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Op Ed

Just A Cat Call

[Trigger Warning for Sexual Assault and Rape]

Sometimes I feel like I have molten lava boiling right underneath the surface of my skin. It’s been building, and waiting, and accumulating all things toxic. It wants nothing more than to burst through the fortified layers of propriety that society has done its damnedest to levy it with.

You know, rather than finding some way to abate the pressure in the first place.

It is a rage that comes in an instant, but is taking longer and longer to leave me be. I will be walking, and I’m relaxed, so relaxed I am almost singing out loud to the music piped into my ears alone and about to make a damn fool of myself”¦

And then I’ll see them. A group of three or four young men, ages 20-30, standing in my path. My shoulders tighten, I can feel my face change, morphing into its trademark Bitch Face. My hand goes to my purse, my pace gets stronger, and I brace. I literally brace for attack.

And then it comes.

“Hey, sugar tits.”
“Sexy bitch.”
“Come here, I gotta secret to tell you.”
“Can I take a picture of you?”

Fear literally seizes my brain. My thoughts start to swim, and I swear for a moment my vision blurs. I keep my head rigidly forward, I do not flinch or move a muscle on my face. “Don’t show weakness!” my father would tell me. And so I do not. I become a seething pillar of strength, tightly wound and ready to spring loose years of accumulated fuckery.

Today when I was sitting in the metro station, a man came up and sat next to me. He put his arm flush with mine, so I moved my arm and turned my body ever-so-slightly away from him. He leaned forward and then looked back at me, a long stare after a long day of dealing with bullshit coworkers at a bullshit job. My eyes barely contained my petulance as I met his gaze and held it. Willing him. Asking him silently to give me a fucking excuse. Today. Today I am strong enough. Today I will be able to unleash the extent of this inequitable fury on the next motherfucker who bothers me, so come on, kid, what do you got?

He stood up and walked away.

But I am still bristling. I can feel my skin literally getting thinner. As I age, I am no longer able to just let shit go.
A man stared at me on the tram ride home. I took off my hoop earrings as I thought, “If I have to fight this asshole off, I don’t want him to cripple me with something so obvious.” I placed my earrings in my bag and watched him as he got off the tram behind me. I walked down the dark street made glistening by the evening rain. He followed behind. I stop. I stand. I don’t pretend I am busy or that I am reaching for something. I just stand and wait.

He walks by. I let out my breath. I wait a moment, look behind me, and then continue my way home. I wonder about the girl, out there somewhere, who has the same habits as I. Taking her earrings off, not letting men follow closely behind. I know she must exist somewhere. Really, I know she exists in all women, but even alone in my head, admitting widespread fear as normalcy feels like a punch.

And so I grow. Exposure has not thickened me up; rather, I can feel the cracks forming, and I know where the lava will spill out first. My mouth, my fists, my eyes. It will attempt to destroy anything in it’s path. It will do everything it can to melt and make null what once stood proud.

A friend of mine had a man follow her and attempt to rape her on the beach a few months ago. He got so far as put her on her back and place his hand down her pants. That’s when she stuck her thumbs in his eyes. Once he gave up, he actually tried to help her stand and even attempted to brush the sand off her, as if she could just forgive and forget his childish imprudence. She told me, as she looked at him cowering, she knew she was capable of murder. Not in an abstract sense, but in a very real and concrete way. If given the tools and the space, she would have taken his life from him. Luckily for both, a couple happened upon the dune and aided her as he fled.

Still, I know of what she speaks. When I was younger, an army ranger attempted to break my hand and place me on my knees while I was visiting an Army base. I fought back and was picked up and thrown to the ground. Another ranger saw this and stepped in, throwing the man off me. I was relieved until I heard him say, “Don’t fuck your life up for some bitch.”

Blind rage.

I’ve been threatened. I’ve been hurt. My friends have been threatened and hurt. I regard any man invading my space and disrespecting me as a direct threat to my well being. Every single time I get verbally accosted, every single time a man sits too close on purpose. Every single time I catch a man, out of the corner of my eye, sizing me up as bait, I feel that same rage. I am there again:

I am holding my friend’s hand as she tells me her boyfriend raped her while she was bent over the toilet and throwing up from the flu. He got one year in jail. I am crying as she tells me how he pried her legs open. He goes to our high school.

I am shaking my head as she quietly whispers to me, “I don’t remember what happened, but I woke up with him on top of me.”

I am sobbing as they tell me, “She was bleeding really badly, apparently he was really rough. She’s in the ICU.”

And every cat call, every time a man follows me or peacocks for affection, he is tapping into this history. He may not know it; he may be just some clueless kid who can’t even begin to imagine the horror that is woven into the tapestry of so many women’s lives.

But it is there. And he is reaching for it. If he is not careful, that history could come spewing out. If I am not careful, it will come out.

One more motherfucker slides into my booth uninvited, one more asshole corners me while I’m waiting for a friend on the street, one more douchebag doesn’t take, “I’m not interested,” as the final word”¦

It will come out screaming.

By Olivia Marudan

Cad. Boondoggler. Swindler. Ass. Plagiarist. Hutcher. A movable feast in the subtle culinary art of shit talking.

