don’t do.”
I was cat called today. And it’ll happen again. And that pisses me off.