When “good morning” is not polite


Don't even pretend that is polite.
Don’t even pretend that is polite.

“Hi beh*, good morning.”

I ignored the man who called out to me — just as I do every time — but this time, he moved towards me, attempting to stop me in my tracks. Swiftly, I overtook him and pretended he did not exist while he and his friend (they are both security guards in a government office near my dorm) snickered. I gritted my teeth and clenched my fist as I walked on — that was the least I can do to contain my anger.

Being catcalled is a usual happening in my daily ten-minute walk to and from school. It has happened so frequently that before stepping out of the premises of my dorm, I always prepare myself to shift from my usual smiling face to a stoic expression so that I can ward off potential harassers. Sometimes, it works. Some men would immediately back off and give me an apologetic smile when I give them my well-practiced don’t-mess-with-me look. But still, there are those who never get the message and would shamelessly shout out to me, “Hoy, suplada! Nag-‘good morning’ lang naman. (Hey, snob! I just greeted you ‘good morning’)”

I just greeted you “good morning.”

That is what they always say. I find it absurd that they actually expect women to believe that. No woman is that stupid to believe that a ‘good morning’ from a complete stranger is a mere act of social grace. How can it be when he has that wicked gleam in his eyes that makes her feel unsafe? And does that stranger really greet every person (that is, men and women alike) he meets on the street that way? Definitely not. That “good morning” is reserved for women who are companionless, particularly those who they think are young and helpless like me. And obviously, they do not intend to be nice. They mean to assert their power over women.

Why do men do that? Thus I once complained to a male friend. He shrugged it off as if I were talking about makeup and replied, “Let it go. It’s just a compliment.” For a moment, I was speechless for I never looked at the matter that way. In fact, no woman would ever look at the matter like that. Not when it makes her feel publicly humiliated. Not when it makes her feel insecure. Not when it makes her feel oppressed. My friend’s answer made me feel dejected but at the time I said nothing further. Just as he advised, I let it go.

Now, more than a year after that conversation, I realized that women, despite our never-ending campaign for gender equality, remain unconsciously obedient to our “masters.” We always let it go. Growing up, I had observed older women being indifferent to catcalling. Therefore, when I started getting catcalled myself, I conditioned myself that it is a natural part of life. I let men have their errant ways while I make the adjustments by pretending that I see or hear nothing or by changing my route to school even when it is inconvenient.

Lately though, I realized that despite managing to stay composed amidst the hooting and unsolicited greetings, deep inside of me broods anger distress. It is just so unfair that we, women, have to put up with that kind of treatment by men who seriously believe that they are giving us a favor when they “compliment” us. But it is not a compliment nor is it a simple polite greeting. It is a derogatory comment on our existence — a mockery of our sex.

I wish I had told my friend, “That’s bullshit!” I wish I could not just let it go. I wish I have the courage to say, “Hey, you are not just being polite and I know that.” But I can’t because I know that for now it will not work. Even when we know it is not right and even when we try to speak up, we, women, end up losers in this game for catcalling has already been accepted as mere inconvenience, not a real problem. But I know that someday, if we continue to fight for our right to security, we will no longer be subjected to public humiliation masked in “compliments.” Someday, that “good morning” will be polite again.

*Beh is a contraction of the word baby. In Filipino culture, it is often used as an endearment among couples.

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Author: Aira Mallapre

Aira, a dreamer by day and crammer by night, has been singing out of tune since 1995.

4 thoughts on “When “good morning” is not polite”

  1. Women get catcalled in public more than men. Men get beaten up and murdered in public more than women.

    Nobody ever said gender was fair.

    Imagine a world where men paid no attention to women (or at least they never SHOWED themselves paying attention to women). This means to initiate any interaction with a man, whether casually or with romantic intentions, you are the one who always has to make the first move.

    But every time you approach a man, even just say “Hello”, he scowls at you. He whispers “What a pervert” to his friends and they all agree, as they clip clop away…… leaving you feeling dirty, ashamed, worthless and rejected – just for being friendly and sociable.

    The man you said hello to goes home and writes a blog about ‘that woman’ who dared to speak to him in public. That women who had a rapey look in her eyes….

    Like I said, nobody ever said gender was fair. And a lot of women in their thirties and forties say they miss being cat called. They even miss having their bum pinched. They miss having that amount of sexual power over men. And if they are single, they are annoyed at now being the gender who usually has to make the first move on men, because in middle age the power reverses and men have more sexual power than women. This is because a man in his 30’s or 40’s who now has a career and a house and a car can usually attract a woman up to ten years younger than him. And this means women in their 30’s and 40’s who are looking for a man of the same age are now having to compete with women ten years younger than themselves.

    If people show an interest in us and they have nothing to offer us we find them annoying, or even creepy. But when they have what we want we call it “being swept of our feet” 😉

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    1. Hi! Thanks for your feedback. I never looked at it at the point of view of someone who is a little older. Maybe you are right, maybe someday I might miss being given that kind of attention. But right now, it makes me feel insecure and I am sure a lot of women out there also feel the same. It is not that we want to be ignored. We want to be acknowledged with respect. A smile or even a hello without the unwanted endearments would have been fine. 🙂

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      1. Yeah, the insecurity is also perfectly natural too. But *feeling* insecure is not necessarily the same as actually *being* under threat…. although it obviously can be depending on the situation.

