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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Cat-calling and the fear to speak up.

Hello Fromgirltogirl readers,
This post is from a journal by the founder of Fromgirltogirl, Briana Booker. We will be posting several articles from her diary on various thoughts and experiences from her life. Please comment and share your stories as well. Enjoy.

By Briana Booker

After our class discussion on cat-calling, I ponder how the documentary author was bold enough to ask the question, of why do you think women are flatter when cat-called? I have never thought to ask a man that question.
Often when I walk the street, I have trained myself never to look a man strange to me in the eye. I always fear of drawing unwanted attention to myself. However, even when I do not look directly at men they still go out of their way to get my attention. A recent incident was when I was headed to Georgetown to meet up with a guy I am dating. I went from the Rosslyn metro station and across the Key Bridge to get to the Georgetown Neighborhood. On my way there, a random guy around my age looks at me and goes “Hi, sorry to bother you but do you have a moment?” My first emotion was of panic. It is night time on a Saturday night in a neighborhood full of drunken college students. I am looking for a location and all I want to do is to get there. I pause, and say “No thank you. I am meeting up with some friends.” The guy says he does not want to scare me, and puts his hands up as a sign of no harm doing. The fact he did that, scared me more. Why was a random guy trying to get my attention in the middle of the night for no reason? I kept walking and said “Sorry.” I was not sure why I said sorry. Maybe, I felt bad for not being interested. Or not being interested, although his gesture was polite. I am not sure if I would have reacted differently during the day time or not. I just knew that the situation made me feel uncomfortable. Immediately I texted the guy I was going to see “Do people randomly start conversation with you in this neighborhood? Is that normal?” He told me it was, thinking I was joking, but I never told him a guy randomly stopped me. I did not want him to worry. Even though the event was not that serious, I started observing if I looked a certain way that would make a guy just feel he could approach me. I had a blazer, a baby doll halter on, jeans and boots. I did not think I looked scandalous. But I did not feel disrespected by this encounter. I think what made me worried was that I was in an unfamiliar environment with an unfamiliar person.      
I had worse said to me than a guy just asking to talk to me. I have been walking at night, by myself in high heels when two guys try to get my attention. When I gave no reaction, one man goes “It is okay. I am too big for you anyways,” in reference to his penis. I was disgusted that he even thought he could say that to me. At the same time, I was afraid that these two men would try to put me in their car. They were definitely strong enough to do so and it was once again a late at night stroll for me. My parents often worry of me being out by myself at night. They feel a woman should not be alone at night ever. I was raised very traditionally. But since going to college I have had more freedom than I have ever had before in my life. I like the idea that I can go anywhere I want, whenever I want.
Now, I am starting to understand what my parents have been worried about. No way would I want my daughter to be a victim of violence of verbal or physical abuse. No matter how one looks at cat-calling, I feel it is a means for a man to show power over women, no matter if polite or impolite in gesture. No way would I, as a woman, walk up to a strange man and start hitting on him. I have even been cat-call while hanging out with a group of friend. One night recently, two of my girl-friends and a guy I am friends with had dinner at his new place. He enjoys cooking and has just recently come back from studying aboard in China. After dinner we wanted to play the Wii video game system at American University. Unfortunately, we were not able to because we did not have access to go into a resident’s hall. The four of us decided to walk back to his place. As we are walking a white car, full of guys drives pass us. A guy in the back seat rolls down his window and says…”Can I stick you?” Note, I did not know these guys and so I keep in conversation with the guy that is my friend on a book he read while in China. The guys decided, because I ignored them, to turn around to drive back just to make another cat-call. I felt annoyed and disrespected. If a guy was interested in me, he should be respectful and not be foolish with his friends to get my attention. Once again, I wondered was I dressed appropriate because I was the only one cat-called at and my friend that was a guy tries to make a joke saying “Aren’t you popular?” Instead of me thinking it was funny, it made me self-critique myself. It made me wonder why I was picked. Did I not look modest enough? And the action made me more aware that I was a female. I was a target. I was vulnerable. I could hear my father voice echoing in my head why should a young lady be out at night wandering? But he does not understand that the rules for courtship have changed. He does not understand what it is to be a woman. Often now, when I am alone I wear my mother’s engagement ring to keep strange men from talking to me. I feel as if I am more respected when a man thinks I am taken, that I am in a relationship. Cat-calling does not make me feel flatter. It makes me feel vulnerable. But I do not think men will change their tactics until women stand up for themselves when men cross our boundaries. But it is easier said than done. And I know, for me to be respected, it will start with me speaking up for myself.

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