I originally planned to write a regular month-ender, but then, last night, I came across this post on Facebook by a woman who got catcalled while wearing a non-revealing outfit.
The post reminded me of all the times I’ve been catcalled. She is right. Probably every woman has experienced getting catcalled. I’m not even that pretty but I regularly get catcalled because, I don’t know, a man’s ego needed some stroking?
I don’t remember the first time I found myself in that fearful, anxious, and panic-inducing situation. But I do remember learning to “tough it out” early. As long as they were not really intending harm (at least in the perspective of the general public), I learned to just ignore the catcalls for fear of being branded a crybaby.
Why a crybaby? Because when I was in 4th grade, I was (for the lack of a better term) harassed daily by my classmate who had a crush on me. I finally broke down one day and told my brother who was in high school then about it. He spoke to my classmate and warned him to never go near me again. Sure, the chasing and cornering (I remember getting cornered in the backstage of our school where there were no other people) stopped, but then I was branded a crybaby.
And yes, I realise he was just 9-10 years old, but I was also just 9 years old and the fear I felt was real. I could still feel it now. I realise he might have already forgotten all about it, but I haven’t.
So when I was growing up, each time a tricycle driver called me pretty, or a co-passenger in the jeepney rubbed elbows and legs with me, or just got too close for comfort, I learned to take a deep breath and tough it out.
I remember riding a jeepney from school to work. I was in college then and was tutoring a Korean student as a part-time job, and I had to take a 30 to 45-minute commute to get to their house. My call-time was 7pm so I hailed a jeepney at around 6pm. In the jeepney, I unfortunately found myself seated beside an older male passenger who didn’t bother concealing his interest in me. He sat too close to me (I edged away from him but he just got nearer) and kept asking me personal questions. The jeepney was packed, and I was visibly uncomfortable and on the verge of tears, but no one reacted. Some were even laughing at my discomfort. What was I wearing? My school shirt and denim jeans.
And then when I was working, graveyard shift, there was a time when I commuted to work alone because my boyfriend could not take me to work. As luck would have it, I found myself seated with a group of 4 guys who ogled and talked about me all the freaking time as if I were a piece of merchandise. One of them even proudly announced that he preferred his women with some “flesh” on them and raised his brows at me. Oh thank you so much, I’m very flattered!
In an ideal world, I would have balled my fist and hit him right between his eyes. In the real world, though, it was 8pm, there were 4 of them, and I was a “manless woman” (read: defenceless). I just looked away and controlled my tears. What was I wearing? A polo shirt and jeans.
That was the last time my boyfriend let me go to work alone. A couple of weeks later, I was transferred to the morning shift so I didn’t need him to take me to work anymore. Later on, he began teaching me Arnis, but I promptly forgot about it when I got pregnant.
Well, it’s still happening. More subtly now that I have an accessory (a 3-year old boy), but I still get the occasional ogle and the “too-close-for comfort” trick. Even worse when I was still breastfeeding. It’s still happening.
And to be fair, it’s not happening to women alone. Men get catcalled, too, by women and gay men. My own boyfriend got catcalled by gay men (I remember two events and I was just a few feet away from my boyfriend). Just like me, he had to tough it out and ignore it.
Then again, he could have defended himself if he wanted to. The truth is that he may understand the fear I felt when I got harassed but will never feel it.
Well, I now have a 14-year old sister and I don’t want her to stay silent and tough it out. I want her to cry – – CRY FOUL!
So what’s my point? I think it’s impossible to teach all men of the world to respect women, but for those of us who have sons, let’s make it our personal mission to guide them. Teach them that every one, no matter the gender, should be respected. Raise them so that the women around them, no matter their relation, will feel safe. Raise them to not just be gentlemen but protectors as well. Encourage them to interfere whenever they witness a harassment, no matter how subtle.
For those among us who have daughters, teach them that reacting and calling for help does not mean they are being crybabies. It doesn’t mean they are weak. On the contrary, it means they are strong and will not tolerate being harassed. Teach them how to defend themselves and, more importantly, teach them to support other women and stop victim-blaming.
As the mother of a 3-year old boy, I pray that somehow, I can contribute to making this world a safer place for women.