They Do Exist.

What I Learned About Anger, Cat-calls, & Forgiveness In 2011

Editor’s Note: Last night, I lashed out at my husband with misplaced anger. We had been walking up and down the streets in San Francisco, and I spent the majority of my night avoiding eye contact and biting my tongue to keep from hatefully responding to the obscene looks and gestures that men were throwing my way. When we got home, I had about 14 city blocks of frustration pent up in my little heart, and nowhere for it to go. And then I sit down to read Grace’s submission today, here below. Please, as a woman created by the author of beauty and redemption, join me in seeking His way of responding to brokenness. Grace blogs at With Grace in The City. – Lauren

My first memories of being cat-called are from high school. I was on the cross country and track teams, and, on occasion, the girls would get cat-called as we ran around the city. Back then, I would ignore these experiences and continue running. No second thought given.

These days, however, cat-calls elicit an altogether different response. I am currently living in inner-city Los Angeles and participating in an internship with an organization dedicated to seeking transformation in urban poor and slum communities around the world. Darkness and brokenness hang heavy over the inner city. One particular area of brokenness that I experience on an almost daily basis is that of fractured gender identity and cross-gender interactions. Women are broken, men are broken, and the relationships between women and men are broken.

If you knew me, you would know me to be a pretty even-tempered, controlled woman. You’d also know that I am a woman who has uttered no more than a handful of expletives in my entire lifetime. ” alt=”" width=”300px” />

And yet there are times when I am walking our streets and my immediate response to a man’s unwanted attention is “F*** OFF.” These are not words that any of my closest friends would ever expect me to utter.

Because, you see, I am deeply frustrated with the broken gender dynamics of my neighborhood. It is a salient point of frustration because the reality of cat-calls and unwarranted attention are a fact of life for most any woman walking the streets of my neighborhood – regardless of who you are, how you dress, or what expression you wear on your face. Further, I now understand all of the unspoken realities that lie hidden in a cat-call. I recognize it as an act that is demeaning, insulting, and condescending. I see how it diminishes women into objects of lust in an oversexualized society.

It is so very easy to be angry. So easy to get stuck in frustration that I can’t see past the brokenness to hope for something better. It is easier to boil with anger for a moment than to actually engage and deal with the negative emotions that run through my veins.

At one of the meetings for my internship, we had an extended discussion about gender in our neighborhood. The women on the team shared our experiences as women in the inner city. We asked tough questions.

How can we, as women of God, live in the inner city and cultivate healthy cross-gender relationships? Is it even possible?

Is it possible for us to live life here without feeling constantly demeaned by men and subsequently frustrated and angry?

Is it possible for our sense of self-esteem and worth to not get screwed up or contaminated by the sinfulness and brokenness of this present culture?

Even after hours of considering how to engage in gender brokenness in a Biblical and loving way, we had few answers. The only real conclusion we landed on was the fact that, for women, it is a cost of discipleship to live in the inner city and to love God’s people here. As people of God, we are to expect suffering and for everyone there are different costs to us in our journeys with Jesus. For me, as a woman living in the inner city, having to experience the reality of cat-calls, whistles, and other demeaning cross-gender interactions is a cost that I choose into.

It is also a cost that I am learning to bring before Jesus. And so in 2011, I learned to be a woman who forgives and prays. I have chosen to not remain a woman who sits passively and powerless in anger. Instead, with the Lord’s help, I am learning to be a woman whose guttural response to broken gender interactions is to forgive and pray for the man who hollers. Because anger does nothing to bring change. Yet praying to our God who is powerful and who created gender and created woman is indeed an act of power. In fact, it is a revolutionary act because it places power not in the brokenness of our society and culture, but rather in the hands of Him who is powerful to redeem and restore where our human eyes see only fractured hopelessness.

“BUT.”
I see you, you know.
I’m not oblivious or blind.
I noticed you noticing me as you walked by, biked by, drove by.

I see you and sometimes I just want to throw my middle fingers in the air.
Take that.

