In Philly, in the Dead of Winter, Men Will Still Catcall You

On Valentine’s Day, while changing a tire and dressed for an expedition to the Arctic, I got “Hey Babied.” Really?

When I first moved to Philadelphia, I was 22, completely naïve and a bit stupid. I had spent three years of my life living in rural Vermont learning how to milk cows and grow flowers before returning to suburban Pennsylvania to finish my B.A. in English literature and work in an independent bookstore. I didn’t know bad people existed. I was still a starry-eyed virgin fawn in a field laden with daisies.

I was innocent enough not to know that I shouldn’t walk down Broad Street carrying two melons in my arms at about chest level, even if the melons were two for a dollar. It wasn’t until years later that I finally understood why the men shouted scathing things about “big titties” and “I wanna suck those melons so hard” at me.

Four years, three apartments, two ex-boyfriends and one dog later, I still didn’t understand why the men called. It could be 7 a.m. on a Tuesday and I’d be dressed in sweats, a hat and a huge bulky sweater sans makeup with an obese English bulldog by my side and still they’d call. It got to the point where I couldn’t go a day without some guy hollering at me from across the street or following me on his bicycle asking for my number.

The turning point was when the catcalls turned into physical assaults. I had my butt grabbed at a crowded bar. Another time, some idiot tried to grope me in the middle of the street. I, an educated, self-sufficient, self-proclaimed feminist was being turned into a helpless, embarrassed ashamed little girl at each jab, poke and prod.

Street harassment is nothing new. Random dudes have been shouting, whistling and whispering to women on the street since the dawn of time. While most women simply ignore and tolerate this constant barrage of unwanted attention, even more are recognizing that there is something strange here, that this is Not Right. Our bodies are not free for comment or judgment at home, in the workplace or on the street. Although the harassment does continue, we are now at least cognizant of its oddness and critical of its existence.

This awareness has led to the cats calling back. Yale MFA and artist Hannah Price made national news when she assembled a photo series called “City of Brotherly Love” in which she snapped pictures of men right after that catcalled her. Hollaback! is an international movement to end street harassment (and on Thursday its Philly arm is hosting a TEDx-style event called “Human Trafficking in the United States.”) A group called Pussy Division, also behind the “Stop Rape” stickers, has tagged South Philly with numerous anti-harassment stencils discouraging the use of harassment go-tos like “Smile Honey” and “Hey Sexy.” Philadelphia is also the second city ever to have a hearing directly addressing street harassment.

Philly is in the thick of one of the most abysmal winters it has seen in years. Despite being dressed like I was about to go on an expedition to the Arctic to kill baby seals, the men are still relentless. Earlier this month, I was changing my tire in the snow. Crouched low to the ground, in huge boots, a fur-lined hood and sunglasses, I heard the unmistakable wolf whistle followed by the thud-thud of masculine footsteps. Looking up from my car, I saw a man standing above me.

“Hey baby, you’re too pretty to be changing a tire. It’s Valentine’s Day. Don’t you got a man to be doing this shit for you?” he asked.

It may have been because of the flat tire, or the piles and piles of snow. It may have been because it was Valentine’s Day and I was single, alone and bitter. It may have been because I was just tired of it. Tired of ignoring it and pretending these intrusions into my life didn’t bother me.

I stood up from my car and started verbally wailing on him. Every four-letter word came pouring out of my mouth like vomit. Every derogatory thing I could think of came spewing out. By the time I started screaming about his mother’s failure to raise a boy into a man and my hope that he’d suffer a long, agonizing death and something about eunuchs, the man had called me “a crazy bitch” and stalked off.

I still don’t understand why men catcall. If a guy rolls down his window and screams at a woman, “Duh-aaam! Wuuuzzup baby?” that woman will never, ever run down the street chasing the car asking for his number. Never.

I don’t know if it’s because they’re too lazy to actually take the time to approach a woman and strike up a conversation. Or if they enjoy the power of making her feel uncomfortable. Or if it’s a cultural thing.

I do know that my last straw was Valentine’s Day. All I wanted to do was put the spare tire on my car in peace and then curl up with a bottle of wine and my cat and cry in the dark. I do know that street harassment can happen anytime, anywhere, even if there’s eight feet of snow on the ground.

I encourage women to stand up for themselves. The next time somebody catcalls at you, don’t ignore it. Whip around and face him. Tell him what he’s doing is not okay. If you see a chick getting harassed, don’t be a silent bystander. Stand up for your sister. Street harassment has been documented as taking place as far back as the late 1800s. And now politicians are attempting to take us back to those times by trying to overturn Roe Vs. Wade and dictate what women can do with their  bodies. In 2014, there are countless women and organizations  united via social media and other campaigns to put an end to unwanted catcalls. Join the movement. Let your voice be heard.

And if all else fails, you can always play Gwen Stefani’s “Ain’t No Holla Back Girl” at max volume on your iPhone.

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