I’ve got a moment in time stuck in my mind, and it’s not a good one.
Yesterday I witnessed a group of high school girls, from either track or cross-country, running down a sidewalk near our neighborhood middle school, which was just letting out for the day.
One particularly tall and beefy boy, on his way home from the middle school, blocked the sidewalk in front of the runners. His body language was intimidating and sexual, and though I couldn’t hear exactly what he was shouting, the gist was clear.
There was a lot of traffic – lines of buses mixed with cars – so I only got a glimpse.
The faces on those girls as they approached the younger (but much larger) boy made my stomach lurch. Eyes cast down, with looks ranging from severe discomfort to anger to fear.
It was broad daylight. There were ten young women and only one aggressive, pain-in-the-ass kid. I know they were physically okay. I watched in my rear view mirror, and they ran around him without being touched.
But it made me ill to see these young women under attack; intentionally made to feel afraid.
My teacher/mom/feminist instinct was to stop right there, jump out of my car, and give that kid a damn good attitude adjustment. Had I been walking I certainly wouldn’t have hesitated. As it was, with all the traffic, stopping wasn’t an option.
And I’m fully aware that one pissed-off stranger would be unlikely to make a dent in that little misogynist asshole’s mindset. Almost certainly there are seriously awful male role models in that kid’s life who are teaching him to treat women as vulnerable pieces of meat.
In pre-thinking this post, I did a little online reading on the subject of catcalling and feminism. I was sickened, though not surprised, to discover a significant counter-movement of chest-beating males who are threatened by the idea of women standing up for themselves and their right to be left the fuck alone. I even ran across a number of female-generated items refusing to recognize catcalling for the assault/harassment it actually is.
Our society benefits men in every facet of life, from streets and sidwalks, to the workplace, to homes, to medicine, and beyond. I saw it on the faces of those runners today, though they probably aren’t old enough to understand just exactly how heavily the fist of male privilege pounds them down. Yes, there are plenty of men out there who are above this kind of crap, but even a small handful of misogynists creates ugly hurdles that all women have to clear.
Catcalling very effectively tells women that they are unsafe in the presence of “manly men,” that their physical appearance is fair game, that they are nothing but a body for men to pass judgment on. It’s a subtle, insidious way to reduce women to objects for cretins to lust after, to tell them in no uncertain terms that their intelligence, their skills, their abilities are negligable in comparison to their looks.
And it’s only the tip of the iceberg of male privilege.
image credit: gallantgirls.com