I want to respond in rebellion to your treating me as an object of your pleasure.
I see you and I wish to retaliate in every way that the world has taught me to defend myself.
In anger. In frustration. In violence.

I hear you too.
I’m not deaf or ignorant.
I hear you cat-calling me like I’m some piece of meat you can bid on at the market.
I hear your overt invitations that deny the existence of a soul and mind and beating heart beneath this skin.

I hear you and sometimes I want to throw words back at you.
The mean, nasty, offensive ones I was taught never to use.
My anger wants to flow out with fighting words – to command my arsenal of insults against you.

But…

But, as a daughter of my heavenly king, my actions and my words are worth so much more than these irrational, emotionally-driven responses.
Because the Lord has given me words to speak life into death and hope into depression.
He has armed me with the creativity to fashion my thoughts and actions into powerful instruments that can influence this world for good and not for bad.

So with my words I will not cuss you out or even mutter frustrations under my breath,
Instead, I will recite my father’s love letters to me as given in His word.
And I will harness my words to pray determinedly that God would redeem you and that He would redeem our broken gender dynamics.

With my words I will tell stories, and mentor, and encourage the young women of this neighborhood to grow up confident in the love of their Father who sees them in secret and beams with joy at their beauty.

With my hands and feet I will not fight or incite.
Rather I will love with them; I will hug, and hold, and carry – both the pains and sorrows and the joys and hopes of those around me.
They will be instruments of art and creativity, life, color, hope.
I will use them to build up God’s kingdom here on earth – to bring life into dry and parched lands.

My hands and feet, my words – they were formed and made, commissioned – to build up the Kingdom of God here on earth – intended to tear down that which is unjust and to replace it with what the Lord deems GOOD.
So I will not waste them on rash anger. I will not squander them in frustration.

Rather, I will use them – with intention and great power – for the glory of the Lord.


Want to join us & pass this along to other women in your life?
Follow Good Women Project on Twitter: @goodwomenproj
Be a fan on Facebook: facebook.com/goodwomenproject

Subscribe to our email newsletter for insider updates here or subscribe to the blog here. Or both.
Everyone on our team is volunteer, and we are funded 100% by you. If you'd like to donate, you can here.
We're also doing fun stuff on Tumblr, Instagram, and Pinterest!


18 Responses

  1. This is incredible. I landed on Luke 6:26 this morning as I had my quiet time and read the rest of the chapter zealously as I learned about forgiving those who wrong us, but not only that. We were to verbally bless them. It was all about going the extra mile as followers of Jesus. Not only do the minimal, so it is amazing to me that after having such a quiet time, I would come across your blog speaking about just that. I love, love, love your poem. It is phenomenal. I would love to print out a few lines and put them in my bedroom next to my bed so I can be reminded of my purpose as a daughter of God, if that's ok with you. Thanks for sharing, honestly, your blog made my day. Great writing, keep doing it for God. :) Be blessed!

    December 3, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    • Thanks for your kind words Nataly.
      Feel free to print them out :) I hope they are an encouragement to you from the Lord.

      December 3, 2011 at 6:41 pm

  2. Male_reader

    If you dress like the woman depicted, I wouldn't be surprised if you get 'cat-called,' and I don't really feel sorry for you if you do, if that's the case.

    And the answer is not cultivate 'healthy cross gender relationships' in my opinion; it's to get together with those that do in a single community, edify and encourage each other, preach on these issues and then take it from there — what else would you do? What else can you do?

    Also, why are you angry? You 'should' know by now we're living in Gomorrah given this country's twisted sexual dynamics, and on another note, not far from a North Korean-style government and likely much worse if 'things' don't change at the rate which they're going.

    And not to make this any longer — who says you have to suffer for Christ? I think that's a serious misconception on your part, and that kind of attitude can only turn others away from Christianity.

    December 3, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    • Kelly

      Your lack of compassion and empathy doesn't reflect well on Christ at all. It will lead to serious misconceptions that can only turn others away from Christianity.

      The fact that you can't understand why she's angry says a lot about you, like that haven't had to deal with people sexually harassing you like every woman has their entire lives. You should be sticking up for women instead of saying they should just accept such treatment as a given.