13 replies on “Just A Cat Call”

I feel you on this. I am always on the defense, it seems. I don’t like feeling that way, like I’m an uninviting, unfriendly person. Even though I know that I am this way because of past experiences and that is is OK to be on the defense, it’s probably smart.

I took up cycling a few years ago, and I like to go out in the morning or late afternoon on my bike. I’ve gotten a few whistles and waves, and those don’t bother me so much as being a mild annoyance, but one afternoon a man really did scare the piss out of me. He was in a huge pickup truck. I heard him approaching behind me and moved over to the side of the road so he could pass. But he didn’t. He just coasted behind me for almost two miles. I pedaled faster and faster, hoping to gain some speed, but obviously he wasn’t going anywhere. Finally he did pass me, and I breathed a sigh of relief. He went about a quarter mile ahead and then stopped in the middle of the road. I was terrified. I just knew that as I went to pass him he’d open his door and grab me up and I’d never be seen again. My mace was in my fanny pack locked in the tray of my bike, unreachable unless I got off the bike, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to do that. There was nobody else around. No houses, no other cars or cyclists. It took all my courage to speed up as fast as I could and go around him. I was so furious – my reaction to fear is to get really, really angry. I was ready to kill him. When I finally passed him he didn’t jump out and accost me like I expected, but he did make motions at me to come closer. I ignored him and kept going. As I passed by his side mirror all I could see was the flash of his white teeth in a huge grin, and a wedding ring on his oustretched hand. The second I passed him, he gunned his engine and passed me again, then stopped again. If it wasn’t for a car that miraculously showed up at that exact moment, I’m sure he would have gotten out and harassed me eventually. He was clearly playing some kind of game with me. As I was pulling into my street, I saw that he’d turned around and had come back to find me. I hauled ass back to my house and luckily lost him. I’m still angry about that, that I couldn’t even go ride my fucking bike without feeling afraid.

Another time, a few years ago, I was walking home from the grocery store. It was getting dark, and I took a side street that I probably shouldn’t have taken, because it was a shortcut and would save me some time. It wasn’t very well lit. I was on the phone with a friend and not really paying attention. Before I knew it a van with no windows pulled up beside me and two huge guys jumped out and headed for me. I have never ran so fast in my life. I ran into the yard of the first house I saw, hoping to god they were home. Their porch lights flicked on and the guys ran back to their van and drove off. I really feel like I may have cheated death that night.

It makes me so angry that just about every woman I know and have ever talked to has one or two stories just like this. I wish we could all feel safe.

You know, I’ve always been quick to anger. People find me intimidating, harsh, scary.
One of my “friends” raped me in my sleep two years ago.
I was angry for women before that; it feels like I’ve been nothing but contained fury ever since.
I’ve not really needed to; I’ve lived in Taiwan for the last year and a half, and I don’t even get catcalled on the street, which is a welcome respite. But I still react to the slightest threat. Rape jokes, for instance. There is a very large expat community here, a lot of them American, British, Australian – anglophones – and I’ve heard more rape jokes here than I did in all my life back in France. I don’t react well.
It’s good to know I’m not the only one. My girlfriends are a lot more contained than I am, and most people tell me that I don’t need to be so angry. So thank you.

“Sometimes I feel like I have molten lava boiling right underneath the surface of my skin.”

Oh my god, this. People wonder why I get to tense and angry when I hear a rape joke at a bar among “friends,” and this is why. It’s because I have to walk by a group of men making rape jokes to my face, but I can’t get angry and yell at them and articulate why that shit is so fucked up, because when a group of men make jokes about raping you it’s not a good idea to make them angry. I have no choice but to walk away from that shit.

Everytime I hear feminism derided, every time my coworker devalues the time and energy I put into volunteering at a hotline because it’s ‘wasteful’ because in his opinion, the world is too far gone and we should all kill ourselves anyhow. Every time I hear some asshole complain about his ‘bitchy feminist prof’…

Maybe it’ll feel good to let that scream out.

My boss made a loud, cackling joke about my workplace’s total lack of a sexual harassment policy today. I am a rape survivor, and yes, these experiences on public transportation, on the street, in the workplace, happen every day. It often feels like my brain is literally swarming with the angriest Don’t You Fuck With Me bees when these things happen. I’m so grateful that you wrote this, Olivia. I take my hoop earrings off, too. I clench my keys in my fist and get ready to throw a punch.

This is an extremely poignant and astute look at what women deal with ALL.THE.TIME.–as you all know.

But, I don’t see it as having a thinner skin, but actually having a thicker skin. Instead of these comments and actions paralyzing you (us) with fear, we’re actually feeling like we can (and for some will) fight back. It’s me not giving a damn that carrying a stun gun is illegal in IL. It’s taking self-defense for someone else, and carrying mace for another person. For some, it’s simply knowing /learning what actions to take when she feels threatened in any way.

This is thick skin. This is bravery. This is independence. This is being nobody’s fool, patsy, or prey. This is no longer standing and doing nothing because of fear. It’s doing something because of fear. It’s not letting fear get the best of us.

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