I was catcalled while walking when I was 8 months pregnant. When the man saw my belly, he screamed an apology and drove off.
Posted For: Emailed to TNBD
By Michelle Cyca
It began as a familiar experience. Walking up the street, mentally running through my list of errands and enjoying the first warm day of spring, I heard a vehicle approaching from behind. Then, a man’s voice yelling through the open window: “Sexy legs! Where are you going, baby?” But as the truck passed, the man inside caught a glimpse of me in profile, and a look of horror flashed across his face. “Oh God, I’m sorry!” he yelled, and I could almost hear his foot slam on the gas as he sped through the intersection, away from the unexpected sight of my eight-months-pregnant stomach.
Catcalls are an unfortunate part of being a woman in public. On this particular day, I was wearing a short gray dress — albeit shorter than usual as a result of my baby bump — white sneakers, and an oversize denim jacket. But I’ve also been catcalled in a winter coat, in sweatpants, on my bike, and while schlepping heavy bags of groceries.
I have been catcalled since I was young, but this time felt different
The first time I can remember being catcalled, I was a 13-year-old in a training bra, carrying my music books to a piano lesson, as a grown man leered out his car window. There have been countless incidents since then, but as far as I could remember, no one had ever apologized before. Was this progress?
It sure didn’t feel like it. Because his apology wasn’t a recognition of my basic human dignity and my right to exist in public without the lewd commentary of a random man interrupting my day. It wasn’t about me at all: It was about my pregnancy, and however this guy felt about it. Does he see only pregnant women or mothers as worthy of respect? Or was his apology really directed in absentia to my husband, the father of this baby?
I’ll never know, but the fact remains that he thought it was fine to bother me when I appeared to be just another woman; the momentary satisfaction of issuing his opinion on my legs was worth more to him than my sense of safety or comfort.
I’m not the only one who has experienced something like this
As I learned when I posted about this experience on Twitter , pregnancy can affect catcalling. Many women recalled similar incidents of hastily retracted catcalls once the man realized they were pregnant. Andi Zeisler, an author and a cofounder of Bitch Media, responded by saying, “This reminded me that the safest I ever felt walking around is when I was visibly pregnant.” For many of us, it’s an invisibility cloak, deflecting the unwanted sexual attention we’ve been receiving since puberty, or even earlier. But others found themselves harassed even more than usual by men who are turned on by pregnancy. There’s no surefire way to escape the cycle of objectification, no matter what you wear or how you act.
The replies were a depressing reminder that female bodies are always subject to trespass. While my visibly pregnant body has granted me a temporary reprieve from sexual harassment — most of the time, anyway — it’s prompted strangers to touch my belly, comment on what I’m eating and drinking, and share their opinions on my weight. Not every intrusion is sexual, but all of them remind me that my body is considered public property.
It was satisfying, in the moment, to see that man’s leering expression curdle into panic as he realized that he’d misdirected his catcall, reversing the unpleasant shock of that interaction. Maybe he’ll think twice the next time he’s tempted to roll down his window and spoil another woman’s day. He and men like him still seem to believe that issuing loud, unsolicited commentary on women’s bodies through the window of a moving vehicle is a compliment, rather than a dehumanizing incident of sexual harassment.
Or they don’t care at all whether we see it as flattering, because the goal is to prop up their fragile masculinity by pretending women on the street might reciprocate their interest — a delusion they can only sustain by speeding away. My enjoyment was short-lived, because the only power I had in that interaction was borrowed, a temporary side effect of pregnancy. And once I give birth in a few weeks, that power will be gone, and I’ll be fair game again.