Almost every day, on my way to school, I get harassed on the street. It’s like part of my routine: get off the bus, grab a chai, get catcalled, repeat.
My mom and a few teachers have advised me to ignore it: don’t make eye contact. Move away. And I used to do just that.
But recently, I was waiting for my drink at a cafe, when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around to face a man who looked about 40.
He started talking, “Oh, baby girl, you’re so pretty.” But then his comments turned overtly sexual.
I turned my back to him and pretended to be absorbed by my phone. This angered him. “I’m talking to you. You’re lucky I’d give you this.” He yelled gesturing at his pants.
The barista looked and me and widened his eyes, like he was asking me what to do.
The man grabbed a coffee from the counter and threw it at me. He only left when an employee threatened to call the police. I stood there, covered in coffee, on the verge of tears.
That’s when I decided to start talking back. Not because I think that talking back would have fixed this situation. But it’s a way for me to reclaim some power. So that I’m not just cowering in silence, letting things happen to me.
Now I call out the catcallers. Someone asks for my number? “You know I’m 17, right?” I shout loud enough that bystanders can hear. Someone comments on my body? I yell at him, “That’s extremely disrespectful.” When I watch his face drop, I’m filled with pride.
I know there are risks. Will talking back escalate the situation? Could it lead to violence? Am I in a place where people can intervene? I ask myself these questions every time.
Sometimes, I hold back. But usually, I see these moments as a chance to stand up for myself. It seems ridiculous that this burden falls on me, rather than the actual catcallers–usually adult men who should know better.
But talking back is my attempt to build a world where catcalling isn’t the norm.