The audacity of men

Kavita O’Malley

The world is an awful, unjust, atrocious place where unless you are a white, straight, cis-gender, able-bodied, Christian man, you have likely felt unsafe in your skin and out of place in your body. It is unacceptable that now, in the 21st century, so many people can’t live their lives without fear of persecution for simply being who they were born to be. We are brought into the world as ourselves and forced to cope with a system built against the majority of us. 

It is disgusting that women and girls in today’s world still can not go outside and feel safe in their skin. That men feel so entitled as to force their opinions on us. Silencing our voices. Dismissing our thoughts and feelings. Just today, I walked down my own street. The street I have lived on for 10 years. The street that is my home and should be my safe place. I was catcalled, not once, but twice, in the few minutes I was outside before entering my house. It was far from the first time that something like that had happened but this, more than any other time, felt like a violation. This was my street, and it felt like these people had poisoned my happy place with their words. It made me feel dirty, humiliated, and angry. Though I know it wasn’t my fault, I couldn’t help but feel ashamed. 

Your first reaction when that occurs is analyzing what you are wearing. You ask yourself, “What could I have done differently?” That is what we are led to believe is the appropriate reaction to that scenario by dress codes and the attitudes of men. But what about that is okay? Why should I have to change what I wear or how I act when you could learn boundaries and human decency? 

The second time it happened, a random man driving by asked me, “Has anyone told you, you look beautiful today?” I wanted to walk away, I wanted to ignore him. But I was scared, scared of his reaction. I don’t know him. Is he aggressive? Is he violent? I don’t know. I turned around, in front of my friend, and told the man, “Thank you.” Now, perhaps I could have ignored him. Maybe I could have just walked away. But the fear of not knowing is a large part of the problem. In this case I was close enough to the man that I was afraid he could do something to me and responding seemed to me to be the safest choice.  

Catcalling and over-sexualization is not an issue that only affects me. As I said, this is not a rare occurrence for me, and as a white girl I am not even part of the group most threatened by this issue. Black women and girls are constantly being hypersexualized in today’s society. This issue is ever present in the media, the coverage of white celebrities and their bodies shed in a better light than that of Black female celebrities. The presence of that bias in the media creates a mentality that diminishes the ability of Black women to own their bodies without being afraid of the consequences. This is yet another example in our country where racism is involved in endangering the lives of innocent people.

The issue of sexism is only exacerbated by the fact that the men and boys who aren’t actively misogynistic don’t realize the reality of the issue. After a man in a passing car catcalled me a few weeks ago, a male friend who was standing with me suggested that the man might have been “trying to be funny.” This friend simply didn’t understand that no matter what the man’s exact intentions were, it was a violation, and that calling it funny or brushing it off as a joke discredited its seriousness. He was also present at a later incident and though his reaction was different it was clear that the understanding still wasn’t fully there. 

No matter if the woman is an adult or a minor, no matter her race, no matter her body type or the way she is dressed, it is not acceptable to intrude on her in such a way. Men can walk down the street without the constant fear of someone leaning out of a car and commenting on how he looks. When I am out with my friends, I get anxious when standing at a crosswalk if a car stops next to me. I walk as fast a possible past groups of men sitting or standing out in public. I feel self conscious about what I’m wearing when I notice anyone looking at me. 

As much as I hate it, my experiences have made me nervous about feeling beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, it’s ridiculous that misogynistic men have so much power over how I present myself. But whenever I go out I always worry, “is this outfit going to call attention to me? Should I wear something to cover up?As someone who worked through a lot of self love issues as a young kid, getting older only to have a lot of those thoughts resurface really really sucks. 

For an issue that is present in society in so many ways and so many places, it is crucial that everyone is educated on why it is wrong; on how it makes a woman feel when her privacy and her appearance are disrespected. When men ignore their faults, they become bystanders. Sexism is a problem present in schools, in sports, in the workplace, on the streets, in the media, in the music industry, and about every other place imaginable. It is an issue that is reliant on microaggressions like mispronouncing a woman’s name, talking over her, and belittling her in the media, to her face, to others, and more.

It is about damn time that men learn that we should not be the ones “controlling” ourselves. They need to learn that it is not a compliment but rather an intrusion to catcall. That it doesn’t make a woman feel good, it instead makes her feel violated and unsafe. And that it is absolutely unacceptable that they continue to be sexist and misogynistic in today’s world.