The other day I was walking through one of the smaller towns in the collection of small towns in which I live. It was a beautiful afternoon–sunny weather, no rain, just the perfect temperature–and I had been perusing the local boutiques and shops. I was wearing my favorite dress paired with a dress shirt over it and felt pretty cute for a Thursday. That’s when I heard it.
I’m not blaming this on my outfit, let’s get that straight. In fact, my outfit shouldn’t have elicited any unusual response from anyone; by society’s standards, it was appropriate. I just felt like mentioning it, well, because a lot of people like to know what women are wearing when they find themselves in uncomfortable situations. And it was an uncomfortable situation.
Aside from being whistled at on the streets when I’m with friends, I’ve never experienced someone yelling obscenities at me while I’m alone on the street. Yes, it was broad daylight. Yes, there were other people. But it was still very disturbing to me and, being taught the Southern-Belle manners that I acquire (somewhat) today, I’ve always been instructed just to ignore it when boys do that–when they do things I don’t like. And that’s what I did.
But part of me wishes I’d stomped over to him and said some choice words back. I wish I’d stormed onto his bus, brought out my angry voice and said some serious shit. Instead, I’d like to offer my reflections here, so we can all learn a lesson.
Continuing my story, the schools had just let out for the day. So when I walked out of my favorite boutique, the small street block I was on filled with school busses, going both directions. It was just yellow masses all along the street. It was loud, it was bustling, it was foreign for the quiet mountain town that it is.
I left the boutique looking to go to the soap store across the street, just to browse. I was walking up the street, passing this long line of busses, when I heard a male yell from above, “Your pussy stinks!”
My initial reaction was simply: “What the fuck?” I mean, how would he know? What the hell would elicit such a weird comment? I continued walking, considering the fact that he just yelled it out, because that’s kind of what immature high school-aged boys do.
The busses were stopped, so I crossed at the crosswalk and walked down the other side of the road, just a bit more, when I heard him yell again. This time I was on the exact same part of the street as I had been before, just on the other side. It was the same voice that yelled. I was really the only one passing on the street. It was definitely directed at me.
I didn’t catch what he said the second time, though I wish I had. I heard “ass” and maybe the word “toned.” As much as I might have wished he was yelling about my toned ass, I know that’s unlikely because he wouldn’t have been able to see it underneath my dress. Maybe it was another weirdly elicited comment?
The second time scared me. It genuinely freaked me the fuck out. To know that these comments were definitely directed at me scared me, and I had multiple feelings flash through me in waves for the next couple of hours.
Initially, I felt degraded.
This faceless, powerless little boy made me feel like less of a human being because of his comments. I am more mature, more responsible, more educated, more caring (just to name a few), yet his two sentences made me feel like less of a person. Suddenly, I was self conscious–worried of what people thought of me. Worried other people thought those same things about me that he had yelled out. I was worried, self conscious.
My thoughts led to anger.
I tried to calm myself while in the soap shop, but once I was back in my car, I was infuriated. How could someone so senseless yell those things to someone walking along the street? Who the fuck thinks they have the right to speak to other people like that? Where are they learning this behavior from? Why haven’t they been corrected?
I posted about it on Facebook, which led to more contemplation.
I received various comments, saying how unacceptable his behavior was, telling me I should have confronted him face-to-face, but the matter of the fact was that I had been scared. I had actually been scared of this kid. I don’t know how I would have faced him then and there, what I would have said. The most infuriating comment, for me, came from my father: “I wish I had been there. I would’ve ripped him a new one.” That’s the thing. He wouldn’t have yelled at me if I’d been on the street with a man. This is the first time I’ve been yelled at alone, but I’ve been catcalled at when accompanied with other women, countless times. If I had been with a male, especially an older one like my dad, this kid wouldn’t have said shit. Because he wasn’t scared of me, alone. I was the fearful doe in the eye of his gun. I was Bambi’s fucking mom.
And, finally, I wanted to educate.
Anger aside (kinda), I wanted to set an example of this young man, though he went–and will probably go–unpunished for his actions. There are so many things wrong with this situation that I would like to highlight right now.
He learned it somewhere, from someone. He exampled this behavior from someone else, whether it was television or something more personal, like a parent or a peer. He learned this from something or someone and has been taught to believe that it is funny, entertaining, acceptable.
Unacceptable behavior starts at a young age. This is the type of behavior that leads to abusive husbands, rapists, misogynists, because it goes uncorrected–sometimes rewarded–by society. Hell, if Donald Trump can get away with entirely inappropriate sexual remarks about women at political debates, that should tell you something about the society we live in.
He has been taught to view women as less than men. He viewed me as alone and vulnerable, an object to him that he could sexualize in an extremely distorted and disgusting way. Who’s to know where or from whom he learned this from, but he has, and it’s disturbing, especially in 2016, where women are fighting to achieve equality among the sexes.
Society will not punish him for this. His friends probably thought it was hilarious. He was probably showing off for a girl on his bus. No one with authority will every know, and he will go unpunished. Either way, if someone had known, would he have been punished, or just given a light slap on the wrist? Would be be told not to do it again, when there’s literally no authoritative power on a school bus?
American school bus culture is sickening. Not counting elementary school, I had to ride the bus for all of sixth and seventh grade, plus I had to ride it here and there after that until I acquired my license and a car. In those few number of years, I managed to be called a bitch and a slut and to be obtrusively bullied about my appearance, up to the point where multiple boys would be inches away from my face, laughing at me. I would be made to feel uncomfortable as older boys said sexual things to me, and tried to flirt with me. And I’m not exaggerating. There is no authority on middle and high school busses, absolutely none. Yeah, there’s a bus driver, but I’ve yet to meet a bus driver that gives a shit, and I’ve yet to meet a teen with the nerve to “tattle” on their peers. I mean, my cousin was jumped after just getting off of his school bus a couple of months ago, and the bus driver simply drove off.
Behavior like this is just expected from high school boys. When will we ever get rid of the phrase “boys will be boys”? “Boys will be boys” is quite literally saying that boys will be disrespectful, misogynistic, uncaring, immature, but as soon as a girl yells, she’s “un-ladylike.” Why do we expect such inappropriate behavior from teens? We expect teen boys to catcall girls from busses, we expect young men to date-rape women at college parties, we expect husbands to make their wives submissive. Boys will be boys. And it goes unpunished, all of it.
Regardless of the outcome, regardless of what happens to his boy, regardless of how I’m treated in the future, all of this will keep happening. Women will still be scared to take a drink from someone at a party. Women will still be scared to say “no” once made to feel submissive. Women will still be scared to walk the streets of their hometown in broad daylight. Women will always be given the shorter end of the stick, unless we actually do something to teach young boys that, no, they can’t just “be boys,” especially when they’re insisting that girls their age call them men.
Image Courtesy of: simonwijers