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How It Feels to Be Catcalled as a Survivor of Sexual Abuse

So much has happened in the collective consciousness of both men and women in the last couple of months. The #MeToo movement has begun a massive shift in the way we perceive what should and should not be acceptable behavior and about the abuse of power predominantly of men over women.

One of the things I have been focused on in my healing journey is reclaiming my power and my autonomy over my own body both sexually and non-sexually. It’s been a struggle for me to disentangle my feelings of negativity toward my body from not just the sexual abuse I endured but the more covert incest I experienced from the matriarchs in my family who from an early age implanted in me a structure within which I was supposed to grow up as a woman.

This structure was very much focused upon being attractive, demure, dressing provocatively and doing whatever a man asks me so I can keep him happy. While I always felt uncomfortable about it, I never quite understood why until I began my healing journey a year and a half ago.

As a 20-something living in Vegas, I gladly played the part, dressing provocatively, being “good eye candy” on my husband’s arm, getting male attention and hoots and hollers so he could feel good about having me as his wife. What I never realized was how I was unknowingly playing into the very flawed patriarchal structure I now abhor and from which my abuses were born.

Once we left Vegas to start our own business in rural Illinois, I began dressing far more cautiously. I found security in baggy clothing that hid my body and did not invite looks or comments. I began instead to be more vocal about my opinions, more aware of my value as a human and more insistent that my education and intelligence is what I want people to see, not my “pretty legs” or “big boobs” as my mother always used to try to get me to show off.

Fast forward to this week. I was back in Vegas for the first time since I started my therapy for abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I wore my usual hoodie and leggings the first day (which have become my comfort and safety over the last year and a half), but the second day, I wore a dress because we were supposed to see a show and I wanted to dress up a bit for the occasion.

It wasn’t a particularly provocative dress. Not that short, not tight, not low cut. I also wore tights because I was cold and was wearing a sweater. The entire time I walked from my hotel to where I was going — perhaps a 30 minute walk — I was “catcalled” by men, including employees of the hotel I was going to who said, “Look at you you sexy little thing.” I never felt more naked and violated in my life. I literally went to the gift shop, bought a baggy hoodie and wore it over my dress the entire rest of the day.

You cannot understand how psychologically damaging this kind of “locker room talk” can be to not just a survivor of abuse, but to women in general. It feels like all of your humanity has been ripped away from you and you have been reduced to nothing but a piece of meat for men to ogle and claim for themselves.

Well let me tell you something. If you are a man who thinks this kind of behavior is OK, it’s not. I refuse to let you assert your power over me anymore. I was not born to be your play thing or your sex toy. I was not born to give you pleasure or to make you feel like a “real man,” whatever the hell that even means. I was not born to be anyone’s possession or slave. I was born to be a strong, independent, free-thinking, intelligent woman. I was born your equal, not your subservient. I will no longer tolerate being treated as anything but the unique individual I am with my special skills, quirks, talents and abilities to contribute equally to this society. I will teach you to respect me because respect is the only thing I will accept from anyone. You should feel ashamed for your behavior, ashamed for accepting a status quo that denies women their power, and ashamed for contributing to a society that has made sexual assault and abuse “normal.”

Your day of reckoning has come. Women are done tolerating this and we will change this world with or without you. You can be a part of the solution or you will eventually suffer the consequences of your misbehavior.

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

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Getty Images photo via AlexLinch