Just a small-town girl, living in a lonely world.
She’d take the midnight train, if it weren’t so occupied with scary fuckboys and old men with a taste for young girls.
I live in an average-sized town inhabited by a wide range of people. Young, old, rich, poor, mainstream, alternative. It’s not a bad town to live in, considering everything can be reached by a twenty-minute-or-less bike ride and most of my friends even live within a ten-minute range. Overall, most citizens aren’t that rich. There are a lot of immigrants, considering there are two refugee shelters. I think more people here live on benefits than in most towns. Still, I don’t mind living here. There’s just one thing that bugs me: Street harrassment.
A lot of people would be eager to conclude it has to do with the refugees. There’s one thing I want to get clear: I have never been harrassed by a refugee. The people who catcall me usually talk Dutch, the majority are white. Those who do more than catcalling (I’ll go into greater detail later) have never been anything else than white. This is not a race issue – it’s a cultural issue. More specified, it’s an issue within our culture, our western culture. It’s an issue that borders on rape culture.
‘What’s rape culture?’ you may ask. According to Wikipedia, it’s part of academical feminist theory, which is something I’d like to oppose as calling it feminist theory will result in people taking it less seriously, while it in fact is a very serious issue. But does that answer our question? No, not quite. This sentence, also from Wikipedia, does answer it to some degree: “Behaviors commonly associated with rape culture include victim blaming, sexual objectification, trivializing rape, denial of widespread rape, refusing to acknowledge the harm caused by some forms of sexual violence, or some combination of these.”
Easier, rape culture is the idea that rape is something that… just happens. That it’s a part of life. Rape culture normalizes rape and other kinds of sexual harrassment. In some cases, it blames the person getting raped: ‘Your clothes were too revealing/you were drunk/you winked or smiled or made another friendly gesture at the rapist’ because apparently, crop tops, alcohol consumption and nice human behavior all initiate sexual intercourse, or something. Oh, wait. It doesn’t. The only thing that initiates sexual intercourse, technically, is the question “Hey, do you wanna roll onto that nice-looking matress there together and get, y’know, really intimate?” followed by consent from the other person. That’s nothing but common sense, IMO.
All right, let’s take it back to the city I live in. Since I am a teenage girl who does have something that could count as a social life and I need to get life necessities such as food, I do occasionally get out of my room (shocker!) and walk outside. While doing this, I sometimes encounter other human beings (also a shocker!) and since I have at least some social skills, I tend to say hi to people who say hi to me. Or smile back. Or engage in some other way of interpersonal contact as strangers sometimes do. I guess it’s human decency, right? Someone says hi, you say hi back (as long as you’re not fucking pissed off) and everyone lives happily ever after.
Or, you know, they don’t. Not happily at least.
My human decency hasn’t brought me a lot of good things. I mean, of course, sometimes it’s the start of a conversation about the other person’s dog and I end up petting the puppy for a while, which is good. But more often than not my friendly gesture of borrowing someone a lighter*, returning a ‘hi!’ or a smile results in a comment along the lines of ‘Chicka, you looking real hot, you looking real nice, I’d fuck that!’ or an invitation to come along to someone’s building and do some drugs (and probably, you know, ending up having to ‘pay’ for those drugs.) I’d like to have made this up, but these are actual real-life examples of things that happen do you when you’re a young woman living in a suburban city and don’t behave like a total asshole.**
Lately, I’ve found myself a new… well, fan? Groupie? Creep? Yes, I prefer creep. It’s a white man probably somewhere in his late 50’s who wears either a cap or a flat hat on his head and walks with a cane. He hangs around the two pubs next to where I live a lot, making it impossible to avoid him. That, and he likes to yell at me. Yell about the hats I wear, yell about how I’m not being nice enough to him (I’m sorry we haven’t been bonding very well, Creepy McCreepster – I try real hard to get away whenever I spot you so that just doesn’t really work well together) and tells me to come over, which I’d rather not, thank you very much. Recently, he started following me around town and last week I was shopping with a friend and he decided to poke me in my behind with his cane, as I started to walk away when he told me he wanted to give me something. Apparently, me avoiding him gives me the right to start poking me.
Makes total sense, doesn’t it?
For me, this is crossing a border. It’s crossing multiple borders, even. This guy scares me. His pub-friends recently started yelling at me as well, making me feel uncomfortable as soon as I leave the house.
Although everyone I’ve told so far agreed what he’s doing is not okay, I’m hesistant to go to the police. Technically, he isn’t breaking a law. And, returning to the topic of rape culture, there unfortunately are people who think I’m making a fuss about nothing. That it’s just a compliment. That I’m taking this too seriously. That I had it coming for wearing a skirt and a funny hat (what even?) or that whatever, it doesn’t matter, he’s just annoying but not dangerous.
But let me get this straight: Not all male attention is complimentary. Some male attention is unasked for, or even unwanted. If we, as women, respond to catcalls, it’s our fault if we get raped. If we don’t, or ask to be left alone, we’re rude. There is no right way to deal with this and there won’t be one as long as our culture’s mentality on this topic doesn’t change. Nobody is entitled to anyone else’s attention, especially on a sexual level. And if you want to compliment me, tell me I’m inspiring, tell me I’m friendly, tell me you like to have a conversation with me, tell me I’m interesting. But don’t tell me I’m hot. I’m not on fire.
* I don’t even smoke, I just carry a lighter on me quite a lot because I tend to put it into a pocket of whatever I’m wearing after lighting a candle or incense.
** Not that behaving like an asshole changes anything. It didn’t stop anyone when I applied that method a few years ago.