Advice for Awkward People

Hey Ruth,

Today was laundry day, so I’m wearing a t-shirt with holes in it under a men’s extra-large flannel, my oversized comfy jeans, and a beanie, since showering is so much work. Want to know what still happened on my way to campus? I got honked at and catcalled by not one, but two cars on Fifth Avenue. This has been a frequent occurrence since I moved off campus. Apparently it’s so common that a lot of my friends won’t even walk on Fifth in the mornings. What the heck is wrong with some people? I’m not awake enough to make breakfast at eight in the morning, much less yell obscenities at a complete stranger. I wish I could yell or flip them off or SOMETHING, but by the time I know what’s happened they’ve already sped by. Whenever it happens, it ruins my day. I’m constantly worrying that what I’m wearing or even my body or very existence is somehow inappropriate. How do I make them stop, or at least not let it bother me, or, at the very least, somehow magically get from Shadyside to campus without going on Fifth?

Please help,
Men’s Existence Others Women

Dear MEOW,

I’m going to start this response with the disclaimer that yes, I’m sure there’s a theoretical cat caller out there who isn’t a man, and I’m also very aware that people of all genders face street harassment. For simplicity’s sake, however, I’ll be using “he/men” to refer to cat callers and “she/women” to refer to the cat called. OK? OK.

Cat calls aren’t about compliments. Cat calling is about power. Specifically, giving power to the caller at the expense of the called. It’s dehumanizing, objectifying, and it’s an insidious way to make women feel unsafe in public and subconsciously remove them from the visible world.

But what I hate the most? That cat calls are a reminder.

A reminder that a very vocal group of people on this planet believe they have a right to comment on my existence. A reminder that public spaces are inherently balanced against me and that every single woman I know goes through the same thing. A reminder that I will be thinking about this for the rest of the day, if not longer, and he’s already forgotten.

If you’re trying to avoid Fifth, you can try the bus, or the CMU Shuttle if you’re in range. You could try taking more streets that go through housing parallel to Fifth, or you could even walk up the Negley hill and take Beeler. (I don’t recommend this unless you have killer quads.)

But you shouldn’t have to. You really shouldn’t have to.

Nothing you have done — not the route you took or the clothes you wore or even the fact that you existed caused this to happen. This really, really isn’t your fault and it really shouldn’t be your problem, but it is, and I’m sorry. The world is a gross, frustrating place sometimes. For anyone, having to put up with street harassment is disempowering and demoralizing.

To stop cat calling is to change society at large, something that, I admit, is not within this column’s purview. To stop feeling disempowered and demoralized, on the other hand? That’s something you’re in charge of. Empower yourself. Go to a protest, document harassment, participate in Hollaback!, write an article, talk to your friends — any of them — about your experience and your feelings, and why you’re more than just an object to holler “baby” at.

Because you’re a human being, not an object.

Live your life,