      Philippians 3:10
      I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of SHARING IN HIS SUFFERINGS, becoming like him in his death,
      2 Timothy 1:8
      So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But JOIN WITH ME IN SUFFERING FOR THE GOSPEL, by the power of God,
      2 Timothy 1:12
      That is why SUFFERING AS I AM. YET I AM NOT ASHAMED, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day

      Here are just a few verses on suffering for Christ from the Holy Bible, New International Version, emphasis mine. Leaving out the hard parts because it might turn others away from Christianity is selling lies, like a bad used bars salesman.

      December 4, 2011 at 12:33 am

  3. Male_reader

    My lack of compassion? If I arrived at a crime scene driving a police car, while dressed and behaving like a police officer, how do you think those present nearby would look at me?

    This woman's scenario is no different if she chooses to dress like the person in the picture above (waiting to hear back on that).

    Your actions have consequences, believe it or not. And this isn't an issue of compassion, it's one of understanding: if someone committed an armed robbery in say a bank I was in, in front of me, I'd expect them to get sentenced fairly and go to jail without my 'compassion' (involvement) — that's how things work.

    Also, your suffering quotes are just that — quotes — they can be interpreted many different ways without even thinking about it, i.e. I could resign myself to an 'oath of suffering' like Orthodox nuns that take a 'vow of poverty' but that would be wrong for reasons that are obvious (at least to nearly all people, I'd think). That and what you quoted aren't commandments (and there is a reason for that).

    December 4, 2011 at 3:10 am

  4. Male_reader

    *[sic] I'd expect them to eventually get caught and sentenced fairly, and then go to jail all without my [sic]

    December 4, 2011 at 2:18 am

  5. treevalley

    Grace, you go sister! I am so thankful for your bravery in sharing and submitting this. I haven't been able to shake luke 6 and luke 9 in our luke study as 1st years in the LA internship.

    as a man, i am deeply grieved by the lack of godly men in our culture. regardless of how women dress or do not dress (and of course the loving thing to do would be to not cause another to stumble), lust is lust. i too am a culprit of lust that demeans women made in the image of God. i am trying to surrender that daily to our Lord. please continue to pray, even for your own brothers who long to be like the Son of Man. men, who like Christ, would acknowledge and care for those who are pushed aside and yes, even those who are "disreputable".

    and as for suffering for our Christ, my dear brothers and sisters, doesn't the apostle Paul remind us: "For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake…" – Philippians 1:29 (ESV). Let us not embrace a cheap grace…a crown that came without a cross. he paved that path and bids his disciples to follow Him on it.

    December 4, 2011 at 2:19 am

  6. I suspect the image selected for use in this article doesn't speak for–or represent–how the author of the article dresses. Care is needed in what images are used; they do carry connotations.

    December 4, 2011 at 11:45 am

  7. Amy

    I studied abroad in a Middle Eastern country; cat-calls and verbal harassment there were 10 times that I ever experienced in an inner city in the United States, and I dressed even more conservatively than the majority of the population there in an effort to put a damper on it. It didn't matter– the local women got harassment no matter what they wore, and so did I. In fact, a study done over there showed that women wearing niqab (full face veil and abaya, a cloak-like covering) got MORE sexual harassment than women who wore less! Similar studies have supported this in the United States. It's not what you wear, and people who complain about the stock image miss the point altogether (and their conclusions about what elicits sexual harassment are completely off-base from empirical research).

    Having expected to be heckled regularly, I bore the experiences well for most of the time, shrugging it off and experiencing no more than mere annoyance. However, after a few particularly trying times, I came back to the host family's house discouraged and almost in tears. It had triggered memories of other times being cat-called in the United States, and some doleful reflections on youth and beauty in American society in general, and my experiences that day left me wondering if all men were the same– all they wanted was some young girl to screw, and when you're old, you're trash. Sensing my mood, the eldest son of the host family slowly pulled out the story of my day from me, and I complained bitterly about the treatment, and feeling like a piece of food for hungry eyes. "Amy," I would joke about myself. "The OTHER white meat."

