People in Edisto are friendly. When one smiles and waves, the recipient will do the same back. How would I know at thirteen years old being friendly would trigger harassment? All I did was walk. Along the bike path, shadows danced upon my nose and forehead. I was embraced and protected by the tree tunnels over my head. I waved and the man waved back as I entered a clearing, and the sun poured through the empty spaces above me. Then he whistled, and began shouting things about my body to his friends on the porch, who parroted him; laughing at my discomfort and sharing their opinions on my appearance, which I wasn’t aware I had asked for. I kept walking; looking down at my feet on the path and watching my hands quiver at my sides. With all their words I walked faster, and I felt smaller. I regret that I hadn’t called back to them and yelled, “I am thirteen! I am not here for you!” I tried not to run, because it would show them it had gotten to me, but all chaos broke loose in my head. The tunnels above, that I had seconds before found beautiful, were now drowning me. My mind somehow couldn’t figure out how to get out of the clearing.
The first time I got catcalled, I had just turned eleven. Downtown, I was walking by myself, though surrounded by careless strangers who bumped me to the edge of the sidewalk. Weeds popped through the cracks in concrete beneath my feet. Two guys pulled their car close to the sidewalk, made eye contact, whistled, and proceeded to blow me unwanted kisses. I was mortified, and even more so because it seemed like nobody in the sea of people around me cared. It was an everyday thing and no one objected, except me. I’ve had to “get used to” this harassment about every time I walk out in public, and it’s completely ridiculous. I’ve learned if you get mad, it only makes it worse. Once when I glared at someone for whistling at me, he yelled “God baby, take a compliment.” I have never, and will never, take harassment from strangers as a compliment. I don’t care if a stranger likes or dislikes the way I look. I am not an object of entertainment or a midmorning confidence boost.
It’s barbaric that young women all over the world have to deal with this— this is how it is, and we should just “take a compliment”. People say men experience this type of sexism too, and for men it isn’t recognized. In the most “polite” and “ladylike” way possible, I ask them to look around and stop kidding themselves! Ninety-six percent of women in the U.S have experienced catcalling or street harassment, whereas for men it’s only thirteen percent. What people don’t understand, is something as common as catcalling is directly related to something as serious as sexual assault, and they are both extremely offensive.
Frustrated, insulted, degraded, unsafe: these are the only words I can use to describe how this makes me feel. People belittle this problem by talking about it without truly educating themselves. It’s an issue in itself that this isn’t recognized. I personally think it’s ludicrous and pitiful that these men have to tear women down in order to build themselves up. Nothing is going to shift unless you understand the anxiety and disrespect this makes women feel; unless you stand up for the scared eleven year old getting harassed on the sidewalk, or better yet if you don’t catcall her in the first place.
Ella Carlinnia is currently an eighth grade student at The Learning Community School in North Carolina. She is a young feminist who enjoys writing about social justice, and spends her time reading, dancing, and making things.