NOTE: These guys harrassed no one, but they represent the kind of gauntlet I would have avoided back in the day.
NOTE: These guys harassed no one, but they represent the kind of gauntlet I would have avoided back in the day.

One of the examples of how life changes when you dip your toe into Formerly territory that really resonates with people is how when you’re in your 20s, bonehead guys fall all over themselves to drool obscene things about your body and make vile sucking noises as you walk by. Now, by contrast, all you hear is that sitcom sound of crickets chirping to indicate abject nothingness.

The joke, of course, is that while you found catcalls annoying (when you were in a rush) or hatefully objectifying and anti-woman (when you were hungry or hormonal), now when they occasionally happen, you feel vaguely relieved…before you feel annoyed or like giving them a crash course in feminist theory right there on the construction site.

Like all jokes, if you think it’s funny, it’s because there’s a spot of truth in it. It’s only human to want to feel visible, especially if you’re maybe not that high-boobed, hair-flipping, quick-glance kind of hot you were when you were in your 20s.

(A little background: I grew up and still live in New York City, where people walk everywhere and men loitering with 40s in front of bodegas is de rigeur–the street life is electric here. Women here get ten times the commentary as those who live where people drive everywhere. The upside is the funny things small children and self-appointed members of the fashion police force say about one’s fashion choices; the downside is the unsolicited comments from loser dudes about the size of your ass.)

A girlfriend I’ve known since we were bulimic teenagers together recently reminded me about what a number that kind of ogling used to do on my body image. Just at the moment in adolescence when I would ideally have been getting comfortable with my new body, I came to view it like one of those old-fashioned butcher posters, with the cow divided by dotted lines–prime cuts, etc. Having each part scrutinized and commented upon drove me to wear a sweatshirt in summer.

Thankfully, like everything else in life, that has changed, and this is a change for the better. Yet another example of what I’m grateful for as a Formerly:

Early to mid-20s: I felt like every time some guy said something about my body, he took a little piece of it for himself–it felt violating and threatening.

Late 20s: I stopped taking it all so personally. It was the cost of getting from point A to point B on foot, and said more about the men hooting than me.

30s: Being catcalled on the street was a big so what, unless the commentary was particularly explicit. I never took it as a compliment, though, the way some women say they do.

Now, at 43: When it very occasionally happens, I shrug at the affirmation that I’m still visible and female (because really, in NYC, that’s all it takes to inspire commentary) and remember how angry it used to make me.

But being harassed no longer hits me where it hurts, because I’ve lived long enough to feel confident that it’s my body to give, and not some stranger’s to take. And for that–and for many other things Formerly–I’m grateful.

Photo by Jonny Goldstein CC