The streets are littered with predatory men
Daylight savings has a chokehold on my happiness. I have yet to set my clocks back, and I have no plan to. Instead, I’ve been making my way through life jet-lagged and in denial. Why? Because my sunlight intake affects my mood so profoundly that I might as well be a persnickety house plant with a dramatic temperament and likeliness to fall ill if not left to soak up sun rays.
I’m a lover of long walks. My fragile mental state is held together by walks, cooking, reading, and other hobbies frequented by the retired population. Now how, pray tell, would I go about taking these strolls along the Rideau Canal when my days are littered with classes drearier than November’s god-forsaken weather and the sun sets at 4:30? As far as taking a walk as a woman alone in Sandy Hill goes, the sunset is typically my curfew — a justifiable precaution.
A sad reality for women is that the streets are often littered with predatory men and, thus, unsafe. It’s an unavoidable truth, completely out of our control. I’ve been catcalled at both 7 a.m. and p.m., in short mini-skirts and long, formless winter coats alike, on busy streets and just shy of my doorstep — the street urchins of Sandy Hill are versatile in their efforts to ruin my day.
The plights of women in urban areas are not to be taken lightly. Having turned some heads (and cars) in my time, I know too well the fear that a heckle can insight. As you read some of my most peculiar catcalling experiences, understand that, though they are laughably absurd in hindsight, there’s nothing funny about the panic that accompanies such uninvited attention.
- The bathrobe-clad 7 a.m. illegal U-Turn
Before I begin, I’m aware of how outrageous this tale is. Imagine my shock, having lived it myself! Nevertheless, I swear that the evidence that I present to you is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me, some higher power.
As I mentioned, I share a lot in common with the retired population. Thus, naturally, I often wake up to see the sunrise with my friend — for a little bit, we had a standing Friday sunrise date. Allow me to paint you a picture: our usual route meanders a very pleasant scenic path decorated with willow trees and a riverside view, frequented by the friendly morning crowd and their very cute dogs, as well as an abundance of geese. This story is emblematic of the notion: this is why we can’t have nice things.
On this particular morning, we happened upon an unfamiliar character: a man, clad in a bathrobe, dancing vivaciously next to his car, too-loud music spilling out of its open doors.
Amused at first, I think we must have smiled — our first mistake. This is usually where I tend to go wrong: an innate and naïve inclination towards politeness when dealing with strangers. Naturally, this man interpreted our smiles as some sort of invitation. He smiled, waved, and yelled repeatedly after us. I can’t quite recall what he’d said, but it was enough to make the two of us uncomfortable. At this point, we avoided eye contact and continued steadfastly ahead, willing this man to leave us alone. So, when he climbed into his car, we let out breaths we hadn’t realized we’d been holding and continued walking. Crisis averted, we’d thought.
How silly of us to not assume that he would turn his car around and start driving in our direction, right? In came a shared sinking feeling when we realized our path directed us into an isolated area that would leave us alone with this strange man, we hastened our pace whilst strategizing how to avoid a confrontation with this man. If he turned right, all would be okay. Should he turn left, we would be cornered and vulnerable — we were prepared to run accordingly.
Turn right. Turn right. Turn — he turned left. Of course. On your marks, get set, go — sharing a quick glance of confirmation with one another, we raced from the quiet secluded area and onto the nearest busy street, our hearts racing in lockstep. When we saw that he would be forced to merge into traffic driving away from us, we shared a moment of misplaced comfort. We felt foolishly safe as we were met with an all too exciting “no U-Turn” sign. Finally! Sweet relief.
Wrong again. If at any point, you thought that there was any room for this to have been a coincidence, you owe me an apology. This creep took an illegal U-Turn, rolled his windows down, and yelled in our direction again, cackling maniacally. The chase was on again. Getting our morning jog in, we cleverly crossed streets and meticulously took wrong turns. Eventually, we lost our unwelcome companion. Though he didn’t end up catching up with us, that didn’t stop us from double-taking at every car resembling his, superstitiously checking over our shoulders, and trying (and failing) to kick that jittery feeling of “what if?” the whole way home. Such is the uncanny ability of creepy men to ruin otherwise good days.
