What's worse than catcalling? A catcall with a nice dose of racism! If I were to ask Sojourner Truth or Elizabeth Stanton what they envisioned the world to be like in 2017, their answers would have surely exceeded the reality. It seems that women are always stuck in the inescapable spasm of “almost.” We almost had our first female president; we almost passed the Equal Rights Amendment; we almost had equal pay with our male colleagues. But the bottom line is that we stop at almost. We have yet to turn these phrases into reality. On that same note, our society almost respects women, but clearly society shrugged its shoulders and decided that, ehh, it’s too much work to actually respect them—and stopped trying.
Every woman I know has been catcalled, regardless of her age, ethnicity, or appearance. This is a disturbing fact in and of itself. The scenarios are all different: a group of college guys shouting obscenities from their truck, a passing comment from a stranger at a sidewalk, the uncomfortable sense of being followed down a quiet street. No matter how these scenes play out, they are all unwanted, uncalled for, and disturbing.
My personal experience with catcallers is different than many of my white female friends. I’ve had people yell “Ni hao” both from their cars and on the street, even though I am a Korean American. I have been told that I am “pretty for an Asian girl,” as if I should feel flattered that, among 4.3 billion Asians in the world, I was “lucky enough” to be the few “pretty ones.”
These words aren’t compliments and flattery. They are the absolute worst kind of insults: ones designated to to hurt or frighten someone else to mask their own insecurity. This is a power play, and it is objectification.
Even knowing this, I have often responded by doing nothing other than walking away. I blamed the behavior of my harassers on their own idiocy and on society. I clenched my fists, looked away and cursed the patriarchy and misogyny as the cars drove me by. Even the few times I retorted back, I was so flustered and angry that just a few minutes later I couldn’t remember what I had said.
So to all the catcallers whom I silently passed because I was embarrassed—and in defense of a younger me—this is for you:
Not every Asian you meet is Chinese, and it is not a compliment when you tell us we are an exception to our “ugly and vulgar” heritage because we love, cherish and take pride in who we are. We will never say thank you because we don’t owe you anything—neither our time nor our words. We never needed your ni hao and konichiwa because we can speak English just as well as you, because we, too, are Americans. We never asked for your opinion, because we don’t need a stranger to shout obscenities at us to know our own worth.
We are beautiful, and we never needed or will need your validation to prove it.