I take the bus to and from work everyday, and it’s mostly fine. Sometimes buses are late and I miss my connection, and sometimes buses are early and I miss my connection. Sometimes buses are overly crowded, or overly warm. Sometimes people on buses are rude jerks, but in my experience, they are mostly not. They’re all doing what I’m doing, just trying to get to work or school or appointments, and then get home again, with as little anguish as possible.
Once in awhile I will witness some catcalling, some dude who just can’t keep his stupid thoughts to himself. Or someone who just appears to have a beef with a fellow passenger. But again, this seems to be relatively uncommon on my daily commutes to work. I know the jerks and the catcallers are out there, I know women who experience this kind of crap on a sadly regular basis, but I’m not one of them. At least not anymore.
My first experience with catcalling was when I was 10 years old. I was walking home from school, down my street, and two guys in a car pulled up beside me and drove slowly while I walked. Aren’t you a sweet little thing, they said. We like your dress, they said. (a pretty yellow dress with a Peter Pan collar that I got for Easter and loved. I never wore it again.) Wanted to know if I wanted to go home with them, have some fun. I kept my head down, kept walking, knowing that this interaction was somehow wrong, and bad, but not really having the words to explain why or how.
If you are a woman reading this, it probably doesn’t surprise you one bit, and your early experience with catcalling might be similar. If not yours, then other women you know. This is not news to women. At all. It starts early, and it continues, and it’s often just a part of your daily life. And it’s awful.
I don’t exactly remember when in my life the catcalling stopped, but it did. Maybe when I gained a lot of weight, and so now dudes just don’t bother, because as a fat woman, I’m not worth the effort? Because if you’re into catcalling, you’re also probably a “no fat chicks” kind of bro as well. Suits me fine.
Perhaps it’s because I’m over 40, nearly 50 now. Bros aren’t going to waste their time on some old lady, amirite? Again, not saying it doesn’t happen, but my experience has led me to believe that I am (happily in this situation) invisible, the older I get. (See my previous post about getting older for times when it sucks to be invisible as we age.)
But I like to think that the main reason I am less of a target for this kind of harassment is that years of taking transit have allowed me to perfect my resting bitch face so that it is more resting “cut a bitch” face, and people tend to leave me alone. Which is really what we all want when we’re out in public, isn’t it? And it usually works well. At least it did, until one day last summer.
On a very hot day after work, I was waiting for my bus connection. Leaning against a storefront, nose in my book, my usual spot. The bus I wait for often catches me by surprise when I’m reading, it can round the corner quickly and if I’m not on the ball, it will blow right by me. Annoying. So I sneak frequent glances up from my book just to keep an eye out. During one of these glances I saw two men strolling along, and heard them laughing. I must have made eye contact briefly before returning to my book, because the next thing I heard was this:
“Heeey there, ooooo, hey honey! Honey heeeeey, how you doing today?”
I kept my eyes firmly on the page I was reading but my thought process went something like this: “Wait, what? There’s got to be someone else he’s talking to, oh fuuuuuck he’s talking to me.”
As the two men walked by me, I tensed up but continued staring at the page and then I heard this.
“Awwwww nothing? Well ok then, you have a nice day, honey!”
And then I was able to relax. Because, if you’ve ever been in this situation (and if you’re a woman, I know you have) sometimes the next line after “Hey baby” is “Well fuck off then, bitch, I’m just trying to be nice!” or “What, can’t take a compliment, fucking rude bitch!” or “Lol, whatever, you’re a fat fuck anyway!”
You get the picture, yes?
So while I continued to wait, I found myself feeling grateful that this, my first catcalling experience in ages, was at least relatively polite. I mean, as polite as unsolicited attention from a total stranger who may or may not want to harm you can be, anyway. But I was still pretty annoyed that this random stranger made me uncomfortable, even for just a few seconds. Who did he think he was, that he had that right? Annoyed escalated quickly to angry and to “why didn’t I just tell him to fuck off?” Oh, I know why. Because I was, like most women, raised to NOT make a scene. So after that, annoyed and angry with him, became annoyed and angry with myself. All in the space of a few minutes. Thanks, guy, for wrecking my day.
Ten minutes later, STILL waiting for my bus, the same guy walked back up the street, this time on his own. Now I was bracing myself for whatever he was going to hurl at me, and I was going to be ready with a profanity-laden retort. And I heard this as he came toward me:
“Damn, girl! Are you still waiting for that bus? That’s a shame in all this heat! If I was your man, I’d make sure you had a ride home every day!”
And that was the end of my resting bitch face. I couldn’t help it. I looked up at the guy, laughed so hard, and said: “I will be sure to tell my man that when and if I get home.” He just smiled, and kept walking.
I remember thinking “Huh. Well played.” This was a situation that started off badly, could have gone worse, and yet ended up…ok. It’s like catcalling, but…interesting, and smart…or something? I don’t even know, but maybe because I was bracing for an insult, this guy took me by surprise with something other than the same old same old tired schtick. It was refreshing, almost. And, let’s be honest, pretty funny.
There is no moral to this story. There is no “see, not everyone who catcalls is awful!” lesson to be taken from here. It’s still not right to see a person and make them uncomfortable by commenting on how they look, what they’re wearing, or what you’d like to do to them. Ever. No matter how “nice” it might sound to you, to them, it’s an invasion of their space, their privacy. And it’s never right.
I still refrain from making eye contact with people, I still keep my nose in my book and have my earbuds firmly in place when I’m on the bus. And my resting cut a bitch face continues to be perfect. But I do laugh when I tell that story. Because if you’re going to catcall, fellas? At least put some thought into it.