Cat-Calling and College Women

I’m lucky enough to teach a course called Funny Women this semester. We are beginning the course with Tina Fey’s Bossypants. And the conversations that are happening in this classroom are renewing my love of teaching.


Today we began discussion with this quote from the book about Fey’s experience talking with a group of women: “almost everyone first realized they were becoming a grown woman when some dude did something nasty to them.”

I asked the class, made up of twelve women and two men, if this was true to their experiences. The conversation immediately turned to cat-calling. Most of the women were not aware that they were viewed as grown women until some guy yelled at them from the street or the car and pointed out their bodies as sexual objects.

I told them my experience last week of walking out of the building I work in at 8 PM, after my evening class. I walked out alone and no one else was in front of the building or on the steps. A car full of young men rode by and beeped and screamed at me. I don’t know what words they said, but they were saying that they saw my body as something to gaze at and comment on. I asked the class how they thought this made me feel?

“Unsafe,” two female students said in unison.

Yes, they are exactly right, because they know this experience all too well. They know that I fumbled for my keys and quickened my pace.

I think it’s difficult for men to realize what women feel like alone at night. I think a lot of women aren’t even conscious of their own anxiety. Whenever I walk to my car at night, I am acutely aware of my surroundings. Without thinking, I navigate the safest and shortest route to my car.

The overwhelming sense I got from our conversation in class today is that I’m not neurotic or alone and that young women on college campuses do not feel safe. At least, today, they said that out loud, and it was a courageous act. You have to remember these young women are still very concerned with what others, and men, think of them. But they are also bright and brave, and I’m lucky to have these conversations with them.


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