I grew up in a mostly woman-run household.
From a young age, I understood the general values behind feminism. But, like many other women in the world, I endured my fair share of catcalling with embarrassment. I crossed the road when there was a group of men in the way and ran when I heard their unoriginal shouts to smile.
This all changed for me when I was eighteen.
I was sitting at an airport waiting area with my older sister, who was around 23 at the time. I noticed that an older man sitting across from us was unashamedly leering at me. After about ten minutes of this, I started to feel uncomfortable. So, I mentioned this to my sister and suggested moving.
My dear sister, who has only become fiercer with age, refused. I’ll always remember the moment she turned to me, completely calm and smiled.
She said, “No, what we are going to do it stare back until he looks away.”
So, we turned our heads and glared back at him. It took him by surprise. He looked uncomfortable and tried to ignore us for a short period of time. Then he did something that, even in my anger, made me laugh.
He put his sunglasses on so we couldn’t see where he was looking.
The whole incident couldn’t have lasted longer than half an hour, but it changed my life in the way I looked at things. It had never occurred to me before that fighting back was something I could do. I was used to being catcalled and leered at. I was used to defending myself by trying to ignore their dehumanizing stares. I pointedly avoided eye contact and in no instance engaged in dialogue.
It was what we had been taught to do from a young age in form of self-preservation.
But it wasn’t until that moment at the airport when I realized that ignoring them wasn’t going to make the catcallers stop. It shouldn’t be on us to look away, ashamed and embarrassed – for what, being endowed with feminine characteristics?
I’m not going to say I got into a fistfight every time I was catcalled since, but I didn’t always let them win either.
I’m not naive enough to think it makes a difference – boys who have these tendencies are usually beyond educating.
I know when to pick my battles, and when to ignore them for my own safety. But to this day, I will refuse to let a boy check me out without glaring back. It is always amusing to watch the initial shock on their faces when they realize that their behavior is being called out.
Sometimes, they look away, other times, they don’t.
But I can walk away, refusing to be the one embarrassed by the ordeal. For me, that is enough. That is my victory.