I’m Not a Dog; Don’t Whistle At Me
In the short two months I have been studying at UC Berkeley, I have had meaningful interactions with my floormates, peers, professors, and even people I meet at parties. I’ve made friends to whom I know I’ll stay close, and I’ve also had my fair share of flirting with cute guys. Coming from a small, all-girls high school, it was exciting at first to be around guys so much and receiving that kind of attention. But the tides soon turned when I realized I was being catcalled daily on my walks to class, and constantly sexualized by men I had no interest in interacting with.
It’s one thing when you’re dancing at a frat party and guys grab your waist to join in on the fun, but it’s another thing when an old, married man is caught taking a photo of your ass in La Burrita on Durant. Yes, that happened to me a few weeks ago. Another day, I was walking half a block back from Taco Bell, and five different men catcalled me (one tried to touch my shoulders as I walked by). Half a block. If five men targeted me in half a block, what happens when I walk a mile in Berkeley alone?
There are dozens of stories I could rehash from my time at Berkeley so far, but the common theme is men seeing my body and feeling the need to publicly objectify me. When I realized I can’t escape being constantly sexualized by random men while I’m just trying to live my life, I knew there was a bigger problem at hand that I needed to address. Even the majority of the male friends I’ve made in my short time here have tried to come onto me. Sure, it could be flattering in a sense that all of these guys are interested in me, but it has only been degrading and made me feel like less of a human being to them and more of an object. This dehumanizing effect echoes the historical impacts of catcalling, portraying women’s bodies as property or entertainment. These impacts can range from annoying to threatening and dangerous.
Although this may seem like a surface-level issue, catcalling is more than just words; it is a verbal expression of the more intense, physical advances of men that have historically put women at risk. As an avid feminist, I am heated when men whistle and yell at me and my friends on the street, but I can’t say anything because I know I’d be putting us in danger. With the rise of the #MeToo hashtag on twitter and other forms of social media, sexual assault victims and allies have been speaking out about these issues and coming together progressively more than ever. However, amongst all of this support and development, I am coming to realize that the verbal harassment problem is just as present as it was years ago, just in different forms.
This isn’t just a problem in Berkeley, but these past two months have magnified the larger issue of sexual assault and rape culture for me personally. The normalization of men’s verbal advances is only perpetuating this culture, and I dream of a day when women can safely walk on the streets without being objectified by strangers.