    If I was expecting commiseration or validation, I didn't get it. Not that he wasn't capable of providing it– I had heard similar complaints from him about how women were treated on the street, and he had always been very protective of me every time we went out in public and leering looks landed my way. But not this time. Instead, I heard: "It's not your job to educate them, but if you don't like it, show how educated you are. Speak to them in Arabic. Do you see how people look at you when they know you can speak the language? Talk to them about politics. Don't you see how people react when you talk about those things? If you're so upset, no one benefits, but at least if you try you're doing something, and you show them you're not just a pretty face."

    I wish I could say that I expressed my appreciation of this advice when it was issued, but I didn't. I was too wound up to accept it then and there, but later I did thank him for that– and so much more. (I ended up staying with a Christian host family).

    December 4, 2011 at 3:26 pm

  8. Grace, I love this. Also, World Impact is one of my favorite ministries. I volunteered with the Dallas location in high school and my freshman year of college, and I adore them and the work they do.

    I work in a male dominated industry (aviation), and sometimes I think the only reason it's not as bad for me is because they don't have the cover of anonymity working for them. If I hear the stuff they say about me, it's usually secondhand. And I definitely hear the things they say about other women. I've wanted to be a missionary pilot for a long time now, but God has definitely opened my eyes to the fact that aviation in and of itself is a mission field.

    If it's any encouragement, I always like to think of Jesus telling the disciples (in Mark 13, Matthew 10, and Luke 12) not to worry about what they should say in their persecutions and trials, because at the very hour they needed to speak, the Holy Spirit would give them the words to say. If you don't already, I would pray before you hit the streets, every time you do, that if someone's heart can be pierced by the words of God, that you would be given the words *and* the boldness to do so. May He continue to prepare in advance good works for you to do.

    December 5, 2011 at 7:17 pm

  9. Girl-reader

    Thank you for the "BUT" section. I need to take this advice, because what you descirbed is who I am now that I am the daughter of the King

    December 5, 2011 at 9:32 pm

  10. Paula

    Thanks for the post!

    I also work in the inner city, and something I always tell the volunteers and staff at the organization I work in, is that most of the men we see haven't been taught how to treat women respectfully, so it is our job to gracefully teach them how to treat women well!

    Now instead of getting upset when someone says "hey baby" or "hey sexy" or makes an inappropriate comment about me, I confidently approach them, offer my hand and say, "Hi, my name is Paula, and I'd prefer if you call me by my name instead of by 'baby' or 'sexy'." or I let them know that their comment makes me feel uncomfortable and that it was inappropriate, but that they can still talk to me about other things.

    I hope you continue to pray and forgive for these men. They are lost children at heart.

    Peace.

    December 8, 2011 at 11:55 pm

  11. Pingback: 12/12/11 Prayer Request « Grace in the city!

  12. Cate

    Thank you so much for this! It so encouraging to hear that my best friend and I are not the only women who are angered by cat-calls! It has gotten to the point, that is all I hear and I wonder if this world has suppressed any value a woman has left.

    January 18, 2012 at 11:29 pm

  13. Jordana

    oh man. we need to be friends. I have so much to learn from you! this post was so awesome and hits so close to home! thank you for writing =)

    March 21, 2012 at 11:31 am

  14. Pingback: A Story On Confidence, Compliments, And Street Harassment - Good Women Project

  15. Pingback: Chaude « The Song of All Songs

  16. Laura

    May I point out that while clothing *can* affect how men look at women, simply dressing more "conservatively" will NOT change the fact that men are looking at us as sexual objects. That is how society teaches men to think (I understand that not all men think this way, but look at media today–it's saturated with sexuality). I grew up in an ultra-conservative home, learned to dress in loose, head-to-toe coverings, long skirts, you name it, and every day at work or when I walked down the street, guys would stare, cat-call, try to talk to me, touch me, etc. I did NOTHING to get their attention. I never tried to get their attention–they came after me. So please do not make assumptions that how she dressed caused this type of behavior.

    April 20, 2012 at 11:40 am

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>