Wisconsin Womanhood: The truth on how women truly move through the world
I distinctly remember the first time I was catcalled. It was the middle of summer, and my cousin and I were walking down the sidewalk of a wide road in my hometown. We were on my way back to my house when a red pickup truck full of men slowed down to honk their horn and whistle at us, their eyes lingering on our bodies for a moment too long.
I was 12 years old. I was 12 years old, and that was my first taste of what the years ahead of me would bring.
Growing up as a girl, you are taught to arm yourself with your keys between your knuckles and learn the skill of avoiding eye contact with any man who so badly wants to meet your gaze. You’re taught to politely tip-toe out of conversations — as to not offend the man you’re talking to — so that he doesn’t suddenly turn violent.
This is just the reality of the world women and other marginalized genders live in. There is not one girl I have talked to that does not have similar stories of creepy men or uncomfortable glances while walking down the street. Predative eyes are always on us, and we are constantly aware of their presence.
When I worked at a restaurant one summer, I typically wouldn’t get off my shift until around 2 or 3 in the morning. The free parking was in a parking garage a couple of blocks away, so after my shift I would start the trek to my car, armed with keys between my fingers and an alarm keychain my mom gave me that can be pulled to scare off any threats.
With my feet heavy from eight hours of straight running around, I would remember to glance over my shoulder every couple of minutes to make sure there wasn’t a man who had been walking behind me for a suspiciously long time.
When I would reach the parking garage, I would call my mom while walking up the dimly lit stairs, battling to keep my phone to my earasIgot into my car.
Once in the car, I would promptly lock my doors and start my car, hanging up on my mom so I could start the drive home. Moments like these are routine; almost second-nature. The reality that women live in an unsafe and occasionally uncomfortable world is largely only known by other women. This is the reason why my father feels like he needs to have “the talk” with me as I enter college, even though I have been dealing with creepy men since I was 12. This is the same reason why it was troubling when my brother saw the alarm on my keychain and laughed, asking if it was “really necessary.”
I have realized throughout my life that men I interact with consistently fail to realize that this reality does not just manifest itself in dark alleyways and frat parties with men who roofie red solo cups. Being reminded of your womanhood isn’t necessarily the extreme of being assaulted or harassed, but can be shown simply by just walking down the street and having eyes uncomfortably fixated on you from one block to the next.
Last school year, students got an alert from the UW police that a girl had been attacked on Langdon Street. Reading the details of the police report, the girl had been attacked from behind and dragged down the cement sidewalk to Lake Mendota, the assaulter intending to drown her.
While scrolling through this message on my phone, I was reminded yet again that the world overall is not safe for women. I was reminded that it could’ve been me, just as easily as it was her.
I have found that, although many of my male friends are progressive and self-pro- claimed feminists, there are few attempts by them to continue to try to understand the way that women have to move through the world.
It’s as if they understand these basic concepts of gender inequality, but have stopped applying any of this information when considering real-world impacts to the women surrounding them. There is no offering to walk their female friends home, even though it’s 1:00 in the morning and their friend lives on State Street. There is no discreetly helping their friend exit an uncomfortable conversation when the guy hitting on them refuses to take a hint.
Men have a responsibility to their female friends to help make them feel more comfortable living in the world, and that doesn’t just entail having conversations filled with hot-button words like “glass ceiling.”
Actions are much more powerful than words, especially when they have the possibility to help a friend avoid an unsafe or uncomfortable situation, regardless of the perceived severity.
Ellie is a junior studying art. What are your thoughts on the state of women in today’s world? Send all your comments to email@example.com.Subscribe to The Daily Cardinal Newsletter