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Cursing the catcall

September 25, 2009

I was walking to the post office the other day in flip-flops, jeans, and a t-shirt. I hadn’t really brushed my hair that morning, merely tied it up in a messy bun. No makeup. I was carrying a reusable shopping bag full of envelopes to be mailed. I was on a simple errand and was dressed for the occasion.

A man walking in the opposite direction approached me. As he got within a few steps, instead of moving to the side as we passed each other, he moved closer so that he was right next to me. Our shoulders nearly touched. As I moved on, I heard him say “beautiful” softly, but audibly, in my ear as he went by.

Whenever something like this happens, I’m not sure how to respond or react. I tend to think that not reacting is the best response. I don’t like to encourage that kind of behavior because it’s not always nice, and it’s never invited. It usually makes me uncomfortable. Occasionally I will smile. Sometimes I will not respond but smile to myself. Other times I feel outrage and curse being a woman. A few times I have laughed out loud.

I have been off the market and uninterested in dating or hooking up for so long, and my attachment to my husband started when I was so young, that it is hard to imagine what it’s like for single people. Now, a lot of the catcalls I get have nothing to do with men trying to pick me up. They are much more a way for men to show off their masculinity and objectify a woman. Sometimes they mean it. Sometimes I’m just the only woman around. Sometimes they are just assholes hooting and hollering from a car. Sometimes it’s a cultural thing and I need to loosen up.

That my first reaction is to shut down and stop whatever it is I’m doing that is causing me to get such aggressive attention bothers me. There is something supremely satisfying about getting noticed by strangers. I should rejoice in my youth, my beauty, my vibrant self. I am lucky to be healthy and fit and good looking. I know it won’t last. No matter how well we Asians age, at some point I will cease being young, and the only beauty that will be recognized will be internal rather than external.

However, sometimes the pang of fear inspired by too many SVU episodes and news broadcasts hits me as I remember that I’m a woman in the weakest, shittiest sense of the word. I must be on guard. A seemingly innocent comment can escalate into a dangerous confrontation if handled badly. Am I wearing shoes I can run it? Kick with? Are there other people around? How close to a store? Am I near home? It’s sickens me to be afraid preemptively, but I’m not taking any chances.

My favorite kind of catcall occurs when I’m with my husband. It usually happens when we’re out having a lovely time, and we’re very clearly enjoying ourselves. Someone will pass us on the street or in a vehicle and make a comment, often belittling my husband. We walk on, and I think how lucky I am to be arm-in-arm with a man who would never whistle unsolicited at another women. He’s polite and respectful and wooed me without all that machismo.

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