There are moments in life we remember more than others. Moments that just stick with us, that we can’t shake no matter how hard we try. This is one of mine.
I’ll try to paint a picture. I’m fifteen years old. I’m in a PSHE lesson. The topic was sex education and puberty, but we were more specifically focussed on sexualisation at this point. My teacher tells us a story of being on public transport with her daughter, who was fourteen at the time. A man was staring at her daughter and started to make comments about her and how she looked. This initial story lead into other situations of her being shouted at, whistled at and jeered at. Across the room, I remember seeing so many girls share in pure disgust and horror. I hadn’t realised how often people – including young, underage girls – had experienced this.
It was a little like that scene in Sex Education, where all of the girls share their stories of being harassed. So many people I knew, mostly girls but boys too, they had experienced that horrible feeling of being catcalled or jeered at. There was something really sad about it, because some of us just laughed it off and pretended that we were okay. In honesty, I think we all pretend to be okay about this stuff.
But that realisation was completely shadowed by something that followed later. Maths, an hour afterwards, and some people are talking about the PSHE lesson. One guy (clever, friendly, popular, and previously someone I considered to be a good guy) made a comment that made my blood boil.
“Why would anyone be staring at her? Her ass is like two sacks of custard.”
His concern wasn’t that someone, a girl, a girl younger than us, had been the subject of sexual harassment; he was concerned that she wasn’t attractive enough for that to have actually happened.
I lost it. I shouted at him. I told him he was vile and how could he say that, that harassment was serious and that his ideas of attractiveness didn’t dictate who could be harassed. I asked to go to the toilet straight after. I sat there and sobbed. It terrified me that my peers had absolutely no idea how demeaning it was to be objectified like that. It terrified me that they didn’t care.
Let’s fast-forward six years, to the present day. The number of times I have been shouted at, had a car horn honked at me, had whistling at me, is countless. The number of times this has happened to my friends – it’s countless. Catcalling is an unfortunate reality. It happens every day. In a world where the fight for equality is ever-growing, it just seems to become more common. I worry to leave the house in too tight a dress or too short a skirt, but that doesn’t matter. Fifteen-year-old me ingrained the shouts she got in her baggy P.E. kit into her brain and I remember. Blaming an outfit, or a victim? It’s never the right choice. We need to start an open conversation about catcalling and educate the people around us to be better. We must be better.