I remember the time I confused catcalls with compliments.
I was about 15 and like other girls my age, I wanted to be the center of attention in high school, attracting the eyes of boys who would redefine my perception of myself.
It started off light on the way to school or in hallways where the guys lined up against locker doors. Before ‘morning texts’ became the wave amongst adolescents, my morning began with “How you doing, beautiful?” and “You look good today.” It fueled my day. Roughly a year or two earlier, my mother told me that I was becoming fast and falling prey to teenage boys who would tell me things I wanted to hear for their benefit. She was right, and eventually, their words lead to the fulfillment of their wishes in the long run.
After weeks of having all eyes on me, my internal hopes of being desired seemed to have been fulfilled. However, things changed when I didn’t hear one boy’s comments towards me, but heard the words that followed–he outright called me a bitch. I was easily removed from the pedestal I put myself on as a result of not responding to something directed towards me, and I was mindblown. That day would later lead to years of witnessing women be called every name under the sun because she “didn’t know how to take a compliment,” and it changed my world.
As a mother of three sons, I understand the need to have a conversation about being mindful of the words we use towards people. I’ll admit, it’s rather difficult dissecting and exploring the differences between complimenting a little girl on her natural hair versus making her uncomfortable when talking about her appearance with toddlers, but it’s important to introduce the subject when they’re young.
That’s why I love SoulPancake’s #ThatsWhatHeSaid episode on how men view women. Anabella Casanova, the series creator, said the purpose of the roundtable discussions are “to foster understanding and compassion within genders and across the gender gap.” In this episode, the fellas discuss everything from catcalling and the viral “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman” video, to sexism and male privilege. Acknowledging that harassment is about treating a woman’s body as it is isn’t her own, one participant says that him engaging in catcalling had little to do with the woman, and more to do with him asserting his masculinity and proving his manhood to his friends.
In sharing their stories about how everyday experiences differ between men and women, the guys offer up solutions for how men can treat women equally. One way? Check your boys when women are being harassed in hopes that they can become more cognizant of toxic behavior that negatively affects most women, and is a detriment to society. Here are some quotables from the piece that can serve as some dope conversation starters between the sexes:
“We talk about sexism as if it’s a woman’s problem. It’s women’s problem to deal with, but it’s men’s problem. Sexism is men’s problem and that’s the thing about privileged groups–you have to make a decision that I will revoke my own privilege and that’s a big step task. The truth is, it is the privileged group that needs to do the work.”
“You hear things that are implicitly sexist, but without even acknowledging it, it is so hardwired into the way you think and talk.”
“Part of it, too, when it comes up casually in a joking manner, I think it’s a natural reaction to just kind of laugh and go along with it, but you don’t realize that that could actually have, like, a really emotional effect on somebody who you’re not thinking of.”
“I think it’s looking into ourselves and our own history and wondering where that joke comes from, or what the root of that opinion is. And in order to combat it, we need to find it and address it, and then consciously shift our attitude or behavior.”
“A part of it is, sex is something women give and something men get, and as long as we see it that way, I think some of the dynamics that we’re talking about are going to persist. This is something out there that I’m supposed to go get, then I’m going to go get it. Until it’s seen truly as something shared, then there will always be some version of this dynamic.”
I don’t want my children to grow up feeling like a woman’s body is entertainment, and I think many of us aren’t having conversations with our kids about recognizing discomfort in others and how to react to rejection. There are little boys that are constantly faced with having to prove their masculinity and anything ‘feminine-like’ is rejected, breeding a culture of men who are in a constant struggle between being who they truly are and being who the world says they should be.
Eight-year-old boys “need” to be hard. It’s quite alright to push boys into manhood and onto girls at 10. Complimenting girls at young ages turns to aggressive behavior by 18 when a woman doesn’t respond to a statement because of pressures to prove something.
It is my hope that my stories on how I encountered catcalling on the street out with my homegirls, in church, or at school helps my children stop harassment when they see or hear it. It will never be okay. I hope they understand where to draw the line and how crucial it is to stop their friends who will grow up contributing to misogyny. They have a mother, aunts, and cousins that have experienced verbal harassment with no one coming to their defense, but they have the opportunity to stop sexist behavior in their tracks. My job is to expose them to the power of their voices the right way, even if it means doing the unpopular thing and checking my boys.
Check out the full video on the discussion below.