I see loads of videos with titles like “30 minutes walking down the street as a woman in New York” or “woman responds to catcalling”. In Singapore, I don’t think street harassment or “catcalling” is that much of an issue, so to be honest, I kinda saw those videos more as clickbait than being indicative of any serious problem. At most, I saw it as something happening to people very far removed from me and my life, and I didn’t pay attention to it. Furthermore, I felt that the people in the videos often “overreacted” to their experiences- it’s just some guy being rude, ignore him.
This video, however, really changed my mindset. It starts off as a completely normal vlog, very aesthetically pleasing shots, super casual and relaxed vibes- then, suddenly, when Arabella (the YouTuber) and her friend sit down to some coffee and cake at a cute little picturesque cafe, we see some men in the background yelling and gesturing at them. Later, we find out that one of these men actually approached Arabella, then, when she tried to ignore him, went back to his buddies and started hurling verbal abuse and throwing objects at the two ladies.
I learnt three things from this video:
- Street harassment can happen to you anytime, anywhere. It was a totally normal day for Arabella- she just wanted to have a nice lunch with her girlfriend, and yet she has to deal with rowdy, drunken men at two in the afternoon trying to “get in” with a complete stranger who clearly was not comfortable with their advances.
- She was extremely calm and measured when discussing the issue, presenting it as it happened and acknowledging that as far as street harassment goes, it could have been worse and is worse for many people, but still refusing to take it as a joke or light-hearted incident, because it definitely was not.
- The women in the video were scared and couldn’t do anything because they didn’t want to antagonise the men, who, for all they knew, could have been carrying some weapon. I always used to wonder why the people being harassed never did anything, so this was a real lightbulb moment for me.
Before this, I never thought catcalling was a real problem because I was always of the opinion that people could, you know, just “brush it off”. But now I realise, after some reflection, that the real issue here is not the catcalling itself. It is the mentality behind the catcalling, the mentality that it is okay to harass someone like that on the streets and threaten someone like that on the streets. I definitely want to steer clear from saying that this is something that only happens to women and is only perpetuated by men, because I’m sure there are loads of horrible people of all sexes and races who have this horrendous mindset that it’s somehow okay to treat a human being in such a way. To me, the issue of catcalling is simply a manifestation of two deeper societal issues, which are:
- The inability of so many to see things from other people’s point of view.
- The lack of respect we have for each other as human beings.
After watching the video, I started thinking because I wanted to share my thoughts as well, but was worried that I didn’t have enough exposure to or understanding of this topic to treat it as it ought to be treated. After some consideration, however, I realised I (unfortunately) do have certain experiences that can help me relate.
Being an eighteen-year-old student who has been in a girls’ school for almost her entire academic life and only entered a mixed school last year, it was a culture shock for me to see how much the environment differed in terms of behaviour (of both boys and girls) as well as mindsets and opinions.
To be fair, a huge amount of my school’s student population comes from single-gender schools as well, so perhaps the environment in single-gender schools simply tends to breed a certain ignorance about the other sex. But honestly, some of the things I heard and brushed aside until now are just so shocking that I’m surprised I haven’t started some kind of feminist uprising in the middle of the canteen yet.
One thing that really, really shocked me was something that happened far too many times. I was, on several separate occasions, talking with some of my close guy friends, and they all asked me something that was so horrendous I had a physical reaction to it. The gist of what they all said was, “why are girls so traumatised by being raped?”
I literally cannot tell you enough how floored I was by the question. I was actually, genuinely, incredibly shocked that they even asked this question. I started explaining to them the psychological trauma it could cause, the physical pain, etc., but from what I could tell, they weren’t really willing to take me seriously and one even joked about how males wouldn’t be affected by being raped at all. One guy even disagreed with me on the grounds that he wouldn’t mind being raped by a woman. I honestly had so many problems with his response, not only because he had a fundamental misunderstanding of rape and the situations in which it occurred, but also because he somehow thought that his personal opinion allowed him to disagree with a legion of psychological and medical evidence as well as personal testimonies from victims that rape was hugely damaging to a person, no matter their sex. I also had a problem with the way that some of the guys made light of the situation, devaluing the experiences of the people traumatised by rape. One guy seemed faintly irritated that I was trying to explain to him the gravity of rape and told me to change the subject.
Another incident occurred fairly recently. My class was on our way to PE (or gym, as I believe they call it in America), and we were discussing how my friend’s (let’s call her Friend A) cousin-in-law wouldn’t let his wife (my friend’s cousin) work, and how her cousin was okay with it because she said he was “treating me like a queen”. I was exclaiming over this with my friend when one of my other female friends, Friend B, cut in with a “what’s so bad about that? He’s treating her like a queen.” Friend A and I literally spun around with WHAT did you just say??? written all over our faces. Friend B genuinely did not see any problem with the situation, and we tried our best to explain to her why it was problematic even if the cousin didn’t see it as such. I think (I hope) she understood, because that’s such a dangerous mindset to have.
The problem wasn’t that Friend A’s cousin was not working. The problem was that her husband did not allow her to work. If she had chosen not to work and her husband had agreed to this, that would have been fine. This was, however, a case of her husband not letting her work. It turned out okay for her in this specific situation because she didn’t want to work anyway, but there are so many things wrong with this kind of mindset in the husband. He may think he’s “treating her like a princess”, but all he’s doing is taking away her power of choice, her autonomy, and potentially, her financial freedom, which she as a human being has a right to. Just because his choice happens to coincide with her personal wishes does not make it the correct one.
There are so many women in the world who are trapped in a marriage because of the lack of education and opportunities for women in countries that still see women as second-class citizens. In some places, girls are still all too often seen either as financial burdens, a means of reproduction, and sex objects. This is all because of the “alpha male” mentality of how guys are the ones who provide for the household, and therefore the ones who are higher up in the social hierarchy than mere women. By not allowing his wife to work, the man is perpetuating this mindset, and will more than likely pass it on to his children, who will pass it on to theirs and so on. It’s not fair to, firstly, the woman, for obvious reasons, secondly (especially in this day and age where the cost of living is so high), the men, who will always feel pressured to be the sole provider for the family and cannot accept that his wife could be able to lighten his financial burden, and thirdly, any children they might have.
Plus, there are so many guys in my school who just have the most disgusting attitude towards females, and loads of them are from all-boys schools. One of my friends, who is extremely pretty, is basically being stalked by this guy who thinks its somehow okay to show up at her house at all hours of the day, literally sit and wait for hours with a friend on the pavement next to her house for her to show up and invite him in or even go to the field behind her house and play loud music to attract her attention when she doesn’t respond. Another guy, whom she has outright rejected, still thinks it’s okay to literally follow her around even when she’s totally ignoring him, hug her, and lie to his “bros” that he’s dating her to impress them.
Oh, yeah, let’s not forget about the time this guy said that the patriarchy exists because girls all have the innate knowledge that they are inferior to males.
Summary of this angsty post: a female is not an “item” one boasts about having. There’s a difference between “suppressing” one’s partner and “pampering” one’s partner. Rape is never okay. Objectifying another human being is never okay. Respect all. Try to understand other people’s views. You are not the only person in the world whose opinion matters.
This is why education is so important. The school environment plays a huge role in shaping people’s perceptions and opinions, and if we shy away from addressing such issues, we are basically going to perpetuate ignorance on a huge scale.