I was catcalled for the first time when I was 12 years old.
That’s right: twelve.
I was walking down the street when I heard a group of men start to whistle and make comments I didn’t even understand. My face burned, and I quickened my pace. It felt weird, uncomfortable, invasive.
Now, more than a decade later, I’m used to it.
Every time I walk down the street, men whistle, or say “Adios, amor” (Goodbye, love) in sultry tones. I tune them out.
If I walk past a construction site, they turn their heads and look me up and down. I tune them out.
It’s become normal to me, just an annoying part of life I have to deal with—like a mosquito buzzing in my ear that I can’t get rid of. It’s uncomfortable, and I don’t like it, and I wish I could make it stop, but it’s “normal”—right?
It’s called sexual harassment. And we live in a world where it’s considered “normal.”
Last October, a New York Times investigation discovered a pattern of sexual harassment and abuse perpetuated and covered up by producer Harvey Weinstein.
In the wake of that discovery, hundreds of women have come forward, telling their own stories tagged on social media as #MeToo. Some, like me, can’t leave the house without being catcalled. Some of been groped on public transit. Others have been raped.
And all of us are fed up. I could go on about this topic all day, but as usual, there’s a writer who took the words right out of my mouth. This is my opinion on sexual harassment, delivered via the words of the immortal William Shakespeare.
It’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 3, Scene 2. (If you want to know what’s going on here, read the play or watch a film adaptation.) Helena thinks two men are flirting with her even though they have no serious interest in her. What she says resonates me because it describes exactly what I feel every time I’m catcalled by total strangers.
Here’s what Helena, written by Shakespeare, feels when she thinks she’s being sexually harassed. She speaks for me, too.
#1. “These guys are just using me.”
O spite! O hell! I see you all are bent
To set against me for your merriment.
Let’s be honest: if you’re catcalling, groping, or otherwise sexually harassing a woman, you’re doing it for yourself. We don’t like it. We never have, and we never will. You’re just using us for your own amusement.
#2. “These guys aren’t nice guys.”
If you were civil and knew courtesy,
You would not do me thus much injury.
It is politically correct to say that your actions do not define who you are. Shakespeare is not politically correct. If you sexually harass women, you’re probably not a nice guy. Do you want to be a nice guy? Stop harassing women.
#3. “These guys hate me. And probably all women.”
Can you not hate me, as I know you do,
But you must join in souls to mock me too?
You don’t sexually harass women because you love us: you do it because you don’t respect us enough to avoid behavior that makes us uncomfortable. Sexual harassment is a sign of disrespect. It tells us that you don’t care what we feel.
#4. “Why are these guys so obsessed with my body?”
To vow, and swear, and superpraise my parts,
When I am sure you hate me with your hearts.
Catcalling is not a compliment. We are not flattered by your attention. All it does is demonstrate that you care about our bodies: not about who we truly are. Sexual harassment is not a courtship strategy: it is evidence that you do not care about us.
#5. “These guys are not real men.”
If you were men, as men you are in show,
You would not use a gentle lady so…
A trim exploit, a manly enterprise,
To conjure tears up in a poor maid’s eyes
With your derision!
Sexually harassing women does not make you more of a man; it makes you less of one. Real men don’t use women. Period. Real men don’t disrespect women for fun. You might look like a man on the outside, but your behavior proves otherwise.
If you’re a woman, what goes through your mind when you’re catcalled? (Guys, your relevant comments are welcome as well.)