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Contributing to a Culture Against Catcalls

By: Ashley Powell, Americorps Public Ally, DVN

As I am nearing the end of my term of service with Americorps Public Allies at DVN, I have been taking more time to reflect on the changes I’ve experienced since my first day in this role. I remember how intimidated and overwhelmed I was. I was not confident I could fill such an incredible role both within Public Allies as well as DVN. Now, with two months left in the program, it is exciting to see the amount of growth that I have experienced. One thing that I have noticed in particular, is that I am much more willing to speak up when I see an opportunity to inform another individual about how they can be kinder, and not victim blame or perpetuate rape culture.

The past few weeks have given me multiple opportunities to advocate for myself and what I believe. In one instance, while driving with friends in my car, one of these acquaintances catcalled a girl walking down the street. My colleagues are well aware that I frequently wear a shirt that says “Cats Against Catcalls,” with a cute graphic of kittens on it, because I am a crazy cat lady who can’t stand catcalling. In response, I instantly flared up and told him not to do that in my car, or for that matter ever again! This started a lively conversation with my friend and I both trying to explain to him why it’s not okay to catcall women. We both shared our own personal experiences, and how ultimately – guys may see it as playful or no big deal, but it can actually scare women.

While I don’t think our conversation got through to him, this was still a huge moment for me. A year ago, I would have been angry, and wanting to say something so badly, but I would have held my tongue out of fear.

That same week, I had a different moment with yet another acquaintance of mine. After enjoying a group lunch for a project, one of the guys mentioned that the waitresses “shouldn’t be allowed to wear leggings to work, because of the effects that it has on the men.” Without batting an eye, I stopped him and told him we were going to talk about that statement. While we had very different opinions, I was able to talk to him about what is problematic about that statement.

These encounters resulted in a lot of realizations for me. For one, I am proud of how far I have come. I am glad that I feel empowered enough to talk to others about how we should treat each other, and that I have the facts through my work to backup my statements. I also realized that one conversation isn’t always going to change a person, and yelling at someone aggressively certainly won’t.

It is so important to challenge each other, but to do so respectfully. In each of these moments, it would have been very easy for me to take the angry route and burn a bridge to understanding. However, sometimes just having a conversation can at least plant the beginning of a new idea in someone’s mind.

Ultimately, this has taught me that change will never happen overnight, but I will never see it happen if I remain silent.