How does one even try to make others understand the injustice in catcalling when it is so common in our day-to-day culture? My fellow injera-eaters, catcalling is defined as “the act of shouting harassing and often sexually suggestive, threatening, or derisive comments at someone publicly”. Now really, the definition should be enough of an explanation as to why it’s wrong, but let’s delve a little deeper.
I am psychologically drained. Every time I’ve gone to Addis Ababa, especially when I was younger, I really didn’t want to be seen as “the diaspora girl” or the “ferenj”. So, I’d do many of the things that the other kids did, including going to the souk (neighborhood shop) every chance I had. Now, it’s become expected of me and I’m sent to the souk several times a day. Which is unfortunate because I can’t go anywhere in my sefer without being catcalled. It’s gotten to a point where I’m scared to dress well because I don’t want to attract attention. Not that it matters, because we still get catcalled in the most conservative outfits. Before I make these trips, the only thoughts that should be going through my mind should concern what I need to purchase. However, the thoughts that go through my mind are around the best routes for avoiding catcallers, how I might respond to them and whether I need to bring something to protect myself. If you really think about it, it’s ludicrous that men are allowed this much power: the power to make women this uncomfortable and unsafe; even in their own communities. I deserve to walk anywhere I please, with any outfit I feel comfortable in and without a man feeling entitled to my body.
The most terrifying part about all of this is the extent to which it’s been normalized - normalized to the point where some girls don’t feel pretty if they are not catcalled. Girls have been exposed to it so regularly that they have internalized the sexism and misogyny. Someone on Shades of Injera stories said, “On days where I’m not catcalled, I feel like I’m not dressing/looking my best.” My shiro-lovers, it has gotten to the point where women feel they are not attractive if they don’t have sexually suggestive, threatening or derisive comments shouted at them. Take a moment, read that last sentence again, let it sink in. Shikorinas, you are all smart, beautiful, and capable. Their disgusting comments are a sign of their disrespect and proof of their inability to think of you as a human, but rather as an object that exists to satisfy their sexual desires, and NOT a form of validation of your beauty.
And God forbid a woman actually responds to the cat-callers, because then, that’s usually the most aggressive part of the whole experience. You’re left wondering what their intentions are: what are they going to do to you; whether they will follow you; even whether you’re safe or not. For those who are lucky, it goes from “Hey konjo” to something more vulgar when they are rejected. However, some are not as lucky. For some, the abuse becomes physical. No one deserves to have to go through this, but most Ethiopian women deal with it every day.
Some people have attempted to defend catcallers, saying that it’s simply a form of flirting with/complementing someone. However, in the words of people from our recent catcalling discussion: “Let’s be honest, if you’re catcalling it’s not to compliment a woman. It’s for attention; it’s to get laughs from your friends; it’s a display of machismo,” and “Statistically, chances of getting a date or positive feedback after catcalling is 0%.”
The reality is that catcalling is nothing but a form of harassment. It has nothing to do with making the harassed feel good, and everything to do with making the harasser feel powerful. Women should not be receiving unwanted comments, gestures, honking, whistling, following, persistent sexual advances, and touching by strangers. These invasive comments contribute to the idea that men are entitled to publicly evaluate women's bodies and tell them what to do and reinforce harmful, already prevalent assumptions that a woman's worth is related to their ability to please men and that is wrong. After reading this, I would naturally assume that you won’t do it yourself, but let’s take it a step further: from now my Ethiopian people, I do not expect us to tolerate catcalling - if you see it happen, speak up! Catcalling must stop now.
Article by Essey Molla IG: (@habesha.mami)
Art Cover by IG: (@Kukuspencil)