The Infamous Catcall
By Rosemary Alfonseca
This piece is a revolution. Living it and writing it changed me as a woman, and hopefully once you read it, you will be inspired to start your own revolution with me.
“Hey beautiful, can I get your number?” is a familiar question I hear in the streets of my neighborhood. I’m walking to the train station when a stranger walks towards me trying to seem attractive but he’s failing miserably because his underwear is showing. He gives me that up and down stare that I hate more than anything. I’m being called beautiful, yet I feel anything but beautiful. He glares at my body and I can feel every goose bump on my skin. He doesn’t get the hint that I’m beyond uncomfortable.
“Why are you ignoring me, beautiful?”
Here we go with the word “beautiful.” I drop my gaze and try to ignore his inappropriate stare.
My first instinct always used to be to look down because I felt responsible. I used to be ashamed when men openly stared at me in public. But last year I decided to join the Sadie Nash Leadership Project, and now I see me, the world, and men differently.
I only joined the program so it would look good on my college resume, and when I found out it was just for girls, I wanted to run for the hills. During the first week of the program, we all felt awkward and shy with each other. But the following week our group leader, Leslie, instructed us to play a game called “Electric Fence.” The fence was a rope attached to two walls. It was too high to get over easily, and we weren’t allowed to go under it. All the girls had to help each other get over. We had to climb on each other’s backs, hold hands, and trust that we would be caught on the other side. No matter what size we were, what language we spoke, or where we came from, we all came together to help each other get to the other side.
At the end of the exercise, we had all made it.
After this experience, I knew this program would benefit me. It got me to open up to people that I didn’t know very well. What empowered me was when a young girl just like me shared her sexual assault story in our safe space. Every one of us was crying with her. It was like we all felt her pain. Everyone hugged her and was proud that she had been able to let it all out. I felt fortunate that she felt comfortable enough to share such a personal story with me and the others.
Soon after, we took a bus to a reproductive rights conference at Hampshire College. Women from all different states attend this conference once a year. When we arrived on campus we were starving, and they fed us nasty chili and cornbread. Luckily there were chocolate chip cookies, and that’s all we ended up eating that night. But once the first event got going, it didn’t matter to any of us. It was a gathering of women speaking out on abortion and telling their own personal stories. The audience was asked not to clap or talk but just to listen. I was sitting with some of my Sadie Nash friends, and we were all so touched by what we heard that all we could do was hold hands.
Before I found Sadie Nash, I thought it was normal to be sexually harassed in the streets of New York. Sadie Nash made me aware that catcalling is oppressive to me and other young women. I was inspired to accept my natural hair and stop chemically processing it. My mom said, “Ese pelo tuyo es feo.” Ever since I was young I felt like an outcast from my own home because my family had only one view on how hair should be: soft and straight. When I became part of this safe space of women, they showed me that there is no such thing as “good” hair. Not straightening my hair with chemicals is a symbol that not every woman of color has to accept this stigma. When women of color go natural, we are seen as “untamed” and “wild,” but I want other women to join me in accepting our looks so that others will, too.
I don’t want to be seen as just a “beautiful” girl anymore but rather a strong woman with a college degree and a future. I want every woman to find her own sisterhood, like I have.
I still don’t like catcalling or being called “beautiful” by strange men, but it no longer makes me feel bad about myself. Sadie Nash has built my confidence and made me proud of who I am. I will begin to stare down the men who stare at me. They may want me to drop my gaze and lower my head, but I won’t. I want to let them know that I see them and they no longer affect me.
I want to empower other young women to do the same.
Rosemary Alfonseca is a class of 2015 mentee from Bronx, NY.
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