It’s the mohawk. I can’t help but notice that the curl-ruffled fishfin mohawk that crests my head has coincided conspicuously with an uptake in catcalls. I guess it’s true that in my orange-striped socks, which bridge the ankle between my joggers and trail running shoes, and a jewel-toned pullover, I look like a tropical fish; I blaze against Flagstaff’s grey sidewalk and grey sky and grey-streaked snow. Maybe that’s why they feel compelled to displace me,—these men who drive the roads that I walk and lean out their windows flush-faced—maybe that’s why they want to place me in a tank. Their call, “Hey! Babygirl!” pulses, water-waved like pudgy fingers tapping the glass.
Like a tap on the glass, this call is meant to influence the movement of a fish.
Fish-like, I’m a colorful spectacle-oddity,—female-bodied in a binder with a mohawk, and I am not meant to be outside. So these men, they yowl that reminder. I am not meant to be out in public; I am not meant to be publicly out. The catcall works to enforce gender roles on the street. That’s my theory, at least.
Street harassment is a lot more about creating and maintaining a power dynamic than it is about “giving a compliment.” It establishes who belongs in a certain space, and who is there to be observed. The called instead of the caller. Street harassment makes women feel unsafe and under scrutiny in public spaces that are dominated by men, and I was surprised by how my experience of it has changed as I’ve started presenting in more masculine ways: Men have actually started to catcall me more. Probably because the need to put me in my place feels more urgent---not meant to be out in public, not meant to be publicly out---though likely they aren’t consciously thinking this through.
When catcalling is a form of gender policing, my haircut (and the way I dress/walk/move) is a crime chased down by the sirens of wolf-whistles and double honks. That’s the anthropological-theorist theory, at least.
Alternatively, I’m hot and they’re gay.