Dominique Daye Hunter
I was walking to the park a couple of months ago. I live in what many would consider a “safe” neighborhood, in a gated community with a family-friendly park which literally lies on the other side of said gate. Walking from the pedestrian gateway, not even 100 feet away to the park, a car quickly and aggressively pulls up out of nowhere with at least two men in it. Who are they? Where did they come from? What was their plan?
The one on the passenger side yells obscenities, and they peel off down the street. It could have been “just another catcall.” Or it could have been an attempt to kidnap and sell me into the human trafficking market. How would I know? I turned around, not in disbelief, but with as much fury as always. My mind flashed to a scene from Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill”, remembrances of Beatrix Kiddo, where I pull out my stainless Star Firestar M45, shoot out their tires, and *insert Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang” here*. I stared at the car until it disappeared. Ready to fight. Ready for anything.
The first instance I can remember being catcalled, I was fourteen years old in Paterson, NJ. Sadly, this was not the first time, but the first memory that includes details. I was walking from my home about a mile up the road to Quik Check, a chain convenient store. My parents had just separated. My dad was working. There was no food in the house. He left $10 dinner: a sandwich. The store: about a mile away. I arrived home after tennis practice, and walked towards the store, in the direction away from “the bad side of town” towards the “better side of town.” My neighborhood was on the border.
I wore beige sweatpants, and a large track jacket, hoping my clothes would hide my femininity. About half way through my journey, as I passed by a cemetery, a truck filled with landscape workers drove by. I don’t know what they said. I only remember how I felt as they drove away Their twisted mating calls faded in the distance, just like the car near the park. That day in 2006, at fourteen years old I was infuriated. Just as infuriated as at 25. But I didn’t stop to stare. I put my head down in shame and just kept walking. I felt violated. I felt vulnerable. I felt defeated.
This is the reality for many womxn, and, also men, who are harassed daily. However, womxn are more likely than men to a non-average amount of sexual harassment when simply going about daily “average” tasks. Not that anyone deserves to be harassed. No matter what I wear, where I am, or what I’m doing: I am a target. The only thing, or person(s) that prevent this from happening, is when I am with a male figure. Growing up, mostly my brother, and now, mostly my partner. I have heard many womxn’s stories that are the same.
“Hey beautiful,” “How you doing?” “Damn girl,” “You fine as hell.” You may have heard these and many other catcalls from videos like “10 hours of walking but this time she talks back”. But more than likely, you’ve also heard them on your way to the park, walking from your car to the grocery store, taking public transportation, or anywhere where creeps lurk. Even in places you may not expect.
In “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman,” (Rob Bliss, Creative, 2014) a woman records her experience being harassed while walking around New York. There were 100 catcalls, an average of 10 an hour. That is a catcall, a look over a shoulder, and for some, a potential panic attack every 6 minutes. Every 6 minutes.
For those who may be as calloused to ask, she is wearing a tee shirt and jeans. Not that that means a damn thing. Other videos show boyfriends, husbands, fathers, and sons watching snippets of their girlfriends, wives, daughters, and mothers being catcalled on the street. Their reactions are mixed: they all have differing limits of what is acceptable. But they all, at one point, display anger and fear for their female relatives.
Having lived in New Jersey, often frequenting NYC, and now living in Phoenix, I’d have to say the harassment here, in my experience, is just as bad, if not worse. I say worse, because there are less people here than in the densely populated “Big Apple,” though the population rises every year. I remember going to Venice Beach a couple summers ago, and was surprised that no one even looked my way. Yes! I thought. A walk in peace. I’m sure my 5-hour trip there was not nearly as revealing as if I had lived there (Any Venetians? What are your experiences? Compared to other cities?), but for a moment in time, I felt safe. I felt free.
In a counter-video, “3 Hours of ‘Harassment’ in NYC,” a man takes on the same challenge (Coby Persin, 2014). He is harassed at the same rate, 10 times an hour. Five of these instances, which were recorded, were womxn, three of them were men. Though both videos, as in all art and media, can be filtered to illustrate the point the producer wants to emphasize, they both tell us things we already know. Both men and womxn can be the victims of sexual harassment. However, womxn more often experience anxiety and fear as a result than do men. And they should.
Domestic violence and sexual assault impacts womxn and men both, but womxn and children at a much higher rate. Children, womxn of color, and our transgender sisters are the most vulnerable. Every 98 seconds someone in America is sexually assaulted. Every 8 minutes that victim is a child. 9 out of 10 rape victims are womxn. Indigenous womxn are twice as likely to be victims of rape than white womxn (RAINN.com). Womxn of mixed ethnicity are the only demographic to come close to the rate of rape of womxn who identified as “Native American” only, at 24.4% (NONYC.org). Being a mixed-race woman (of African, Saponi, and Irish-Polish descent), I know this reality all too well. I, and others, are often looked at as exotic treasures to be subdued and won. In short: our femininity is viewed as weak by weak minded individuals.
