- 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.