Look, Doree Lewak, I’m not going to tell you not to court male attention or that you’re wrong for enjoying compliments — within reason — from strangers. I’m not going to condescend to you over the fact that it gives you an ego boost, not least of all because hey, to each their own. I wouldn’t want anyone to condescend to me for the ways I choose to interact with male and female gazes.
What I am going to say is this: Please don’t tell me what I ought to consider flattering, and then tell me to “deal with it” (in an admittedly clickbait-y article for The New York Post) because you’re on the wrong side of 25 to be talking to other people as if you’re in the seventh grade.
This comes at a sort of perfect time. This week, the guy who trains me in practical self-defense (as, by the way, a means for me to protect myself from strangers on the street) told me a story about a female acquaintance of his to whom he’d offered training in the past and received a flat refusal — the woman said she never really felt threatened, so she didn’t feel it was necessary. She approached him this week to see if the offer was still open.
When he asked why she’d had the change of heart she told him this story: She was in a large upscale department store and noticed a man very clearly leering at her. This made her nervous, so she ducked into the bathroom. When she came out, the man waved her down. Thinking that she’d dropped something, she addressed him. Instead, he came up close to her and said this in a lowered voice (and hold on to your hats because this is about to get REALLY WEIRD AND CREEPY):
“When you went into the bathroom, I knew what you were doing. I pictured you pooing in there, your tender, soft butthole stretching open around that brown mass, and it both hurting and feeling good for you. I’ll bet you felt ashamed that you liked that. Guess what? Now, every time you go to the bathroom, you’ll remember me thinking about you doing that, because I told you like this, and there’s nothing that you can ever do to forget it.”
And you know what? He was right. She can’t perform a normal bodily function that people do every day without thinking about him and getting creeped the fuck out all over again. This was the most perfectly-orchestrated, casual form of trauma I’ve ever heard of a woman having inflicted upon her.
Now, I’m starting with the worst example and working back. This guy targeted a woman and then went out of his way to say something to her that would be intentionally psychologically imprinting and impossible to shake, much like inflicting a physical wound that scars. He would never, we have to think, operate that way in his normal social or professional life.
The same goes for guys like this: I met up with a friend for coffee last night to talk about online trolls and we got onto the subject of street harassment. He told me a story about a 16-year-old girl he had known who had been walking down the street when a car pulled up to her. A man leaned out of the passenger-side window and started yelling, “HOT PUSSY! HOT PUSSY!” at her and her friend. My friend said that what amazed him was that this guy must wake up in the morning and go to a job where he refrains from yelling “HOT PUSSY! HOT PUSSY!” at his coworkers. He must see his family on the weekends and refrain from yelling “HOT PUSSY! HOT PUSSY!” at them. He must go out with his friends for drinks and meals and be able to get through it without yelling “HOT PUSSY! HOT PUSSY!” But somewhere along the line of his day, it did seem totally acceptable and normal to not just him but also whoever else was in the car to pull over to a pair of children and yell “HOT PUSSY! HOT PUSSY!” at them.
It’s violating in the same way, because much as the woman in the department store had her bodily functions intentionally, forcibly sexualized by a creepy predator, those teen girls had their bodies and specifically their vaginas forcibly (albeit maybe unconsciously) sexualized by an adult man.
Now for Lewak’s brand of catcallers. She claims that “I like your nipples” is a comment that is “crude beyond the point of no return.” I envy the fact that most of the time all she’s confronted with is comments like “you’re beautiful” or “you’re hot,” because I think the vast majority of the women she’s telling to find catcalling flattering and deal with it have expressed that that is not their experience. Nevertheless, I don’t appreciate it — don’t find it and won’t find it flattering — when men tell me that I’m beautiful or hot because that and someone saying “nice tits” or “nice ass” or making kissy noises at me or saying they want to fuck me are all the same fucking thing. It’s a casual way for men to force their sexual desire into the everyday life of an unwitting woman. It’s a control thing. It’s gross. It’s not Department Store guy, and it’s not HOT PUSSY! guy, but it’s a shade of the same way of thinking: I doubt very much that they walk around their workplaces, families, and social groups telling women that they’re hot. Despite the fact that I’m a stranger, I would like to be treated with the same respect.
Maybe the difference between myself and the legions of other women who view catcalling as disgusting, unnecessary, rude, and intimidating (oh, and by the way, Lewak, thanks for the Vassar stereotype — I went to a public university in Chicago and studied Germany 1800-1939 and the Cold War, not gender studies, but OK) is our intentions in public spaces. Most of us are just human beings trying to commute and get through our lives, just like the men in public, and so we want men to treat us in public the same way they treat other men in public. I respect the fact that Doree Lewak goes out specifically seeking men’s sexual attention, but she’s got to realize that she’s in the vast minority. Deal with it.
Rebecca Vipond Brink is a writer, photographer, and traveler who would like to remind everyone in Chicago that the annual SlutWalk is this upcoming Saturday, 5/23/2014 at noon in Daley Plaza. You can follow her at @rebeccavbrink or on her blog, Flare and Fade.
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