Today, I was harassed and catcalled twice by men on the street while on my college campus. While this isn’t the first time this has happened to me (unfortunately), today was different in a few ways. First, both occurrences happened before 1pm in broad daylight. Second, it happened two separate times in a relatively short time span. Third, these incidents were much more severe and frightening than previous experiences I’ve had.
Going to school on an urban campus, it’s almost to be expected that things like this would happen. But just because it’s a normal occurrence, doesn’t mean it’s ok. All of my female friends here can tell at least one story about being made uncomfortable while walking up the street due to catcalling or harassment. I’ve had my fair share of “Hello Beautiful” and “Where are you going in such a hurry” over my years here, and I usually just stare straight ahead and keep walking. It unsettles me, but I power through and try to look ahead. But today I got angry.
Today I was working move-out on campus, and I was harassed twice, once specifically while I was working.
This morning, after finishing a shift and starting a 30 minute break, I was walking to Dunkin Donuts when two men passed me and said “Oh hey beautiful… damn look at you! Smile for us. C’mon, smile for us!!” While I usually look away, today I glared back at them as I continued to walk past. The men stopped and turned around shouting after me, “That’s not a smile, where’s the smile! C’mon just smile for us. Where’s that beautiful smile.” They didn’t stop yelling until I rounded the corner and was out of sight. I was practically running.
While catcalling usually makes me feel pretty gross, this specific instance completely unnerved me. While men who catcall in the first place tend to be pretty aggressive, these guys literally stopped walking to yell at me as I walked away just because I didn’t do what they wanted. It seemed like a scene out of a movie, but in the worst possible way. I’m not a confrontational person, so I’d never yell back at them or say any of the things in my head out loud. I wish I was that type of person. Instead, I just stormed away feeling angry, upset and a little anxious.
When I started working again at around noon, I was still thinking about what had happened earlier, because I was genuinely still upset.
About 45 minutes into my next shift, a guy approached me and the two other girls I was working with. He very clearly seemed “off,” and I’m almost certain he was drunk at 1pm on a Thursday.
We were assigned as “Street Monitors,” so we helped direct parents who were picking up their kids into street parking and made sure the traffic kept moving. This meant we were posted on the sidewalk outside of one of the residence halls for the entirety of our shift.
This man approached us and started asking us if it was move-out. He asked it over and over again because none of us wanted to answer him. If he looked around, it was very clearly move-out. We all just silently nodded and tried to look away to get him to leave, because it was obvious he wasn’t a student or a parent. We were hoping he’d pick up on the body language and lack of communication, but he didn’t leave.
Instead, he moved closer, leaving very little space between us and him, and talked to us inches from our faces, trying to get us to engage. One of the girls had a Bernie Sanders button on her jacket and he started to go on a rant about politics, trying to get us involved in the conversation even though all of us were clearly uncomfortable.
Then he noticed our nametag stickers that we had on and he started addressing us by name, making it very difficult to ignore him. I’d never been in a situation where the person harassing me knew any more information than what I looked like, but it made the experience much more unsettling when he knew such personal details. Because we were posted outside and wearing a nametag for our job, the girls and I were stuck in an uncomfortable situation, left to find a way out.
He tried to ask about our relationship situations, whether or not we had boyfriends; he commented our eyes and our general appearance. At one point one of the girls tried to tell him we were working, in an attempt to get him to leave, but all he said was “You are? I don’t see you doing anything.”
At one point, I remember grimacing, and the guy pointed it out. He mimicked the face I had made and laughed. “What are you making that face for,” he asked.
Eventually one of us was able to slip away and contact someone in our building, who came out and was able to make him leave, even though he went slowly. He hit on her as he slowly retreated because the person who came out of our building to help was also a woman. Before she came to the rescue he was lingering around us for about 15 minutes. The Campus Police were notified and an officer got him off of campus, but he said he couldn’t really do much besides intimidate him away because the guy technically hadn’t broken any laws. He hadn’t made any verbal threats, as if his lingering presence wasn’t threatening enough. I was glad that he was gone, but that really didn’t make me feel any better about what happened.
Honestly, in almost all situations, I’m happy to be a girl. I think women are amazing and powerful and inspirational, and I am motivated by the amazing ladies in my life every day. But this is a situation where I often wish I wasn’t a girl, because this is almost exclusively a female problem. Of course there are always exceptions, and I don’t mean to ostracize anyone who doesn’t fit this description, but as I’ve said before, all of my female friends have experienced something like this. I don’t know of any of my guy friends who have.
I’ve never understood catcalling because I don’t understand what the expected outcome is supposed to be. All it does is make women angry, upset, uncomfortable and afraid. No good can come of it. When I started going to school in the city, my parents gave me a little pepper spray to use for emergencies. Most of the time I think I’ll never have to use it, but days like today make me glad I have it, just in case.
It’s not fair that this is something we have to deal with when we’re just trying to live our lives and exist. This morning, I was on my way to get a coffee for myself and my friends. This afternoon, I was literally working. I was dressed way down because I was working all day, and both instances happened in broad daylight. I’m not saying that this kind of behavior is okay ever, under any circumstances, but I was shocked that it happened twice in one day and in these specific situations.
I feel like I was punished today just for existing as a woman in the city. I should be able to go about my day in peace without having to constantly survey my surroundings and look over my shoulder, but that’s just not the case and I think that’s sad.
Today, I’m angry. And I’m sure I’ll be angry again.