We live in a populated, working class neighborhood. Our street is directly off of a main road. There are many passersby – teens whizzing by on their bikes, kids playing basketball in the street, working parents walking home from their jobs, college students with backpacks. It’s a diverse and vibrant neighborhood.
I’ve never felt scared or unsafe. Most of our neighbors are retired and have lived here for decades or families with young children, like us.
My five-year old daughter was unequivocally a fish in a previous life. She could stay in the water all day until her fingers and toes shrivel into raisins. We recently purchased a pool for our backyard, and she’s ecstatic. We spend many afternoons swimming together.
It was one of these regular afternoons when my feelings of safety were diminished. We were wading in the pool, enjoying the sunshine when we decided to blow up a raft I had saved in the basement.
My daughter and I were standing by the picnic table in our bathing suits. Most of the yard is hidden from the street, besides one spot on the side of the house. It isn’t more than a five-foot wide view of the sidewalk beyond.
All of a sudden I hear a man’s voice yell, “Ooo, what-cha doin’ girrrl!? Look at you! You better get your damn clothes back on!” Then silence.
I froze. I was afraid to look around. I had a fleeting moment of disbelief…
Was that directed at me? It couldn’t be. I am in the privacy of my own backyard.
I looked down at my one-piece bathing suit. Suddenly I felt ugly, small, violated and scared.
My daughter was already climbing up the ladder to get into the pool. I followed her in a daze, arms hanging like jelly. I begged the universe that she hadn’t heard it.
I got into the pool with a fake smile plastered on my face. When we got out, I ran as fast as I could to snatch our towels off the clothesline. When we got inside, I immediately locked the doors. I was shaking for a half-hour after the incident.
Catcalling is a true form of harassment. It’s a chance for men to tell women that they don’t belong in the abuser’s space. Since the incident, I continue to remind myself that I’m in control of my body.
In a time when comments about women’s bodies seem to be increasing in the public sphere, I was interested to learn that the county of Nottinghamshire, England has made street harassment a ‘Misogyny Hate Crime.’ I can’t imagine the United States passing similar legislation, but there are things we as parents can do. Parents can talk to their sons about how to treat girls and women. Parents with daughters can remind them that they’re beautiful.
As a mother to two daughters, I’m not sure how I will take this experience and impart wisdom upon them. I want them to grow up and feel strong, not weak like I did in that moment. I want them to know that they should never feel objectified. It saddens me that this will likely happen to them one day. For now, I’ll continue to make backyard fairy houses with my girls, and enjoy their innocence.