Are you serious, sir?
What does that even mean?
Is that an adjective?
I’m gonna go hide in the nearest store now.
As I pretend to browse through various deli products, I replay the man’s indecency in my head. The way they pathetically try to combine obscenity with charm, creating a lexicon of multilingual slang and urban dictionary terms—it’s almost impressive. Disturbing, but impressive.
This is, truly, the 21stcentury form of courtship.
As teenage girls—the lucky, most common recipients of such gallantry—we have come to accept these exchanges as unavoidable and commonplace. Our reactions have become as predictable as the body features subject to their attentions: we silently absorb their slimy remarks and rush to repeat them before an audience. We delight in recounting our personal stories of getting hit on, a perfect opportunity for discreet self-flattery. The men are the walking, talking mirrors of our dreams. But we’re ladies, so we scoff and pretend to be repulsed by their griminess.
Disgusted? My “blessed and apocalyptic” behind—we’re on to you, girls. Just because he didn’t see the smile creep out the corners of your mouth doesn’t mean nobody else did. Why are we able to forgive so easily the vile offenses of the passing guy? Perhaps it is because of an innate female desire for male approval. (Who can blame us for jumping at the opportunity to feel immediate gratification for our efforts to look $200-at-American-Apparel good?) Perhaps it is because it’s hard enough as it is to be praised by the men we know, so why not compromise by listening to strangers instead? Even if we refuse to admit it, it’s a comfort knowing that at least someone is paying attention. Our narcissism allows us to not only welcome their remarks, but also even to patronizingly pity the men who make them. What with our teenage angst and often uninspired love lives, a little extra flattery can hardly hurt…right?
But beyond the brief delight we feel at hearing our adolescent physiques praised: what is the effect that their comments have on us? Is it really as superficial as the comments in the first place? As an individual subject to these attentions— one of thousands—I see the profound impact that they have on the egocentric city girl become more apparent every day.
Consider the swarms of girls growing up who have their independence undermined daily by a growing dependence on the constant comments of these nameless men. How many of us can’t admit to having once felt crestfallen for not inspiring enough whistles as we walked, or felt somehow less attractive without their flattery following our every step? We leave the house already expecting their attention. And so their outlandish, romantic, sexual hopes and desires become virtual reality as the praise drives us to wear shorter and shorter skirts, or to apply an extra layer of makeup onto our already cakey skin. Amazingly enough, our selfconfidence (or what’s left of it) is now partially shaped by a shadowed lump on the corner.
We’re so used to hearing their aggressively sexual comments that they’ve stopped seeming offensive, our concepts of decency and vulgarity warped until it’s hard for us to distinguish between the two. It scares me to think that I have felt pleasure in hearing myself described so explicitly. But the problem isn’t just what they say, or how they say it: the act of commenting itself is degrading. It doesn’t take a militant feminist to realize that the idea that women might be persistently exposed to the opinions of anonymous men is insulting at its core. Women have become desensitized to the disrespect, now accepting the idea that men can say anything to women without expecting a response. Double standards are reasserted as we listen to what they say without so much as questioning their right to say it.
Their comments are, to me, sweetened reminders of a modernized and subtle sexism that roams the city. These one-way conversations signal the innate authority that some men feel is still rightfully theirs to pass judgment on any woman. Growing complacency to what men say to women on the street is a dangerous thing, perhaps reinforcing the subordination of women in our society.
It’s our responses—however private—to these attentions that are most disturbing. Selfabsorbed as we are, it requires a conscious effort to ignore the honeyed language of the strangers. It’s saddening to think that I, like many others, have felt satisfaction in hearing myself discussed so perversely. It takes a whole lot of modesty to not grow senseless to what men say to you on the street, and to not expect it as you leave home on a Monday morning—but for the sake of your own self-worth, girls, put their comments in perspective. What with our lack of sleep, stress, and whatever else bothers us, we can hardly look that good.
Theirs is an ingenious scheme, really. Satisfy our vanity while reinforcing archaic gender roles. I would bow my head to you, male race, if I did not think you’d somehow make a sexual comment about the back of it.