On the weekend, we drove through a Sydney suburb. We rounded a corner to see a large group of boys on bikes and scooters in the middle of the road. Luckily, we were going slowly, looking for the right street number, so we didn’t hit them. There was quite a big group of them, maybe 7 or 8. They were young boys, too. No older than 10.
As they moved out of the way, I muttered something to my husband about how dangerous it was for them to be on the road like that. No helmets, no supervision. He agreed as he parked the car. According to Siri, we had reached our destination.
We piled out of the car, all half a dozen of us. Miss 5 grabbed my hand and the teenagers walked behind us. Our older girls, aged 15 and 16, were at the rear as we walked up the street to the house we were visiting. I heard a bit of noise behind us but I didn’t pay much attention at first. Then I realised what I was hearing.
The group of boys had followed us up from where we parked. And they were calling out at- catcalling- our daughters. Yelling at one of the girls about her clothes, shouting that they liked the look of her sister, too. I froze and herded the kids inside before asking my husband if he’d heard. He hadn’t. I told him and we both turned back towards the street, but the boys were riding away, laughing and congratulating one another.
It’s not okay
“It’s okay, they’re just jerks,” one of the girls mumbled, looking down. She looked resigned and irritated. And I felt nothing but rage because a teenage girl should not be subjected to street harassment. No one should.
My husband turned to her and said that no, it was not okay.
“This is what they are like now, as little kids. What will they turn into as they grow up? If they’re like this now?”
I was fuming.
I didn’t want her to excuse this behaviour
She tried to brush it off, but what happened is not okay. It’s never okay. It’s soul-crushing to think that a teenage girl has already got a dismissive strategy in place for when a boy (or man) catcalls her. I’m glad that she didn’t feel unsafe or intimidated, but would it have been different if we weren’t there?
This is our society
We live in a world where this happens every day to girls and women. We have every right to feel safe and comfortable in public, yet street harassment means many of us do not. But we are so often told it’s not a real problem and we should just get over it. Just about any comments section on an article about street harassment and catcalling will have someone reminding us that women invite harassment by the way they dress or act, that we should be flattered by this attention or some other bullshit that excuses this behaviour.
20+ years ago, I was that teenage girl on the receiving end of the catcalling. I have been a woman in her 20s and even her 30s being catcalled on the street. I have been a mother holding my toddler’s hand while being catcalled on the fucking street. And catcalling is not the worst thing I have experienced.
Do boys who catcall girls and women go on to become the men that won’t take no for an answer? The men that sexually harass teenage girls at work? Do they become rapists and abusers?
I’m not sure, but it makes sense that they might. They already feel the need to objectify and sexualise young women that are strangers to them. Their desire to express their sexual thoughts is already more important to them than the right of a girl or woman to feel comfortable in a public space. There’s a reason some countries are making catcalling an offense with an on-the-spot fine. It’s a predatory behaviour.
Teach your sons
These were boys that are still a year or more from high school who thought it was totally fine to ogle and catcall teenage girls walking up the street with their family. They thought it was funny and high-five worthy to make two young women uncomfortable and embarrassed. These boys, at such a young age, already have no respect for girls or women. Women are already disproportionately effected by sexual assault and harassment and for that to change, we need to have some serious conversations with our kids. And we need to look at whatever, or whoever, they are influenced by.
These boys were not just “boys being boys”. Their behaviour doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it’s something they’ve learned. Which means it’s something parents can, and should, actively try to prevent.