“Mmmm hmm, lookin sexy”
“Love that fat ass”
*weird kissing noises*
“I like that”
From a car driving by: “Aaaaaaaoooooooooo!!!”
This is just a small sampling of shit I’ve heard from men in real life in the past couple of weeks. Just going about my day, walking down the street, standing on a subway platform, minding my business. Catcalling is omnipresent, and you never know when it is going to strike and fuck with your day. Even though it is not a rare occurrence, it is jarring every single time – an abrupt and shitty reminder of the sexist world we live in. Depending on my mood and how sinister the harasser seems, my responses can range from stony silent glares to angry rebuttal to quickening my stride in fear. The latter rips at me the most: I shouldn’t have to be afraid just by dint of existing as a woman.
Sadly, my experience is not unique. The #metoo hashtag movement was a gutting reminder of just how common harassment and assault is, and still didn’t even come close to showing just how pervasive it is – I know many women still don’t feel comfortable sharing their own experiences.
Whenever I talk about street harassment amongst women, we all lament the near-universal experience of being reduced to a pile of body parts by strangers. Whenever this same conversation happens in the presence of a man, however, the likelihood of hearing “its just a compliment” skyrockets. There is a huge tendency to downplay harassment and treat it as just a harmless bit of admiration. But any woman who has been on the receiving end of these catcalls can tell you: There is nothing complimentary about objectifying women.
It is about power, plain and simple – just like rape. It is an attempt to keep women “in our place,” and remind us that we exist in service of men. This misogyny is pervasive and systemic: Just this year, a judge in a sexual assault case said that because the teenage victim was overweight, she probably felt “flattered” by her 49 year old attacker molesting her in a cab.
As women, we are constantly blamed for sexual assault and harassment. In the rare case where any blame is assigned, it will be placed squarely on the shoulders of the victim. Even when one man is a proven serial predator, one with a lifetime’s worth of crimes, fake-deep thinkpieces will be written to show that their collection of victims were all really *asking for it.*
This narrative of women and girls being the real problem has been drilled into our heads generation after generation, and it is so deeply ingrained that we often internalize the idea even while consciously disagreeing with it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve caught myself saying “and I wasn’t even wearing anything revealing!” while complaining about the latest instance of harassment. It truly does not matter how much or little any woman is wearing – we are never asking for harassment. Even floating “modesty” or “covering up” as a pragmatic solution is ineffective: Like so many others, I’ve been catcalled in every type of clothing, from close-fitting dresses to shapeless fashion-y sack dresses that don’t even hint at a human form underneath. My first memory of street harassment was when I was wearing a giant t-shirt and knee length basketball shorts at 12 years old. Needless to say, if society’s construction of women as inescapable sirens tricking men into harassing them can include a child at play, everything about that construction is garbage.
So I am committed to pushing back against the victim blaming and the endless justifications for harassment. It is unacceptable and inexcusable, full stop. So when I saw this “Call Cats, Not Cat Calls” shirt from Canadian designer Hayley Elsaesser, I immediately knew I had to have it. Fashion is all about self expression for me, and this is a conversation that I want to continue; a position I want to wear on my proverbial sleeve. I also love how the incredibly relevant message is presented – I mean, a neon cat motif? So good.
I played up the 80’s vibes with fishnet socks and blue and neon eye makeup. Paired with a patent leather pencil skirt and my go-to structural mules, the look is one of my personal favorites. Moments like these really reiterate why I love fashion.
Shop the Hayley Elsaesser “Call Cats, Not Cat Calls” shirt here, and please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if this post struck a chord. I have so much more to say on this topic, and I would be honored to include your experiences if you want to share (anonymously or otherwise).