CN: street harassment, catcalls, sexualization of young girls
I was 11 years old when I was first cat called. I remember it vividly. I was on my way to school when two men in a red sports car started yelling at me and honking the horn. I ignored them, they drove up to me and slowed down. They were commenting on my body and asking my name. I kept ignoring them. I was about 10 minutes away from school. I had my uniform on, I think at that time I was carrying my Rugrats backpack. I knew if I stopped walking they might have gotten out of the car. But if I kept walking they would know where I enter school. I was afraid they’d be waiting for me. I wanted to cry. These were grown men and I was just a little girl. I screamed that I was eleven. The guy driving said, “damn!” and then they sped off. They only left me alone once they realized they could go to jail.
Clearly, a preadolescent girl in a school uniform carrying this bag was the ideal target for cat calls.(image is of a black, maroon and plaid backbag with three cartoon characters from the kids’ TV show Rugrats.)
I told mami and grandma later that day. They told me the usual; not to get in cars with strangers but to also not worry. I should worry once men stopped looking at me. That day I learned men’s pleasure was above my safety.
I stopped telling anybody about the street harassment I got when I walked to and from school.
Up until I was fifteen, the harassment was just verbal. Then it became physical. It was Halloween and I was out with a friend. We walked past some men and one of them grabbed my arm and asked “trick or treat”. Ever since, I never walk past a large group of men. I usually cross the street or wait until the group has dispersed.
I would tell my friends and the girls would commiserate with me, but also tell me I was being overly sensitive. There was nothing we could do, so we might as well endure it. The boys would tell me they wished they got cat called by girls. I wondered if they really meant that? Did they want to spend extra time on an outfit to determine whether or not that particular pant or shirt would get them more harassment than usual?
As a result of the daily street harassment, I started hating my body. The men who cat called me would comment on my thick thighs, my big butt and wide hips. Once, a man told me “tanta carne y yo sin arroz” (literally “so much meat and I don’t have rice”). That man literally said I was a piece of meat. That’s how I felt too.
People told me that I shouldn’t worry about street harassment since nothing would happen to me becuase I was “jailbait”.
I wanted to believe that was true. When I turned 17 the big joke was that now I couldn’t cry “jailbait” at cat callers. I was on the train once when I noticed this guy staring at me. He got off at the same stop I did. He walked alongside me. He was asking me where I lived, what I did, if I had a boyfriend. I figured I would lie about my age and he’d leave me alone. I told him I had just turned 16. He said it didn’t matter, that we could still be friends. I told him I was too young. He said, “with that body it doesn’t matter. You could kill with that body”. I held on tighter to my messenger bag. I needed to get on the bus and was afraid he’d follow me. I lied and said I was on my way to my boyfriend’s house. He eventually gave up and walked away. I stayed on the station platform for about 30 minutes just to make sure he wasn’t waiting for me.
And again when I told anyone, they’d tell me to be flattered.
The harassment has only gotten worse as I age. I may have a “baby face” but my body’s shape gives me away. It took me a long time not to hate my body. It was those men and the rape culture I should hate.
Walking with my mom or grandma doesn’t stop the harassment. In fact, the men think if they’re nice to mami or grandma they have an “in”. Walking with TJ also gets me harassed. I’m asked if I’m looking for a daddy for her. Once a man commented on my dimples and said he was sure we’d make “beautiful light ‘skinned babies together”.
The only time I’m left alone is when I’m with other men. It pisses me off that I’m only respected as some other man’s property and not as someone autonomous. As stated above I’ve been taught the only feelings which matter are men’s.
“Don’t be rude!”
“Say thank you! It’s a compliment!”
I’m not safe from any age group. When I was 14 some boys, no older than 10 passed by me and said something about my ass. When I was in college, some teens hollered at me about how slutty my dress was. Another time, a man old enough to be my grandfather, told me I had a “great rack”. And yet another time, an elderly man actually used TJ to get to me. TJ was three years old at the time. It was a hot summer day. I was wearing shorts. The old man was walking towards us and said TJ was very pretty. I said thank you and kept walking. Then he said “she gonna be tall”, looks at me “just like her momma, she got legs for miles, hmmm”. I picked up TJ and ran away. I was disgusted and it got me thinking, how old will TJ be when she first experiences street harassment directed towards her?
Thinking about it fills me with dread. I don’t know what I will do, but what I do know is that she will know street harassment is unacceptable. She will most definitely know that her safety is paramount. She’ll know she can come to me and I won’t dismiss her fears.