The first time a boy popped his head out of a moving car’s window and asked me, “How much?” I think I may have smiled. When you’re 16 years old and walking to the beach in a bikini, you’re eager for any boost of self-esteem you can get — even if that means that it’s coming from a pimply 20-year-old kid who doesn’t have the guts to ask you respectfully for sex. You’re 90 pounds and still you feel as though your thighs are too fat, your face is too round and your stomach is too soft. So, when you hear what you mistakenly assume is validation, you blush bright and giggle at the car that has already sped away.
Today, I’m 21. I passed the 90-pound mark a few years ago and also gained back a good amount of confidence that my teenage years had stolen from me. I was taught about self-respect and the respect that others owe to us.
And, yet, I am still dealing with the same catcalling that I encountered at 16. Men have gotten slightly more creative, if not more barbaric — my best friend will frequently stick the entire top half of his body out of a window and pound on the car door, yelling “Shawtayyy” while I watch uncomfortably from the back seat. His actions and those of others have forced me to face the sad reality that remains five years later: Catcalling is not receding; it’s only getting worse.
Ask any of your female friends, and they will repeat my same frustrations. The comments range from “Nice ass” to “How you doin’, baby?” These cat-callers always assume you will comply. When you fail to smile in return the man “complimenting” you may react with anger. Even if you’re one of those quick enough to yell out “fuck you”, the man who has objectified you is able to speed away without knowing or caring that his words may have just ruined your night, made you feel uncomfortable or driven you inside your home by sunset. Either way: You lose. You have been degraded, and the man who committed that act is already gone. And he got to look at your ass.
Sadly, the only way to fix this is to revolutionize the way that these men see all women. I’m hoping that this might reach some of the men around campus who’re hanging out of their car windows — including my best friend. If a man respected each woman he passed on the street, catcalling would cease to exist.
The women on this campus need to realize that the comments hurled out of car windows and on the street are not compliments and shouldn’t be taken as such. These comments are part of a bigger frame of forced submissiveness, but they’re also indicative of a lack of the respect that every woman on this campus and beyond deserves.
If this doesn’t change, I worry that our future daughters will endure the same shame that we’ve endured on the sidewalks of small towns and big cities alike. I fear that our mothers have already seen this, and they feel for us, knowing the helplessness of what some call “victimless fun” by rowdy teenage boys. I hate that my sister, a fresh 20-year-old on whom I could write an entire book about self-esteem, takes it as a compliment when a man says “Mmm, I like that” as he walks past her. I want change, but I don’t see it coming soon. Instead, I’ll keep walking, middle finger ready for a new assault, and head home — where I know I’m safe.
Erin Pavacik is an LSA senior.