Almost a year ago, I wrote a letter from the editor about catcalling. A year later, nothing has changed. Women are still sexually harassed, assaulted and just generally disrespected.
If you aren’t angry that a whole year passed and women don’t feel any safer, get angry. If you aren’t angry that 20 years have passed and women don’t feel safer, get angry. And if you aren’t angry that when my own mother was my age in the 1980s and she couldn’t walk to her car safely, then get angry.
Recently, several alleged sexual assaults occurred at different places on campus, including residence halls and frat houses. Protests ensued for several nights.
It doesn’t matter where women go, whether it's the grocery store, the bar, campus or even our own homes, we have to look over our shoulder or risk being the next headline people care about for a week before moving on. I can’t even sit in class anymore without thinking the guy next to me could turn into a stalker.
Am I overreacting? Maybe a bit. Do I want to risk it? Absolutely not.
One big difference from 40 years ago to now is the creation and increased use of social media, which brings more issues for women to deal with wherever they are. On top of just general insecurities women can have from scrolling through Instagram, we constantly see potential “sugar daddies” following us or sliding in our DMs.
Of course we have all joked about it, but when you take a step back and really look at it, many of us started getting these messages as minors. Old guys have been and continue to sexualize young girls under the pretense of paying their college tuition for feet pics.
I cringed while writing that sentence.
The digital age has brought on this new version of catcalling, even though we don’t call it that. From comments on posts to gross direct messages, women are now subject to disgusting comments no matter where they are.
On top of that, potential stalkers have the opportunity to create as many accounts as they want in order to continue to reach out to women, regardless of if they were blocked originally or not.
And the thing is, the odds that any of these males were taught to not be manipulative bastards is fairly low. The grade school I went to consistently pulled girls out of recess or class to tell us to wear a nude bra, sit like a “lady” and remind us that makeup was “distracting.”
While we were being lectured about how we presented our underaged bodies, the boys got to play football and be children. How is it fair that young women are forced to grow up and be consistently reminded that we are sexual objects while the boys were allowed to revel in their childhood? Why weren’t they pulled aside to be told that women deserve respect and to keep it in their pants? Why weren’t they forced to grow up with us?
The reason I got my first bra — which I very much did not need yet — was because I overheard a boy in my class pointing out to a friend that I wasn’t wearing one. I felt so embarrassed, but looking back, he should have been taught to shut the hell up. A person with breasts isn’t just their bra size.
Boys need to be taught from a young age how to see women: not as sexual objects, but as human beings who deserve the utmost protection and respect. That starts with our elementary school teachers. Take a look at the dress codes you strictly enforce that target young girls. Take a look at how you pull girls aside to lecture them on not being “sexy.”
Every time you feel the need to lecture a girl, lecture a boy, too. Tell him that the dress code doesn’t give him the right to look at his young-girl classmate and make a comment about her body. Tell him that women don’t like being yelled at while crossing the street, whether it seems like a compliment or not. Stop telling her and start telling him.
There also needs to be education on sexual misconduct for LGBTQIA+ people. According to the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, LGBTQIA+ individuals are four times more likely to experience violence, including sexual violence. There needs to be education for all groups; otherwise, sexual violence will plague our children, our children’s children and so on.
I won’t let my kids fear walking to their car after class; I won’t let them feel ashamed to wear a neon green bra if that makes them happy. Above all, I will teach my sons to recognize their female classmates as human beings, not sexual objects. They will know about consent and the right way to compliment a girl. They will know women deserve the utmost respect at all times, no matter what they are wearing.
It’s time to shift the conversation.
Let’s do better,
Jolie Peal is the senior culture editor. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.