Chapter 27: Catcalling

A rainy Sunday. My flatmate and I decide to sweeten up our evening with some sushi. I volunteer to pick up the food from the city since I want to go for a walk anyway. Changing into a warmer jeans and shirt, I catch a gaze of myself in the mirror. I notice the breeze of sunshine glimpsing through my tanned face. I smile, grabbing my favourite lipstick to put on because I have not worn it in while and I miss its hint of cherry on my lips.

On my walk to the sushi place, I sooth in the tepid serenity of abandoned streets that naturally comes with rainy evenings. Thirty minutes later, I leave the sushi restaurant with a big bag of salmon nigiri and fried tofu pockets. I wander back to the flat, my mind calm and refreshed from the cooling drizzle.

I am almost home again when a man on a bicycle approaches me on the street. I look into his dark eyes which blend in with his olive skin and brown hair. Locking my face in his stare, he gestures exuberant kisses with his mouth towards me as he passes. An immediate sensation of disgust and unease flushes through me.

What might have seemed as a brief flirt to the man on the bicycle, disturbs my emotions for the whole evening. I cannot brush off his lewd gesturing that creeps over my skin, leaving stains like dried grease. Even days after the incident, I cannot seem to repress the memory of it.

I ponder over the question whether my lipstick had provoked his harassing gesture. Perhaps it had. Do I regret my decision of wearing lipstick?

No, I certainly do not. The fault lies not on my side. There is no good reason why I should feel responsible for his improper actions. I should not let myself be mortified by doubts about if my choice of makeup had provoked the man to act inappropriately.

This is not the first time that I felt molested on the street. I have been catcalled plenty of times before. Like the time when a friend and I sauntered on Munich’s sidewalks, giggling like little girls. We were heading into the night, celebrating our reunion as I had not seen my friend in two years. Our spirits were high, dancing between all the laughs we shared. But our joy got ruined by a stranger man who did not flinch out of my way on purpose. The man grazed my body with smutty intention, and in the very moment when he brushed me, a sudden chill of dread thrilled through my spine. The man’s touch on my skin had not only cut through the merriness of our night, it had also left me disturbed until mornings after.

The list of incidences where I felt harassed by a man in public continues.

There was the senior male sticking out his tongue to direct gross licking movement at me.

There was the mid-age male who lecherously feigned a caress of my boobs.

Not to mention the uncountable dirty suggestions I had to listen to and the many times I have been undressed on the street by the thirsty stares of male predators.

Such harassing behaviour, which is belittlingly and objectifyingly termed catcalling, has a negative impact on the victim both emotionally and psychological. Catcalling instantaneously impregnates with feelings of being endangered, unsafe, and intruded. It leaves behind smudge, self-conscious, and even guilt despite no wrongdoing. I am not alone with my feelings about it. Each and every single one of my girl friends has been pestered before by men on the street. All of them have lived through the upsetting discomfort of catcalling just as much as I have.

I wonder, are the guys who catcall and behave indecently even aware of the damage they leave behind in us – the girls and women who were molested?  To the men, it may appear as some small, some minor actions born from impulsive whims that serve to their own amusement.

Where does this need to catcall even come from in the first place?

What do men who catcall believe it will achieve?

Are they genuinely convinced that they could gain the interest of a woman by molesting her?

Or do they shrug it off as a bit of fun?

It certainly does not feel like fun to me. But are the men who verbally or physically harass women even considering the victim’s feelings?

Sadly, catcalling can happen to anybody at any time, and there is no bulletproof protection against it. I once tried shielding catcalling by putting on my sloppiest clothes, revealing nothing more than my bare, naked face. Yet, I still got harassed.

What are we supposed to do to prevent catcalling? Hide in our houses? Should we disguise our femininity by dressing up as men when we wish to go onto the streets? Or would the only solution be to strip off every bodily marker that identifies us as women?

These are certainly no tenable solutions. Instead, I say that we, as a whole society, should raise our voices louder against catcalling. We need to ban catcalling from the list of socially tolerated behaviour, reversing the norm that women are expected to bear with being harassed on the street whenever it pleases a man.

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