I live in a quiet little beach city in Orange County. Believe it or not, places like that do exist in the sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles! It’s a lovely place with a small town atmosphere. I’ve been running around here regularly for over three years now and I’ve gotten very comfortable with my usual 3-mile loop. There aren’t a lot of cars to watch out for, other pedestrians are generally very polite, and running by the Pacific Ocean never ceases to amaze me. My running apparel is pretty typical for a woman – tight-fitting shorts or pants and fairly close-fitting shirts. Comfortable, but nothing crazy. I don’t wear short shorts (I’ve got a thigh situation going on that could start a fire if I did), I don’t show any cleavage (I’m paranoid about getting sunburned), and I don’t bare my midriff (believe me, no one wants to see that). But for some reason this year I’ve gotten a lot of catcalls while I’m out running. It’s not that I’m some great beauty or anything. I think men mostly use catcalling as a power play to assert their perceived dominance. But even so, it seriously pisses me off.
One evening this summer I ran past a group of three young men, either in their late teens or early twenties, and one of them yelled at me. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but it was something like, “Yeah baby!” I was so shocked that I almost kept going, but then my temper flared and I stopped. I just couldn’t let something like that go. It doesn’t matter what a woman looks like or what she’s wearing. Nothing makes that kind of behavior OK. If the boys had been older, larger, or more intimidating I might have just kept going and hoped they didn’t escalate to something worse than catcalls, but knowing my audience gave me a little confidence. I wanted to have words with these young men who decided to yell at a stranger who just happened to cross their path. I suspected that the guy who shouted at me was trying to impress his friends, but that made me think I could have some influence on the situation and perhaps change his behavior in the future. I turned around and said to him very firmly, “No! You do not say that to women, do you understand me? That is not OK.” The looks on their faces were priceless. Their eyes were wide, their mouths hung open, and I’m sure they were thinking, “Oh shit! What have we done?” They obviously expected me to take their abuse and let the disgusting behavior slide, but they chose the wrong victim that day. I was older, fiercer, and more ticked off than they anticipated! The boys didn’t say anything as I resumed my run. I sincerely hope I made a difference, and that they reconsider catcalling a woman again.
There’s another perhaps more sinister side of this story, though. A few days later I was chatting with a some co-workers, both males and females, all of whom are at least five years younger than I am. I told them this story and got a reaction I didn’t expect. One of the men simply said, “Bitch.” He laughed afterwards like it was a joke, but it still made me feel as if someone had punched me in the gut. Do those boys and men who catcall me think the same thing? I’m certainly no bitch for not appreciating unsolicited sexual comments, but somehow society has convinced men that they deserve a woman’s attention no matter how badly they behave. My male co-worker’s explanation was that I should have taken the catcall as a compliment. I didn’t even know how to respond to that kind of ignorance. As if men should be able to say whatever they want about a woman’s body or appearance and we should simply blush and be thankful? Wrong! Luckily one of my female co-workers interjected with, “But catcalls aren’t compliments. That guy could have just said, ‘Hello,’ or something. There are better ways to talk to a woman.” Exactly right. So to any man who says ridiculous things to me when I’m out running, don’t be surprised when I flip you off. I’m simply returning some of the disrespect that you gave me. And if you shout, “Fuck you!” after I refuse to be flattered my your misogynistic attention then my initial negative assessment of your character will be confirmed. You’re the one who should be ashamed, not me.