My 15-year-old daughter had her first experience with a new species over the weekend: The North American Drunken Asshole.
I wasn’t present for the encounter, which was probably a good thing. My girl was visiting her mom in San Diego for the weekend, a couple hours south. Here’s the situation:
They were out for an evening stroll in a funky-but-fun beach neighborhood, a place they’ve been many times. They’d just emerged from a restaurant, and were just enjoying the fresh, salt-tinged evening air. As they walked down the block, they passed a group of young guys. I’m told they looked like they were in their early 20s: sorta gangly, backwards baseball caps, slouchy, scruffy. Plus drunk.
After Riley and her mom had passed the group, one of the guys called out to my daughter. It started out as simply, “Hey!,” which my daughter ignored. She actually had no idea the dude was even talking to her.
But after the third semi-slurry “Hey!,” it became clear she was the one in the guy’s scope.
What he said next wasn’t nearly as bad as it could’ve been. I’ll give him that.
Catcalls from the beast
The dude shouted at my daughter, yelling, “Oh, fuck. You’ve got a total hot Hermione thing going on, and I FUCKING LOVE IT!”
All things considered, I know Harry Potter-centric catcalls are pretty tame, compared to the sorts of things jerks normally say when they yell at girls. It was aggressive, yet vaguely nerdy. A fine line. But it really freaked my daughter out.
Riley is 15. She’s a beautiful young woman. And more than a few people have told her that she bears a striking resemblance to Harry Potter‘s Emma Watson, who is herself an intelligent, beautiful, and classy human. In some other context, it would be a compliment.
But in this situation, it was unwanted, unsolicited attention that scared my girl. A random, loud, drunk dude noticed her, and felt it was totally appropriate to yell at her. And she didn’t know what to do.
Maybe Drunk Doofus thought he was simply offering her a compliment, nothing more. Maybe it didn’t occur to him that he might’ve freaked her out. It’s possible he thought she was older than 15. Not that any of that makes catcalls OK.
Or maybe he was one of those assholes who likes to make women feel uncomfortable and intimidated.
After they got home, Riley had a minor meltdown about the whole experience. This was the first time she’d experienced this sort of adult male behavior. What made things worse is that she’d dressed up for their evening out, putting on makeup (which she rarely uses) and nicer clothing that her usual T-shirt and jeans. She was feeling confident, attractive and grown up. Then this guy came along and made her feel self-conscious, embarrassed and vulnerable.
She and her mom had a long talk about it. I don’t know the details, but Riley felt better afterward. I heard about it from her mom over the phone, and then I got the full version when Riley came back home after the weekend. As I listened to the story, I tried to avoid wigging out myself. I DO NOT LIKE the idea of some random drunk doofus yelling at my daughter and making her feel afraid. I DO NOT LIKE the idea of any man doing that to any woman and making her feel that way. (I don’t like the idea of any human making any other human feel uncomfortable in such fashion, frankly — but we can probably all agree that when we do see it happening, it’s most common for the remark to go from a man to a woman. So I’m currently focused on that.)
As Riley told me the story, some of the rapid-fire observations she made about it were:
- I’m never going to dress nicely in public again.
- That guy wouldn’t have said anything if I’d been with you, Dad, instead of Mom. That’s lame in itself.
- I know he was acting that way because he was drunk. But that just makes it scarier.
- Guys are pretty much jerks when they drink. And also sometimes when they’re not.
- I’m not going to be grateful that the guy didn’t say something dirty or nasty. It was still not cool.
- OK, maybe I won’t let that stop me from dressing up again in public. But I don’t know what to do if it happens again.
I did my best to break it down with her, point by point:
1. My girl, you have the right to dress any way you want. I know it’s hard to embrace such a concept after an encounter like this, but remember that no one else should ever have a say in what you do or wear to feel confident, strong or capable.
2. Yes, it’s grossly unfair, but you’re probably right. If you’d been with me, the dude may not have felt as comfortable lobbing out his comment. Young guys get a lot less ballsy when there’s an older male around who resembles their dad. Much less the courage to say and do dumb shit, even drunk. This is why I would prefer to be your bodyguard everywhere you go for the rest of life. But sadly for us both, that’s not how things work.