- A lack of POC unity: a two-hit-wonder on Bank Street
Our story begins on a lovely evening in downtown Ottawa. Golden sunlight lit up the streets as sunset approached — at 3 p.m., mind you. Curse you, shortened days. Running errands, I was enjoying a walk by myself. Unceremoniously, I was stopped by a man speaking in a language I was unfamiliar with. Because I foolishly have a soft spot for anyone speaking English as a second language as an immigrant myself, I halt. He revealed he was speaking Tamil, and I responded that I, unfortunately, don’t speak that language. Thus, he curtly demanded what language I do speak. When I answered, “Bangla,” he let me know that he actually knew some Bangla and rattled off some words that were, in fact, not Bangla. Good effort though, I suppose.
Our amicable, though odd, encounter descended into creepy territory when something in his gaze struck me as predatory. The way this older man looked me up and down with a mischievous glint in his eye, I was becoming nervous. Nodding politely, I told him to have a good day, attempting to leave this weird little exchange. As I left, he yelled after me, “do you want to grab a coffee?” I tossed back a hasty, “have a good one!” He yells the request again, louder this time because I must have misheard him if I’m not derailing my plans to join him, right?
I quickly made my way towards the other end of the block, sparing a glance over my shoulder, only to see that he was glaring after me. Feeling a bit wary that I have a disgruntled man that doesn’t take “no” for an answer on my trail, you can imagine my shock and dismay when, not even a block from my previous accoster, I’m stopped by a different middle-aged man. This time, he’s speaking Hindi. In disbelief, I respond once more that I, unfortunately, don’t speak that language. He curtly demands what language I do speak, and when I responded with Bangla, he let me know that he, too, knows some Bangla. The most intense and immediate case of déjà-vu I’ve yet to experience, I nearly got whiplash. They had to have been in cahoots, right?
He rattled off some words that were, this time, in fact, Bangla. Although, he did end up referring to himself as my brother-in-law — I’m not sure if that was his intention. When he, too, suggested we go out, I felt pretty sufficiently creeped out for the day. In hindsight, I probably should have kept walking, but I was just so caught off guard that this history was repeating itself in such quick succession. Alas, my innate subscription to POC unity stops me in my tracks every time.
- Top of the morning to you!
If ever someone suggests that clothing attire has anything to do with one’s likeliness to be catcalled, I encourage you to cite this event as proof of their idiocy. It was a cold February morning when my friend and I were en route to the cafeteria, adorning hats, mittens, and winter coats that left everything to the imagination. With no more than the sliver of skin between where our pants ended and our boots started, we were shapeless blobs, braced for adverse weather conditions and unprepared for unpleasant men. In broad daylight, we innocently approached CRX, when some man yelled out an absurd pick-up line in our direction. We both turned in disbelief. Surely, he didn’t mean us, right? Yet, we were the only ones in his line of sight. Disgruntledly and appalled, we grabbed our breakfasts in matching states of frustration.
- ‘R’ you kidding me?
The recurring theme of these incidents is my innocent politeness leading to my inevitable disappointment. Such is why, every day, I come one step closer to either disposing of my pleasant disposition for good or swearing off all men and embarking on a life of chaste spinsterhood. This event in particular depleted my kindness reservoirs for the week. I was walking towards Elgin when I passed a couple and, of course, I smiled at them. Foolishly. Naively. Like a chump, you might say. I mean, how was I supposed to guess that this friendly-seeming man would, whilst holding hands with some woman, look me dead in the eyes and… growl at me. I don’t know how to articulate the sound this man made. Think: how Sharpay says “Arriba” in “Bop to the Top” in High School Musical, laced with toxic masculinity. Take my word for it: it was weird and uncomfortable. Appalled, I glanced over my shoulder at the woman, who gave me the most resigned look I’ve ever seen, suggesting that this happens all the time — the worst part of the whole debacle.
I’ve spoken to my uncanny ability to procure the worst luck before, and perhaps that’s why I have the most peculiar cases of catcalling. Also possible is that I take an unprecedented number of walks and, more often than not, I favour going on these walks alone. It’s a shame that something so simple renders women a target for such harassment.
Mind you, these are just four stand-out occurrences amongst a myriad of uncomfortable encounters. Being catcalled is so normalized that most incidents are comparably mundane and have faded in my memory. If I was paid by the word, perhaps I’d compile an article detailing every catcall I’ve received wandering Rideau Street alone — it would be just shy of a novel.
Some might foolishly assume that these are compliments. They might presume that I should feel flattered; that our attire is artfully adorned to seek the attention of sleazy strangers that leer at us through rolled-down car windows; that the revved engines and crude honks of hypermasculine men are music to our ears; that we crave their street-side whistles. Let me be clear: that is not the case.