Sunday, April 14, 2024

Catcalling the Lioness: Street Harassment in Paradise


By S. Renee Wentz

Before I moved to Belize, I was never once subjected to whistles, hissing, hey babies, or provided commentary about my physical attributes and actions of such on the street. Now riding my bicycle to work elicits at least one pejorative utterance from the teeming testosterone enhanced masses. Never mind I’m wearing a uniform and school ID. Never mind I’m probably teaching his sons and daughters. No, my crime is being on the street, shamelessly brandishing female secondary and primary sexual characteristics.

Sometimes, depending on my mood and the obscenity level of the comment, I’ll respond with humor. Once a young man called after me, “Teacha, teacha! I wanna go back da skool!” My immediate response was, “Hmmm, bwai, you wa fail!” We both had a chuckle and went about our days. At other times, the bile rising so quickly to my mouth, I’m surprised I don’t vomit at his feet. Take for instance the man I met one Sunday morning walking hand in hand with his primary school aged son and daughter. As he held their hands and passed me, he made sure I knew exactly how and where he’d like to lick me.

It’s no wonder that many of our young girls and women walk around, head bowed in shame or alternately with a weighty chip on their shoulder, one that drives them to respond with cursing and backchat.

Men rarely seem to understand our frustration, citing we should be flattered or even amused. “Don’t worry when they’re calling. Worry when they stop!” And, “It’s one of the pitfalls of being beautiful.” It’s more like one of the pitfalls of having a vagina, I say. I guess I misspoke earlier because it’s really not breasts and pubic hair that set these men off because if it was we’d not see uniformed police officers hissing after uniformed primary school girls. When this is mentioned to some well-meaning and enlightened men, they will admit that the first time their prepubescent daughters described how a man verbally assaulted them on the street, they were angry and disgusted. “I guess becoming a father changes us,” they say.
Well, hell! Weren’t you ALL sons at the inception? As India Arie sang, “When you talk to her, talk to her like you’d want somebody to talk to your mama…” And do we really need to channel Aretha and start demanding our R-E-S-P-E-C-T every time we venture to the corner shop, the bank, the dentist, the daycare, the workplace? Do we have to turn our society into some kind of militant feminist off-off Broadway musical just so we can reach our destination unmolested?

I remember the first year I attended Sisterhood Camp: one week in Cayo with 50 girls, 8 female staff, 3 female cooks and a male owner and a maintenance man who kept out of the way until suppertime. At one point I realized my usual “walking about” tension was gone. I felt free, relaxed, light. Then I realized, I hadn’t been hissed at in 5 long, glorious days.
I shouldn’t have to exile myself from the co-ed world to feel this peace. I shouldn’t have to feel this way at all. She shouldn’t have to feel this way. You shouldn’t have to feel this way. Guys, we women DO think some of those same things you say. Trust me, we are sexual beings and we see a man sometimes and THINK – “Damn……I’d like to a, b, c…and even z with him…” But that’s where it ends. Somehow we have a special thing called self-regulation. Well, maybe it’s not really that special. I don’t think it’s attached to the X chromosome. I’m sure you men have as much as we do. Use it. Everything you think doesn’t have to immediately come spewing from your mouth. Unlike some religious dogma, I don’t think lusting in your mind is a sin. Enjoy the visual stimulation without resulting to verbal provocation!

If you want to greet us, a “Good morning, Miss.” is fine. Most of us even don’t mind a “Good morning beautiful/lovely.” It’s the “baby, sexy, fine piece of ass…” we dislike. When you are out with friends and they make a comment like this, please tell them it’s not cool to do that. Also, talk to the women you love and respect. Ask them how that kind of harassment feels. Then listen to them. We can all get along just fine, as long as we respect one another. Remember, every woman is someone’s daughter, sister, aunty, granny, and mother… Talk to her like that.

S. Renee Wentz is of S.H.E. Thing Self-defense and Personal Safety (Instructor)
[email protected]

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