by Gaby Marraro
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As someone who has grown up in New York City, I am no stranger to catcalling. For those who ventured over to Barnard from rural areas, the prominence of objectification on the street can come as a shock. Regardless of the time of day, the area of the city, or what you are wearing, a man will find it within his rights to comment on your appearance.
The sad truth of the matter is that this kind of behavior is unavoidable for women. Even more frustrating is that it is not, contrary to what some might think, flattering by any means. Just the other day I was walking to a restaurant in Nolita, feeling confident in the outfit I had paired with my deep red lips. But as it always goes, a young man I passed by felt the need to yell out to me “I love your lipstick, baby. Beautiful!” In a more appropriate context, and with kinder wording, I might have been flattered. I felt good that day, and it is always nice to be noticed. Regardless of his intentions, all his comment did was make me feel like he viewed me as his property, existing only for his visual pleasure. It baffles me that people cannot understand that the way I dress and present myself is not always to impress someone else. I like to feel beautiful and sexy in my own skin, for my own sake. And I should be allowed to do that without being dehumanized. My main goal is not always to attract a man’s attention. I was so close to grabbing a tissue and wiping off my lipstick, but I stopped myself and decided that I would not let this man determine my self-worth. I decided to feel beautiful for myself and myself only.
This is just one of countless instances where I have felt the need to walk just a little bit faster, where I have considered going back home and changing my outfit, or sinking a little further into my seat to stand out less. I have been called every pet name in the book, been called a bitch for having the audacity to not respond to a stranger’s desperate pleas for affection, and felt the sting of eyes burning a hole through my clothes. What frustrates me is that I have always been told that the most effective response to this sort of disrespect is no response at all. That any response, whether it be polite or full of anger, will give that man exactly what he wants—the pleasure of having gotten a rise out of you and the relief of having asserted his power over you. Every time I hear these comments about the parts of my body I cannot and will not hide, it takes an incredible amount of will power to refrain from giving them a speech I know will not affect their future behavior in any way. I know I should just save my breath, but it makes me feel powerless every time.
So here is what I have never and probably will never be able to say to these people: I am not your baby. My name is not honey or sweetie, and I am not obligated to smile for you. My body is not yours to judge or make assumptions about. My outfit is not permission. I have a right to say no. Being a girl shouldn’t have to be terrifying. I shouldn’t have to think about if what I’m wearing will make you whistle at me when I walk by. I shouldn’t have to feel unsafe on a bus at night when you sit next to me and look at me in a way I know isn’t right. I shouldn’t be afraid to talk back to you when you look at me like a piece of meat because I’m just a girl and you’re a man. Please, stop treating me like I owe you something and let me walk down the street as if I have a right to be here.
Gaby Marraro is a first-year at Barnard and a staff writer for The Nine Ways of Knowing.
Image courtesy of Brooklyn Movement Center.