Sadly, I have to say that I've grown somewhat accustomed to being catcalled or harassed when walking on the street, taking public transit or simply trying to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. Sadly, most women can say the same. Thanks to prevailing sexism in a society that says "boys will be boys," and "girls are asking for it," catcalling is somewhat of a "norm." I was surprised, however, to be catcalled when I was pregnant. A lot. There are things you learn about society when men catcall you when you're pregnant; things you probably already knew, but spend the majority of your time trying to forget because they're so infuriating; things you don't actually have to be pregnant in order to know; things that women can't necessarily ignore, because it happens to us every day, whether we're pregnant, or not.
Honestly, I was shocked that I was catcalled and harassed as frequently as I was when I was obviously pregnant. It seemed that the more my belly grew, the more inappropriate comments I would hear from complete and total strangers. As each trimester passed, more men felt the need to comment on my belly, and because it was obvious I had sex once upon a time (although, sex isn't always necessary in order to get pregnant, thank you very much) men seemed to feel entitled to comment on my presumed sex life, too. It's already somewhat uncomfortable to be pregnant and in public, as so many people feel it necessary to touch your stomach without asking. Add the lasting affects of a past sexual assault trauma (an estimated 1 in 5 women have been sexually assaulted, so 1 out of every 5 women who are catcalled have a higher risk of experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, anxiety or traumatic triggers) and being a pregnant woman in public — hell, being a woman in public — is nothing short of difficult.
As a sexual assault survivor and someone who has experienced catcalling all too frequently, the things I learned when being harassed as a pregnant woman weren't necessarily new. Still, they were just as infuriating as the day my innocence was stolen from me, and the day I realized that being a woman in a patriarchal society is exponentially more difficult than being a cisgender straight white male. These lessons are worth learning and re-learning and then telling to those who will never experience street harassment or catcalling, because we can't fix what we don't know is broken.
Thanks to prevailing social standards of beauty that equate attractiveness to thinness, I was extremely surprised when so many men harassed and catcalled me when I was obviously, ridiculously pregnant. The bigger my belly grew, the more catcalls I received.
It took me a while to realize that these unrealistic beauty standards thrust upon women by an unforgiving society that would rather women hate their bodies than love their bodies, affects men, too. Cisgender, straight men are constantly being told what is and isn't attractive, and even shamed if what they determine to be attractive (to them, of course, because attractiveness is relative) doesn't fit the social standard. I realized that so many men do like women who take up space, are larger than what is advertised to them in the media, have curves and big bellies and don't fit into a size 00 pair of jeans. They just don't feel like they can admit it.
So, instead of just being OK with and accepting the body type they find to, personally, be attractive, they hide what and who they like. Instead of just being owning and accepting who they are, they conceal their sexual desires behind explicit, inappropriate and downright unnecessary catcalling because hey, it's just harmless, right?
Instead of learning how to express themselves and their desires in a healthy, respectable and beneficial way, they do what toxic masculinity has convinced them is OK to do: harass people. From the safety of their stoops or sidewalks or wherever else, they yell and call strangers names and suggest sexually explicit things, because they don't really run the risk of being rejected and they can simply say they're "joking" or "just being a guy."
Until we stop feeding cisgender straight men an endless supply of toxic masculinity, and grant them permission to be sensitive, emotional, and into whatever it is they are into, regardless of whether or not it fits into some predetermined standard of perceived masculinity, catcalling and street harassment are going to prevail. If we keep telling young men that "boys will be boys," and then prescribing to them what it means to be a "boy," more women, including pregnant women, will continue to be in danger when they're simply walking down the damn sidewalk, trying to get home or get to work or live their lives.
To be fair, I think society believes itself to be entitled to all women's bodies, regardless of whether or not they're pregnant. However, a lot can be said for the amount of power our society (or at least certain parts of it and/or certain politicians who have been put in charge of running it) believes it should be owed over a woman's body once it's pregnant.
Everything from attempts to restrict or outlaw abortion access, to certain anti-choice laws that make it illegal for a pregnant woman to have an abortion if the fetus has a terminal disease and/or is in danger of killing the mother, to eyebrow raises when a pregnant woman has a small glass of wine or eats a safe roll of sushi. No one is going to be sticking around to help said pregnant woman once she's no longer pregnant but, as long as she's gestating, it seems that people have countless, endless opinions on what she can do or wear or the choices she makes.
As a result of society treating women like they're not human beings capable of making their own decisions, I think so many men simply grow up engrained with the idea that women aren't humans. Instead, they're pieces of meat and/or objects of desire; so yelling at them, catcalling them and/or harassing them isn't necessarily a bad thing. After all, they're not really human beings, right?
Honestly, that's the only way I can even wrap my mind around someone thinking they can justifiably harassing someone else. While I don't want to make excuses or give men a pass (because they're grown, and know better), I do think that when a culture has created a narrative that dehumanizes women, men are going to respond in kind. They're going to take what they've learned and allow it to shape their views and their actions. Since pregnant women aren't treated as human beings, but rather like human incubators that should think about the fetus instead of themselves and/or let other people make decisions about their bodies for them, catcalling a pregnant woman isn't "wrong," but acceptable or, at the very lest, a non-issue. Sigh.
On more than one occasion I've been told that if I simply dressed more conservatively, showed less skin or didn't wear heels or skirts or anything that could be considered enticing or revealing, I wouldn't be harassed or catcalled.
Then I walked around pregnant, covered in sweaters with a big, protruding belly that society told me isn't very attractive, and I was still catcalled. Being publicly harassed has nothing to do with what a woman wears or how she looks, and everything to do with the people doing the harassing.
Women could walk around in cardboard boxes, with cut-out holes for their arms, legs and neck, and it wouldn't matter; they would still be catcalled and harassed. Women aren't "asking for it" by wearing certain clothes or strapping on certain shoes or walking around with pregnant bellies. The only people responsible for catcalling and harassment, are the people doing the catcalling and the harassing. It's honestly that simply and, in turn, that infuriating.
When a woman is catcalled and harassed, it's not her fault.
When a woman is abused, it's not her fault.