Valerie Steighner authored a powerful essay titled “My 11-Year-Old Daughter Just Got Catcalled for the First Time and I Don’t Know How To Teach Her to Protect Herself From Predators.” Please read it. Here’s an excerpt:
She is 11 years old. She just graduated from elementary school and still plays with small plastic animals. And now along with vocab words, I have to teach her how to protect herself from disgusting men.
I told her that what that man did is called catcalling and catcalling is aggressive behavior and the best action is to ignore it. Usually, men that are willing to yell slurs about you and your body, if provoked, can be unpredictable and dangerous; it’s best to keep walking; don’t make eye contact and stand tall.
I felt so defeated as the words came out of my mouth. Basically, there is nothing we can do, but pretend it’s not happening….Obviously, I was sexually active all through my twenties, but there is a difference from being what others want and finding what you need…The predator lives everywhere. He lives on our streets, in our grocery stores, on our billboards and in our malls. He constantly reminds us what our value is and where we belong. How do I teach her to catch him, see him and to protect herself from him? How do I teach her that her body is not a source of shame but a source of power and strength? How do I teach her to hear the predator’s words to know what they mean and still stand tall and confident? How do I teach her to protect herself and still be open?
It sucks. It sucks that this has to happen to my daughter in 6th grade. It sucks that it’s only the beginning. It sucks that she has to learn about her body in the context of men noticing it.
What also sucks is that the problem is a failure of ethics and civilization to move fast enough. Men are programmed to want sex and to procreate, and once upon a time in America the kind of conduct a disgusting 50-year old focused on the writer’s barely pubescent daughter was a cultural norm. In some places, it still is. Women had no other function but to find a man, have his children and make the home run smoothly, and not finding a man was, in some settings, a catastrophe. In the American West, a woman in her thirties who was uneducated and unmarried was very likely to end up a prostitute: it was the single largest occupation for unmarried women. When so many women are whores, men get in the habit of treating women as whores, and women who don’t want that fate will provide positive reinforcement to flirtations that are really harassment and disrespect. [You can find the many Ethics Alarms posts related to this topic here]
Old habits supported by hormones, traditions and bad role models—like, say, Jack Kennedy, Joe Biden and Donald Trump–will die hard or not die at all. In many ways, the culture still supports the ugly behavior Steighner’s daughter experienced. Many ways. For example, in a current Geico commercial, the Gecko shows his trophy accompanied by that briefly popular song “Whoomp! There it is!,” which is essentially street harassment in song form. You will also hear it in sporst stadiums. Continue reading