man harassing woman on street

I grew up in the kind of midwestern suburbia where people don’t lock their car doors or change out of pajama pants before going to Olive Garden at four o’clock. I experienced a million little culture shocks when I hopped off the plane at LAX and officially became a City Mouse, but most of the changes (more ethnic diversity, more places to walk, more vegan ice cream) have been good for me. The one thing that’s been hard for me to adjust to… is the catcalling.

I’m not saying that men in the middle of the country are more respectful of young women, and I absolutely received creepy and unnecessary comments about my appearance when I was a college student in Ohio, but every day that I walk down the street in LA, I hear more come-ons than I can even properly process. If I walk past ten men on the sidewalk, I can guarantee that at least eight of them will stare at my body, move in closer to me, say something suggestive, or do all three. Often times it’s innocent enough– looking me up and down and smiling, or saying something like “what’s good, beautiful?”– but occasionally it’s much more aggressive and much harder to ignore.

One evening, just as it was starting to get dark, a man who was walking in the opposite direction of me turned on his heel and followed me until he could put his face an inch away from mine. I felt his breath on my nose as he told me I was sexy, and I immediately tensed up and pushed my way past him. As I power walked away and towards a more populated part of the sidewalk, he called back to me, “Stupid bitch. Come back here! Why are you such a bitch?”

There are a couple reasons why this kind of behavior is totally frustrating:

  • If you lack the judgment to know that a woman walking alone on the street might be afraid of your come-on, what makes me think you’re respectful enough to not touch me?
  • Why do you need to prove your dominance so much that you have to make some stranger feel uncomfortable?
  • Where did I sign up to be treated like a zoo animal?
  • How dare you make me wonder what it is I’m doing wrong that encourages you to treat me this way?

That last part is a big issue for me, and I’m trying really hard to stop blaming myself for the actions of moronic, power-hungry assholes. Every time I get catcalled, I start asking myself a litany of questions. Why did I have to wear shorts in this 85-degree weather when I know shitty comments will be inspired by my visible thighs? Why did I have to wear a dress today when I know it’ll just remind people that I’m a woman? Why didn’t I bring someone with me on this two-second walk to CVS? Is my midwestern “pleasant face” encouraging people to mess with me? Is the fact that I look younger than I am making me look like an easy target?

If a friend of mine were to tell me that she blames herself for being harassed, I’d be furious and I’d be determined to convince her that she’s not inviting belittlement by occupying a female body. Why can’t I extend that same courtesy to myself? Why am I letting douchebag randos have any control over me?

Catcalling is just a symptom of the shittiest parts of patriarchy, and patriarchy has the ability to make women take personal responsibility for problems that exist at a societal level. The creepy things that strangers yell at me have almost nothing to do with my shorts, with my resting facial expression, with my naivety, with my cleavage. My clothes are never “asking for” unwarranted comments, and I shouldn’t have to be carrying pepper spray and a machete for you to leave me the hell alone. In the moment, it’s really hard to remember that it’s not my fault. But it’s never, ever my fault.

Photo via Shutterstock