Being beeped at while walking along the street is an unpleasant experience. Along with suggestive smiles, creepy passing comments, and uninvited hands in crowded spaces, it not only is not flattering, it is an unwelcome and often infuriating experience.
But there is something more obtrusive about being beeped at or catcalled from a passing car.
It happened to me the other day. Walking back from the beach, I was in a very peaceful mood. My mind was wandering happily as I trekked the ten minutes or so back to the house. Then suddenly a blaring, aggressive noise violently snapped my attention away in a millisecond of panic, which rapidly somersaulted into embarrassment and onto confusion, before finally settling at anger.
A car horn, or in this case a truck horn, is an aggressive sound. When directed flippantly at a pedestrian minding their own business, I would go as far as to say it is a violent sound. That day, after the tumult of sudden feelings subsided into anger, I thought how appropriately such a violent noise correlates with the harassment women have faced, and continue to face – the verbal, physical, and sexual harassment which violently interrupts our peaceful walks and forces our minds to panic, embarrassment, and confusion, settling eventually into anger.
We panic, because in that millisecond of hearing that loud, aggressive sound, our minds don’t yet understand what is happening. All we know is that this sound signals danger. This action signals danger. The horn, the smile, the comment, the hand. If we don’t respond quickly enough or smart enough, our lives could be in peril.
We become embarrassed because we are suddenly exposed. Exposed as vulnerable and often helpless. This man beeping at me in a car is encased in a huge metal machine which is moving incredibly fast and has incredible power behind it, and I am exposed right now as helpless to do anything but take this auditory assault – and everyone else on the street can see that.
We are embarrassed because we have been told that we should like this assault. It means we’re beautiful. It’s a compliment. It’s harmless. The horn, the smiles, the comments, the hands. And if we don’t like it, well… That man is bigger than me, faster than me, and stronger than me. I am helpless to do anything but take it.
We are confused because for a moment, we’re not really sure what just happened. Maybe I was mistaken; maybe there was another reason this man had used his horn. Perhaps there were innocent intentions behind it. Maybe I’m jumping to conclusions. Women do that. Maybe I’m just seeking attention. Maybe I was doing something wrong… wearing something wrong… existing wrong. Maybe we invited that smile or those comments. Maybe we deserved that hand.
I actually looked down at my clothes in that second of confusion, just to make sure I wasn’t wearing something unintentionally skimpy. But how could I be? I was in jeans, cargo boots, a t-shirt, and a jacket. Then I became frustrated at myself for even checking. Nothing I was doing or wearing would have made that kind of aggressive interruption okay.
Finally, we are angry. Because in the end, by the time we comprehend what has happened, the man in that truck is a hundred metres down the road. He hasn’t received any consequences for his violent actions. There is nothing I can do to change what just happened, or to get justice for it. I could yell angrily at the driver, but that would only give him satisfaction. What he did was completely intentional. It would only make more people turn to look at me. It would only make me seem crazy and unreasonable.
All I could do was clench my fists, stare straight ahead, remind myself again that I had done nothing wrong, and keep walking.
Isn’t that always the way.
A horn is an aggressively violent interruption. You cannot dismiss women being beeped at or catcalled on the street without secretly dismissing other forms of violence against women.