“An Open Letter to My Catcallers On My Way to Work” originally appeared on Fairygodboss, an online career community for women, by women.
Dear Catcallers On My Way to Work This Morning,
Like a stray hair that slinks down the skin of my back, I can feel your eyes. Like the Spanx under my skirt you strip away with your mind, your words suffocate me.
On my way to the office, I saunter through Manhattan’s Herald Square. It’s crawling with wide-eyed tourists, to whom you’re supposed to be passing flyers and ushering onto double-decker buses. You call me an, ahem, part of the female anatomy because I won’t smile for you. I grip my keys between my knuckles, and I flash you the finger.
At lunch, you take a break from jackhammering the sidewalk to thrust your hips and hump thin air. You swallow your dangling tongue to ask me where I’m heading. I cross the street. On a good day, you’ll say, “God bless,” and give up. But on most days, you’ll hurl more curse words at me for not entertaining your offer.
Sporting your gray suit that matches your gray hair, another one of you tells me that, if I let you take care of me, I’ll never have to work. With your briefcase in hand, you wave me over. I choose to pretend I don’t hear you.
It’s daylight savings now, and I seldom leave my desk before the night falls. But I can still see you, shrouded in darkness but illumined by the display of your phone. When you’re on foot, you follow me home some blocks before you grow bored. I’m not on the phone with anyone; I’m drowning out the details of your disgusting desires, hoping that my preoccupied negligence might deter you. When you stalk me by car, you roll down the window to whistle and whisper dirty nothings; you drive sluggishly at my pace. I snap a photo of your face, or your license plate, and I dial the police. Sometimes you show aggression but, ultimately, you dart or drive off.
One time, you snapped a photo up my skirt. I’m still not sure if I prefer that to the time you spit on me.
I used to want to ask you how you’d feel if someone treated your mother, sister, or daughter like a butcher does meat. I used to feel inclined to ask you why — what do you actually think you’ll accomplish? But I know you have little to no regard for my thoughts; and I know you wouldn’t know how to handle a woman who welcomed your advances anyway.
In fact, I used to be afraid of you. I used to take different routes to the office to avoid you, but evermore of you lurk around each corner. So I wouldn’t prove an amusing target, I used to plug headphones in my ears — with no music, so I could still hear you in case your words were threatening.
As a woman, I’m a dauntless protagonist of my own life but, as women, we’ve all been conditioned to fear the same horror stories. Horror stories in which you, catcaller, are cast as the lead antagonist. It’s because we boast an education system that fails to discipline our bullies, endorse a media landscape deficient in our voices but replete with those of our oppressors, and laud a legal structure perfused with patriarchy. Women, like me, are told to tolerate life as passive victims of traditions among boys who will be boys in a world beset by bigotry, exacerbated by the objectification of our bodies as weapons of war, global gendercide, sex trafficking, and the sheer notion that one of the most developed nations in the world chalks sexual assault up to “locker room talk.”
When conditioned fear couples with a dwindling hope for deliverance in a society that promotes an agenda that too often negates our own, women become perpetually paralyzed by the thralldom of “what if.” What if you actually do the things you say you want to do to my body? What if you do snatch me up in your truck on my walk home? For a lot of us, the politics of life with a vagina becomes the bane of our existence.
But I won’t allow it anymore. And the more you’ve hounded and humped, loitered and licked your lips, coaxed and cursed, the more I’ve unfortunately gotten used to it all as the norm, and the more I’ve realized how unafraid I am these days. The more I’ve realized, I’m not scared — you are.
You’re afraid that a woman, on her way to work, might just change the world as we know it.
You’re afraid that a working woman, afforded a voice, might just shut you up one day — and not by flipping you the bird or calling the police but, rather, by rising to a position you wouldn’t dare disrespect.
So, I’m ready when you are. When you really think you’re ready to handle a real response to those catcalls, let’s talk. Until then, I’ve got a job to crush.
Bio: AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She’s an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.
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