Getting Catcalled on Campus

Even if the words aren’t harmful, the act is

by Clara Butler

If you think attending a women’s college will protect you from catcalling ON CAMPUS then you would be wrong. The following is my experience and my thoughts on the nature of catcalling (by nature of being a Women’s Studies major).

A few weeks ago as I was leaving my class, heading towards the nonexistent Big Sub that I had been hoping to grab a bite of after my 7:25pm class ended, a man turned to me and said “Have a good night, beautiful”. I was stunned. Not only had I paid no attention to this person (since I was very intent on trying to grab some free food), I never thought that I would experience such a demeaning act on campus, a campus that is specifically designed to grant women the agency and subjectivity that they have been historically denied. When I came out of Milbank, I wasn’t thinking about my (inferior) position as a woman in society, literally all I was thinking about was trying to get some free food. Like Hannibal Buress who, for a second, lived in a world where racism didn’t exist because he was so preoccupied with a grocery store’s sale on apple juice, I was jilted back into the reality of having to constantly be subjected to a male gaze that in turn, objectifies me.

I feel privileged to feel safe on campus, a privilege that many survivors and other marginalized people on campus don’t have, but this experience rattled me. I was so startled when it happened that I tried to give this man the benefit of the doubt and looked around to see if he was talking to someone else, someone he actually knew. But nope, just me. Not only did this man behave in such a derogatory manner, but the process of dehumanizing women was so natural to him that he was literally mid-conversation with a friend of his who was walking alongside him when he felt the need to pause his conversation, turn to me and remind me of my subordinate status in society (for what? So that I know he thinks I’m beautiful? Is that how he thinks he’ll get a date or even get laid? Has he ever even listened to TLC’s No Scrubs?) and then continued his conversation as if nothing had happened.

While his words themselves didn’t threaten me directly, like all catcalling, words directed at women that rob them of the agency as human beings threaten our safety and increase the already present anxiety we have around men we do not know. Of course I’ve been catcalled before; I regularly get catcalled by the construction workers that are on my way to school, I’ve been catcalled walking home from babysitting, and I’ve even been catcalled while wearing a winter coat, but never have I experienced such blatant disregard for women’s rights to safety on Barnard’s campus before. We have an open campus but this openness does not extend to misogyny, even if the words themselves aren’t harmful and even if this process is so naturalized, so ingrained in a man’s life that he does it automatically. Funny enough, I didn’t pick out that outfit so that a random man I didn’t know would comment on it and threaten the safety I feel on a campus I love. I didn’t think, “Huh, I really hope a guy I’ve never met before tells me that he thinks I’m beautiful while I’m just trying to go home and cook dinner after class”. I shouldn’t have to feel unsafe on campus because of him or any man that objectifies me. I shouldn’t have to worry about being catcalled on a campus where we are taught about the power of women everyday. I shouldn’t be catcalled ever, not especially when I am carrying feminist theory books to write my thesis on the challenge to male hegemony that women must pose if they want to be heard.

So men, next time you want to catcall a woman or just let her know how you feel about her appearance, 1. Think it over, 2. DON’T FUCKING DO IT.

Image courtesy of DailyMail from a video exposing how much harassment women are subject to.

Clara Butler is a senior at Barnard and Senior Editor and Social Media Strategist of The Nine Ways of Knowing.

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