I caught myself doing something weird yesterday. I was walking through the gas station parking lot, and there were a couple of guys not too far behind me. I walked faster. These men did nothing, said nothing to make me feel unsafe. It was broad daylight. And yet, because of the common commuter issues women have to worry about that men don't, and because of negative past experiences, I instinctively went out of my way to increase the distance between myself and these two men. I did it without even thinking, just because somewhere inside of me, I expected them to say something or do something to make me feel uncomfortable. Why? Because it's happened so many times before.
This isn't a debate surrounding men versus women. This isn't a woman trying to throw a pity party for her gender because life is sooo unfair and we're sooo mistreated. I don't need to gripe about women being victims, because we are victims, and the statistics back it up. We are victims of assault and harassment, in large numbers, and grossly disproportionately to men.
Do all men commit these acts? Certainly not. Do all women experience them? Well, that's not a far stretch, but no, all women don't experience them. But they are there, and in large numbers. Having a hard time understanding what makes our commutes so difficult? Let's see if these ring any bells.
This one is likely the most obvious. It's so common that I think some people are immune to it, accepting it as normal and thus not offensive. But it is offensive, it can feel threatening, and women shouldn't feel "dramatic" making a fuss over it, as some would accuse. And once again, no, it is not a compliment. Is it possible to genuinely pay a total stranger a compliment? Of course. But trust me: We can tell the difference between a thoughtful "You look very nice today," and a suggestive "Hey girl, looking good."
The findings of the occurrences of catcalling are not arbitrary. The nonprofit organization Stop Street Harassment found in a 2008 study that over 99 percent of women have experienced catcalling or street harassment. 95 percent said they had experienced excessive staring, 82 percent were the recipients of vulgar gestures, 57 percent had been touched or grabbed in a sexual manner, and 37 percent stated that a total stranger had actually masturbated in front of them.
Another study done by researchers at Cornell University and anti-harassment group iHollaback found that 84 percent of women experience catcalling by the time they're 17 years old. But it gets worse: 13 percent of women experience it by the age of 10.
Can we finally just agree that catcalling is a legitimate problem?
2. Being Told To Smile, Usually By A Complete Stranger
Can I throw this in here just because it happens to me frequently and I absolutely abhor it? I'm not sorry that at rest, my face naturally looks impassive and sometimes, even aggravated. That's my face. It's not intentional — it's natural. I smile when something happens that makes me happy, like when I make it through an entire grocery trip without someone telling me to smile. I am not required to smile because you would like it better if I did.
3. Employing The Buddy System Out Of Necessity
I clearly remember all the times growing up when I'd be leaving work at night, on the phone with my mom, and she'd request that I walk through the parking lot with a friend. You know, just to be safe. Safety is important, sure! But how many parents say to their sons, "Now sweetheart, make sure you walk with a friend when you leave"? I'm not saying women should walk through dark alleys alone at night. I don't think that's a good idea for anyone. But it'd certainly be nice to make it through the mall parking lot after sundown without fear.
4. Self-Defense Classes
These are largely marketed to a female crowd for a reason. It's because at some point in their lives, one in five women will be raped. For men, it's one in 71. Nearly one in 10 women has been raped by an intimate partner. For men, it's one in 45. Females comprise 91 percent of rape and sexual assault victims. Males comprise nine percent. And this is just one kind of assault. One kind of harassment. This hardly scratches the surface. This isn't to disparage men who do suffer rape and other forms of assault; however, as is the case with so many of these issues, women suffer from them disproportionately — and that's worth noting.
Self-defense classes are an excellent resource, but they're a bandage. They do not solve the problem. They do not explain why so many people are getting assaulted, and what we're going to do to stop it. They do not teach people not to assault. They teach people how not to get assaulted. And that's the wrong message to be sending.
5. Having To Switch Shoes
This one is probably a biggie for people in places like New York, who spend a lot of time traveling by foot. The shoes women are often required to wear in order to look "professional" might look nice, and sure, a lot of us feel sexy in them; in large part, though, they are not comfortable and certainly not practical. So many women find themselves needing to commute in a different pair of shoes.
Many women can't walk into the office in their Nikes, though, so once the foot traffic is over, they switch to their work heels. They may look nice, Is this an earth-shattering problem? Naw. But it's annoying as hell.
6. Needing To Have Something On Hand "For Protection"
Many women opt for pepper spray; car keys also double as a trusty mechanism of self-defense. But... tell me again why I know 10 different ways to incapacitate someone with nothing but my car keys?
7. Creeps Taking Upskirt Photos
Yes, it happens! Think of women on the subway dressed in skirts. They have to keep their knees together so tight, a nickel wouldn't fit in there. Another crafty maneuver is placing your purse, bag, or jacket strategically across your lap. It cuts down on the chances of crotch-glimpsing. Meanwhile, manspreading runs rampant. Aren't men terrified of someone snapping a pic of their junk? No.
And what makes it worse is that many court cases brought against men caught taking upskirt photos of women have ruled that what transpired was perfectly legal. We deserve to be able to be out in public, wearing what we like, without having to worry about someone taking pictures of our nether regions without our consent.
8. People Taking Your Wardrobe Choices As An Invitation
If you're out and about dressed in a short skirt, dressed in a low-cut top, dressed in super-high heels, you clearly want attention, right? Or... No. Maybe you just love the way you look and feel in short skirts and low-cut tops and super-high heels, and it's not an invitation for attention or anything else.
Women have to take caution not to dress like a "slut," because if they do, and they receive negative and unwanted attention as a result, well sh*t, it's their own fault. (It's not, BTW. You should be able to wear whatever the heck you want without fear of strangers' responses.)