Street harassment can be annoying, scary, demoralizing, embarrassing, infuriating, and bewildering, but street harassment while pregnant takes those feelings to the next level. It's really sad that, as a woman, I have come to expect men to comment about my body and express their perceived entitlement to it. I didn't, however, expect to hear it as much once I had an obvious baby bump. I was wrong.
The fact is, catcalling and street harassment have little to do with how a person looks or what they are wearing. Instead, it's about how men feel entitled to women's bodies and the prevailing idea that we are here for the benefit of the male gaze. I think it's partly due to rape culture and our society telling boys they "will be boys," essentially letting them off the hook for bad behavior, and partly due to insecure men and boys trying to fit into the hyper-masculine mold they think society has created for them. People just want to be "cool," and society has taught most people that it's "cool" to objectify and sexualize women. Now that I'm a mother, I know (all too well) that men's sense of entitlement to women's bodies does not end when they are pregnant. For me, the fear, doubt, and shame of being harassed on the street is much, much worse when I'm pregnant. Growing a human being inside your body is hard enough, without feeling even more self-conscious, vulnerable, and afraid.
I am pregnant right now, and often wonder what my baby would want me to say or how they would want me to respond to street harassment. I think it would sound something like this:
"Back Off, Creep"
I think my baby would want me to stand up for myself. Sometimes, when it feels safe to do so, I tell street harassers to back off. If I'm feeling spunky, I might also add a few variations of the "f" word.
Unfortunately, this doesn't always feel safe, like when I am walking alone or when I'm with my kids or standing in my front yard. I can't help wondering if he might hurt me. No one should have to feel that way.
"I'm Going To Be Somebody's Mother"
My body belongs to me, and right now I am growing a human. I am sure my baby would want me to let them know that. Maybe that would snap them back to the reality of what they are saying and how inappropriate it is.
It's sad that in our culture, women aren't human enough or worthy of men's respect, unless you remind them that they know and love other women (mothers, daughters, wives, sisters.). Isn't being a human being enough?
"Calling Names Isn't Nice"
If my children can learn this at a very young age, why can't street harassers figure it out? If I tell you your attention is unwanted, don't call me a b*tch or a slut. I think my baby would want you to know that calling names is totally uncalled for.
"Can I Call Your Mom, And Tell Her You Said That?"
I must confess, I actually have told people's mothers when they harass me online or on the street. Don't mess with me. Again, why do some men only fear repercussions if you remind them they have a mother? Rape culture bulls*t, that's why.
"Has That Line Ever Actually Worked?"
My baby probably wonders this. I know I wonder this. Seriously? Has it ever worked? If not, you might need some new material.
"Can't You See I Am Busy?"
Dealing with street harassers is very similar to dealing with a persistent toddler. Can't you see I'm busy? No. Please stop touching me. I said no. Mommy needs a break.
"Yes, I Am Hot. Too Hot For You."
I think my baby would want me to show how empowered and confident I can be in the face of bullsh*t harassment. I am hot. But, since street harassment is rarely about your looks, it may just throw them off long enough to rethink continuing or ever doing it again.
"I Feel Sorry For You"
As sarcastic and blunt as I can be, I am also compassionate. I sincerely feel sorry for men who resort to street harassment. I also want them to think before they act next time. I think my baby would want me to let them know that I understand they might be hurting. Just like when your toddler is throwing a tantrum for attention.
When I do this while parenting, I call it sportscasting. "You sounds like you are having a rough time. Do you want to talk about it? I feel bad that you feel you have to get my attention this way. If you need someone to listen, just use your words, you don't have to throw a tantrum."
"Would You Like To Be My Baby's Daddy?"
I also have a tendency to mess with people who try to mess with me. Again, when I feel safe. I think my baby would want me to use humor and sarcasm when I feel safe doing so, to get my disapproval across and also to scare the sh*t out of would-be harassers. Of course, that wouldn't work if they've already offered to be my baby's daddy. Eww, no.
Just Ignore Them
While, it's difficult and often seems dangerous to do so, sometimes the best response is to simply ignore them. Just like when you tell your tantrum-throwing child that you don't understand them when they scream your name or ignore them after a hundred "whys."
I think my baby wouldn't want street harassment to ruin my day and would want me to keep walking. And, I'll do that, right after I tell him to back the "f" off and threaten to call his mother, because that's how this mama rolls.