Hey there baby girl.”
Bewildered, I look around to see where there is a baby and where there is a girl. Instinctively I know that this comment was certainly not directed at a baby, or a girl.
It is dusk and I am walking alone downtown as I head towards One James Street for night school. There are many people rushing to and from where they are going. I knew the moment I saw ‘those guys’, that they wouldn’t resist.
As I walked toward my class, I heard them laughing obnoxiously as they story told amongst each other slandering “some slut they’ve all had a piece of at one time or another”. As they laughed and carried on, I subconsciously thought to myself “okay Vanessa, it’s dusk but there’s lots of people around so you’ll be fine. Just walk faster and don’t make eye contact”. I no sooner finished that thought and out the words came…. “Hey there baby girl”, followed by obnoxious laughs from four grown men. As they laughed, I shrunk inside, knowing I was in fact “the baby girl”. It was directed at me.
I’ve been here before. Too many times to count, and far too many times I’d rather not recall. But it’s an unfortunate reality. A reality I, and many other women face, simply because we are female. Correction – simply because the men who do it, lack basic respect for women.
Having been in this situation many times before, I know it’s best to pretend like I didn’t hear them and keep walking. It’s a lose-lose situation. If I respond there’s the potential of escalating an unpredictable, unsafe situation. If I ignore it, they could become more persistent because they want me to acknowledge their unwanted attention.
Unfortunately, my silence just enticed them further.
As I walked faster toward the school, they caught up with me. One guy looked at me, smirked and said “hey baby girl you should smile more”. While the next one exclaimed “c’mon don’t run away from us, all we want to do is have some fun and you look like a girl who would be up for some definite fun”, as he gestured and turned his gaze towards his pants.
Really?!?!? I look like a girl who would be up for some fun? As I walk faster to escape you, how does that imply I’m interested in some “fun”? Perhaps it’s the fact that I was walking alone at 6:30 p.m. on a Tuesday downtown?! Doubtful. Or maybe it’s the giant winter coat I am wearing in addition to the book bag I’m toting along. Or maybe it’s the “lack of smile” or “that look in my eyes”. Ugh!
These, among many other expletive things were the thoughts I was dying to yell at them, as every ounce of my blood boiled inside me.
I didn’t though. Not because I didn’t want to, but because it didn’t feel safe.
I was one. They were four.
I live in society where women are taught that they should be polite and not cause a scene. On the contrary, I live in a society where if these guys did hurt me, I would be asked “why didn’t you yell or cause a scene to get help”. The reality is most bystanders ignore street harassment. There were plenty of people around me that night who ignored it.
Furthermore, I live in a society where I would be asked about what I did or said during the encounter, rather than what he or they did. I live in a society where women are blamed for harassment and violence perpetrated against them rather than men being held accountable for their choices. And yes, catcalling is a choice.
I live amongst peers who still think catcalling is a compliment. For those of you who do think that, I assure you it is not a compliment! Being catcalled does not make me feel pretty.
When I am walking alone – day or night – I want to be able to be seen as a human being. When a male catcalls me, he reminds me that he sees me as a female who he feels entitled to. These males felt their “right” to speak to me superseded my desire to just walk away – or better yet, exist without being bothered by them.
Just like I don’t see it as a compliment, I don’t want unsolicited comments while walking on the street. I do not exist to look attractive to males. My self esteem is not dependent on the opinions of strangers. My body and existence is not yours to comment on.
I am not a baby, or a girl! I am a grown ass woman and I deserve respect!