In my naïve freshman mind, my arrival on campus would mark the commencement of long-awaited independence. Nine hours away from home, I prepared myself for living in a bustling city away from overprotective parents and — surprisingly — even more protective brothers. I expected freedom. I anticipated exploring every corridor of campus and roaming about Ann Arbor. I hoped for adventurous nights. However, as a junior, I realize the extent of my naiveté. Instead of carefree exploration, I often find myself in a world fraught with more restrictions than I’d ever known in my past:
Don’t walk home from the library late at night! Stay in well-lit areas! Avoid walking alone! Don’t go running at night! Don’t get too drunk! Watch your drink at parties! Only drink the ones you’ve physically opened yourself! Call somebody when you’re walking! Put your hood up! Pay attention to your surroundings! Walk in a manly fashion! If someone bothers you, keep walking and ignore them! Be careful in parking garages at night! Always carry your keys in your hand! Don’t blare your iPod in the evening when you’re jogging! Text us when you’re back at your apartment!
In addition to cautionary appeals, women soon introduced me to their personal methods of protection. My mother continually tries to convince me to carry pepper spray. One friend avidly practices self-defense. Likewise, another possesses a phone app designed to automatically notify the police if necessary. Another friend taught me to carry my keys between my fingers. The freshman version of me — out of a combination of naïveté and perhaps stubborn pride — mistakenly assumed they were over-worrying, and I didn’t need to follow their example. Receiving a barrage of catcalls within the last year, however, has shattered my foolish former pride. Now, whenever I’m alone and a random twinge of fear slithers up my spine, my keys are wedged between my fingers.
Catcalling, or street harassment, plagues about 65 percent of women and roughly 25 percent of men — that mostly identified as LGBTQ — according to a survey conducted by an organization known as Stop Street Harassment. Although a video depicting a woman in New York City receiving about 100 instances of catcalling within 10 hours was recently released, street harassment isn’t restricted to metropolitan areas. I’ve been catcalled both in Ann Arbor and on the streets of my rural hometown. Every instance of vulgar commentary has incited extreme disgust and subsequent rants. Yet, the most recent incident enrages me the most.
Several weeks ago, after dozing on the couch while attempting to do some late-night homework, my roommates insisted I go to bed. I stumbled up the stairs in a semi-conscious stupor, flicked on my bedroom light, placed my backpack next to the window and proceeded towards the bathroom. As I walked away, I heard someone outside yell, “Hey cutie!” I looked out my window to discern where the noise was coming from and in the parking lot below stood a group of guys. One in particular gestured to me to affirm the comment was meant for me and just stood there staring. Fuming, I shut my blinds and ran downstairs. Street harassment was an injustice I was beginning to stomach, but this time, I was livid! How dare some stranger bother me in the safety of my own apartment! Is there no longer a place where one can feel entirely secure?
Harassment isn’t confined to the streets. Threats are invading our homes and our online presences. Yet, those attempting to combat these threats and bring more awareness to the misogynistic ideologies responsible are often threatened themselves. The woman featured in the video capturing catcallers in New York reportedly received death and rape threats after her participation in the project.
While the sexism and objectification within media can fuel the manifestation of these ideologies in real life, women speaking out against these societal problems are threatened, silenced, and sometimes, feel compelled to leave their homes. Rather than threatening women, we need to cultivate a culture where women can freely voice concerns about sexist attitudes. Likewise, more men need to seriously take these issues into account and alter their attitudes regarding objectification and sexism. Until this awareness is gained, some individuals will consistently question their safety in every space.
Melissa Scholke can be reached at email@example.com.