As I stood in the city waiting to meet a friend for some Friday night drinks I couldn’t help but think about the connotations of what a young woman standing on a street corner would signify to passers by. It seems like an absurd thing to ponder over or even be anxious about but being in this situation in the past for me has been associated with a whole load of negative memories. When I was younger and living in Colombo I used to have to wait outside my workplace to get a lift home from my cousin. Due to colossal after work traffic jams, this often meant that I had to wait around on the street dawdling until my lift arrived. On almost every occasion that this occurred, mind you this was each and every day for a good 3 months, I would either be propositioned, mistaken for a prostitute or catcalled. Not because I was eliciting this type of behaviour but quite simply because I happened to be a woman standing on the side of the road. In this existence that we live in today this one act somehow justified fair game to any man who passed thus inviting their foul mouthed commentary.
The reason I bring this up is that it happened again on Friday night when a group of passing men felt it appropriate to quite loudly and deliberately jeer in my direction. Considering that they were in a pack and were less than a foot away from me it made me feel quite vulnerable. I often have conversations with male friends where I’ve attempted to explain what these actions invoke in women to limited success. I’m often met by the response of ‘as if you didn’t get a kick out of that’ and the equally as misunderstood implication referring to how it would stroke my ego or was meant as a compliment. To be honest for myself and I am sure for most women, the feelings invoked are anything but that. It left me feeling somehow dirty or tainted and had me subconsciously questioning if I had somehow warranted that behaviour. Until I realised that no, I had not, I just simply happened to be a woman, wearing my Friday night best standing on my own outside of a bar.
This behaviour is unfortunately far from uncommon and represents the ideal that if a woman is seen outside of those ‘purest, demure, housewife-like’ settings then it’s absolutely fair game to comment on her body, her appearance and verbally harass her in the middle of the street. Well it really IS NOT OK. I do not consider this type of behaviour a compliment. Instead every time this type of incident happens it makes me feel beyond vulnerable, defenceless and susceptible to unwarranted harassment. Because let’s be honest, catcalling and inappropriate advances are a type of harassment. I and no other woman like me deserves to be violated in this way just simply because someone else deems it appropriate to speak to us in such a vile and degrading manner. I deserve your respect even if in your warped mind my appearance makes you question my ‘purity’. I am not asking for it, I do not ‘get off’ on your comments and I am not a piece of meat which is up for the taking.
I am a human being who just like you, wants to enjoy a catch up with some friends on a Friday night without the fear of being verbally harassed on my way there.