1 in 2 transgender individuals are sexually abused or assaulted in their lifetime, and 50% of hate crimes in the LGBTQ community are against transgender womxn. Bisexual womxn experience “significantly higher lifetime prevalence of rape and other sexual violence by an intimate partner when compared to heterosexual women” (OVC. gov). Only 1 in 5 womxn in the LGBTQ community receive help. Many womxn of all sexual orientation and backgrounds receive little if any recognition or help.
However, Indigenous womxn are the most vulnerable, due to lack of tribal law and law enforcement, jurisdictional loop holes (i.e. in the U.S. non-native men such as miners or coal workers who are strangers to Native womxn rape them, and cannot be persecuted, under U.S. federal law, by tribal police). This rape culture is reinforced by racist terms like “sq**w,” degrading Halloween costumes like “Poccahottie,” and :Sexy Indian Princess.” Even deeper, it is rooted in the pits of colonization. For Indigenous people of the “Americas,” it began with the desolation of Columbus and his crew.
““While I was in the boat I captured a very beautiful Carib woman, whom the said Lord Admiral gave to me, and with whom, having taken her into my cabin, she being naked according to their custom, I conceived desire to take pleasure. I wanted to put my desire into execution but she did not want it and treated me with her finger nails in such a manner that I wished I had never begun. But seeing that (to tell you the end of it all), I took a rope and thrashed her well, for which she raised such unheard of screams that you would not have believed your ears. Finally we came to an agreement in such manner that I can tell you that she seemed to have been brought up in a school of harlots.”
– Michele de Cuneo, colleague of Christopher Columbus*
“A hundred castellanoes are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.”
Native womxn were, and are still viewed by perverts, as objects which are disposable as their children which the Spaniards dashed against stones. It is sad for me to think that many Indigenous women once wore beads as shirts. Once had the freedom of personal and sexual expression. Now we are shamed and blamed for the sickness of colonization. We are told that we must look a certain way to be safe.
I must admit, I am less harassed when I wear my traditional clothes. But that does not make me or others less susceptible to being sexually assaulted. Womxn should represent themselves in accordance with what makes them most comfortable, loved, and what they feel honors their ancestors, while always keeping a critical mind to what may be traditional and what may be a colonized view masked under the guise of culture.
I recently posed a question on my Facebook page: “What do you think about catcalling?” Indigenous and other women responded:
Men (Native and non-Native) also responded:
“I’ve been cat-called when I was a young lean machine. I was embarrassed but I was fine with it. If it brought them ladies pleasure. I would never cat-call a female.”
“Unmanly and pathetic”
“Cat calls are for immature people, never did one as I was taught to respect the female half of our culture. There is no difference between known and unknown people, as it is a sexual view of others”
Though many may see catcalling as harmless, compliments, or entertainment (i.e. seeing the reaction of those they are calling) most womxn I have spoken with are just creeped out. My response to this as a teenager was to dream of lifting weights and to be a jujitsu master, just like the Black Mamba.
We know that rape culture begins with attitude, which develops from vulgar language, which is reinforced by degrading images and jokes and realities like inequity in pay; is transformed into verbal abuse, and is eventually culminated into sexual assault and domestic violence. So, what do we do to change these realities? How can we be leaders and change the way Indigenous womxn, womxn of color, and all womxn are treated?
In her TED Talk, “Your body language shapes who you are” Amy Cuddy, discusses several “power poses” which, when practiced alone, proved to improve the confidence of both men and womxn in varying social and professional situations. However, many of these poses are male dominant. Wanting to take this concept further, I began experimenting with my own style of womxn’s or feminine power poses (i.e. poses that work with and not against a womxn’s body and kinesthetics). Though we are all differing in shapes and sizes, it allows for a different view on posture with the focus off masculine and giving space for the feminine.
Though these poses can help us reconnect to ourselves and embrace our feminine power and energy, this is only one part to the whole. Proactive measures such as limiting time in vulnerable situations, self-defense, sticking together (i.e. going with a friend, female or male), education for youth, and awareness for all are steps we can take to ensure the creepy cultural norm of catcalling is shot down for good.
Bliss, Rob. “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman.” YouTube. YouTube, 28 Oct. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2017.
Columbus, Christopher. N.p., n.d. Webhttps://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/source/columbus1.asp. 24 Apr. 2017.
Office for Victims of Crime (OVC). Sexual Assault: The Numbers | Responding to Transgender Victims of Sexual Assault. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2017.
Persin, Coby. “3 Hours Of “Harassment’ In NYC!” YouTube. YouTube, 31 Oct. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2017.
“Rape and Sexual Assault in the U.S.” NOW-NYC. National Organization for Women, 2017. Web. 24 Apr. 2017.
Scope of the Problem: Statistics | RAINN. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Apr. 2017.
TEDtalksDirector. “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are | Amy Cuddy.” YouTube. YouTube, 01 Oct. 2012. Web. 24 Apr. 2017.
Dominique (Saponi/African/Irish/Polish descent) is the co-founder of Indigenous Womxn In Solidarity Empowered and Rising and owner of Est. Time Immemorial Clothing.
Dominique is also a poet/spoken word artist, short story writer, and aspiring recreational therapist. She is currently working on her B.S. in Nonprofit Leadership Management with an emphasis in American Indian Studies, and lives in Phoenix, AZ.