        Like, we all *feel* insecure standing on the edge of a tall building – even if you know that there is a steel guard rail to stop you falling and so practically zero chance of you falling to your death. That giddy, sick feeling in your stomach is just a natural bodily response to being high up …… because for most of human history things like guard rails did not exist in nature! And nor did hospitals or air ambulances.

        Biologically speaking our bodies (and our natural responses) are the same as they were 20,000 years ago. And 20,000 years ago there was no contraception, morning after pill or sexual health/ abortion clinics. And no police or laws against rape. We were all running around in a state of nature like animals (which is what we are).

        And so the consequences of being raped for most of history would be to get pregnant, and then have to survive pregnancy, childbirth and nursing – all without the help of a mate (because rapists generally don’t stick around to be supportive dads and husbands).

        So naturally any young fertile woman is going to be hard wired to fear rape (just like fearing falling off a tall building or cliff), because the consequences have always been so huge…. and potentially life threatening.

        But these days we are a lot more civilised and rape in the street (stranger rape) is very, very rare, and modern medicine means no woman will be forced to carry the child and look after it on her own if she gets pregnant by a rapist ….. but the hard wired response to seeing a group of men with lust in their eyes is still the same today as it was 500, 200 or 20,000 years ago….. fear, flight of fight, panic, adrenaline etc…. just as we still feel sick in the stomach when we stand on a tall building or a bridge, even when all danger has been eliminated thanks to guard rails, windows etc.

        The point is to know when the *feeling* of being in danger is justified or not….. like a group of boys sitting on a wall in a pubic place are extremely unlikely to be any actual threat… so if you feel insecure it’s probably just your body responding naturally – like when you look out the window of a tall building and feel that sick feeling. The fear is natural and it’s what stops us behaving like idiots…… playing frisbee next to a cliff, or walking home at 4am alone in a bad neighbourhood. Fear and anxiety of dangerous situations keeps us alive 🙂

        Men can’t help being attracted to women, but that is not the same as wanting to rape women. If you spend ten minutes ogling a pair of shoes in a shop and saying in a loud voice “I really, really HAVE to have those shoes – I MUST have them!!!!! – but I can’t afford them!” it would be kind of unfair if the shop owner called the police claiming you were acting like a potential thief about to steal the shoes.

        Desire (for shoes, cake, ice cream or intimacy with a woman) is not the same as criminal intent. But so often men’s natural desires is equated with the intent to rape. In fact boys these days are taught that they must ‘learn’ to not rape – as if their healthy sexual urges WERE the urge to rape. Telling boys their blossoming male sexuality is the urge to rape – which must be controlled – is itself a form of sexual abuse of boys. It makes them feel dirty, ashamed and confused and self hatred among boys/ teenagers is now common because of this message (AKA ‘rape culture’). In countries like Sweden where feminism is very strong, you now get young men wearing make up and dressing as women because they feel that just being a man is a form of oppression against women. It’s very sad what is being done to young men these days.

        Men’s attraction to women is as natural (and as hard wired) as women’s natural fear of unwanted attention from men. Men can be annoying, rude or totally out of order if they let their hard wired primitive feelings totally dictate their actions (like harassing women in a totally obnoxious way)….. but when certain feminists let THEIR hard wired fears dictate their actions and they start calling all men a threat and potential rapists then that is just as obnoxious and toxic.

        What I mean is that when a man pays a woman a compliment, or just looks at her and winks or smiles or whatever he is often accused of reducing her to a sex object…. but when angry feminists literally reduce men to sex objects by calling them potential rapists and sex crazed misogynists this is called ‘social justice’ and somehow it is OK.

        It’s a double standard, and it is that way because of how men and women are set up ……. women have always had (biologically speaking) more to fear from an unwanted sexual encounter than men, because of pregnancy etc.

        That is my thesis on the subject anyway 🙂

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  2. Interesting follow-up comments all through here. I’m much older than you are, and grew up in a pretty safe environment throughout my younger years, but I was quite amazed when, in a graduate psychology course (almost 30 years ago), the teacher asked all of us about how safe or unsafe we felt in our daily environments, and it was almost as though he’d drawn a line down the middle of the classroom. The men all said that, unless there was some kind of violent action happening nearby or something like that, they felt at ease almost all of the time. The women all said that we spent any time alone constantly looking around us and making “threat assessments”: is that person or group over there likely to be a danger to me? What is my strategy for avoiding them if they make me uncomfortable? Where are my potential escape routes?

    It’s not that any of us saw ourselves as being in constant danger, but rather that we were taught to be prepared to protect, defend, and escape from the *possibility* of danger in ways that the men and boys around us were assumed not to need to know. That was a real eye-opener for me.

    My life experience has confirmed the nicer truth that most people are good at heart and any rude or intimidating behavior is only a show of either poor upbringing or insecurity on their part (male *or* female). I can’t count the times that strangers have been kind to me, situations have been less frightening than I first thought them, and people have responded to my being confidently but politely cheerful in greeting them with good humor or even friendliness. I know that crime and horrible behavior exist; I have had a few bad experiences myself and know many, many other people who have suffered worse or more often. And I’m by nature easily intimidated.

    So I try to keep a balance between the knowledge that bad things can happen and so I should approach any unknown situations with thoughtfulness and calm insight as best I can, and the belief that if I give others the chance to prove themselves better than expected, they also nearly always do. Be prepared for the worst, but assume the best, if you will. 🙂

    I wish you safe travels throughout your life! And if you can help to kindly educate young people in how to behave in ways that make life pleasanter for *all*, regardless of gender or age or any other distinction, then you will undoubtedly also be more contented.

    Kathryn

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