3. Sounds like he was drunk indeed. Or on the way to drunk. As you get older, you’re going to see more people, male and female, exhibiting silly, obnoxious, abrasive behavior thanks to the wonders of alcohol. What a great way to learn the value of moderation when it comes to our own substance intake.
4. Yes. Guys can be jerks when they drink. I have to point out that girls can, too. I know you know that. When people are drunk, their filters go on the fritz. That internal barometer that dings right before they do or say something stupid usually malfunctions. But I agree that this is worse. It’s worse because drunk guys in particular can be especially scary. Let’s agree to steer clear of those guys.
5. I completely agree. Just because the guy didn’t make a nasty, anatomically focused remark doesn’t change the fact he made you feel intimidated. And you shouldn’t simply sit back and “take it as a compliment,” just because what he said wasn’t gross. If he’d wanted to actually present you with a respectful compliment about being an attractive human, he would’ve done so differently. That wasn’t his goal. His goal was to own a moment with bravado, to prove that he gets to yell shit at anyone, whenever he feels like it, because that oh-so-important Y chromosome gives him the right to do so. Which is utter crap, of course. It is not OK for men to do that to women.
6. As for what to do if it happens again? Hmm. My girl, I hate to say this, but odds are good that it’s probably going to happen again, sometime, somewhere. If you ask any woman, you’ll learn that she’s probably also had this experience, to some degree or another. She will understand what it means to feel uncomfortable, exposed, unfairly targeted.
Catcalls in the future
Sweetheart, I know what I want to say. I want to say that if someone drunk guy catcalls you again as you walk by, you should turn around, walk right up to him, look him in the eye and tell him to shut the fuck up. See, many guys are all kinds of courageous when they’re not being confronted. And they usually don’t expect a woman to go eye to eye with them and call them on shit like that. They like it better when they see they’ve intimidated her. So a big part of me wants you to be the crusader who goes up to that guy and tells him to knock it the hell off.
And part of me is afraid that if you provoke a guy who’s being fueled by drunk bravado, it’ll result in a much more nightmarish scene that scares me too much to think about. That’s the part of me that wants to go with you to college and live next door to you until you graduate.
In the end, I didn’t have a lot of awesome advice for her about catcalls, other than to hold her head up high, be confident, and have enough strength to ignore the drunk doofuses of the world who get off on intimidating women. I told her she’s strong, she’s cool, and she deserves to be respected. I told that it’s a fight worth fighting, and I’ll have her back all the way.
I hope that’ll be enough.
Sadly, my first reaction to this was “Wow, how did she get all the way to 15 without being catcalled?” (Pretty sure my first catcall was at 11 or 12, and it was very unexpected.) Also sad that the truth is, this really was mild in comparison to how most catcalls go, and while this may be the first, it won’t be the last, because while people in general might be okay and most people are pretty nice, plenty of individual humans suck, many suck A LOT, and everyone sucks a little at some point in their lives. At this point I would be so numb to a comment like this it probably wouldn’t register, but that’s more a testament to the reality of life than anything else.
For what it’s worth I’ve found snark actually works well against the vast majority of guys, because many of them HAVE been taught that their attention is some sort of compliment (eyeroll), so disabusing them of that, even while they are drunk, is often gratifying and not going to be too much of a problem, especially in public. It can even be a fun sort of game to see just HOW CLEVERLY you can crush that idea given the material they’ve provided you to work with. “FIFTY POINTS FROM SLYTHERIN, DRUNKO DRACO, SOBER UP AND STOP EMBARRASSING YOURSELF” would probably have gotten the point across. I’ve told guy’s before that their comments literally just made me a lesbian in reaction, etc.
Part of being a young girl is actually about *developing* your own instincts for this kind of thing, and unfortunately that’s not something dads can help with because they tend to give unrealistic advice, having no sense of the environment themselves, but even fellow girls and adult women all draw their lines in different places. Much of it is about personal comfort zones that are highly customized to each person. (I am clearly comfortable with yelling back in most instances because I somehow managed not to let the socialization to be nice take and took the “men are afraid women will laugh at them” adage as a pro tip; many women aren’t and draw their lines in different places, and I myself get a vibe that results in me ignoring and speed walking away sometimes, and I listen to it.)
What would be super awesome is if more GUYS talked each other down from catcalling, because I’m convinced more than half of it is a show for peers, and if the show loses its luster then it could die out more. Alas, that is not work I can contribute to. That’s on the dudes themselves.