“Please be careful,” my dad reiterated for the hundredth time. “I know,” I reminded him as I grabbed my purse to leave. Like most years, I was staying in New York City for the summer. But unlike most years, I had more freedom than ever to do what I wanted in the city. My dad continued to warn me of the ‘dangers’ of being in the city late at night, visibly anxious as he paced around the living room table. I assumed his concern about me going out stemmed from his experiences growing up in NYC when it was a lot less safe. However, growing up in Hong Kong, I always felt safe in the city no matter what time of day it was. My sense of security and comfortableness in HK often made me overlook the fact that NYC was much more dangerous.
That night at about 5 PM, I had left to go to a friend’s house just four subway stops away. We ate and talked and before we knew it, it was almost 10 PM. Considering most nights in HK ended with me coming home at 3 AM, I considered 10 PM a safe time to walk home. Although it was now dark outside and the area was a little sketchy, I had no problems walking from my friend’s house to the subway. On the subway, I thought about all the warnings and stories my dad had told me every year. I zipped my jacket up to my neck so my outfit wouldn’t be considered revealing. Just to be safe, I thought.
The moment I stepped off the subway and into the dark and desolate platform, two guys were walking straight towards me looking me up and down. I quickly shifted my gaze to the floor. One of them brushed up against me as we passed each other, whispering, “look up beautiful eyes.” I winced in disgust. The comment shook me as I quickened my pace up the stairs to the nearest exit. Just as I got a breath of fresh air and my nerves calmed down, I looked up to see a tall, burly man probably in his 50s leaning against a railing. He smirked when he met my eyes and let out a creepy, “hello.” Gross. I ignored his greeting and walked away in the direction of the apartment I was staying at. Only six blocks away. Three blocks down, the sidewalks became more and more populated. I was relieved, thinking the safest place I could be was around more people. I was wrong. Walking past a restaurant, a group of five or six younger boys were huddled together. They hollered and whistled as I walked past, making sly comments calling me “baby.” I could feel their eyes darting into my back as I walked away. They’re just words. Don’t panic. I felt the same disgust and nervousness I did at the subway, but this time accompanied by rage. I called my boyfriend not only to rant, but mostly feel a sense of safety as I finished walking home. Crossing the street to the apartment building, I was thankful to finally reach my destination. That was until a man crossing the street at the same time jeered, “you nasty.”
I wanted to turn around and scream at him and tell him it’s not okay. But deep down I knew the best and safest option was to remain quiet and keep walking, to pretend that I wasn’t feeling scared, uncomfortable and dehumanized. I was repulsed and shocked at the number of times I was catcalled walking just six blocks. It wasn’t my first time being catcalled and chances are it won’t be my last. But catcalling and much MUCH worse go unnoticed and unreported, and the people who harass women go unpunished. It’s infuriating. I hope more than anything that one day, through teaching people to respect and treat others justly, there can be a mutual respect between people despite their gender.