As I was driving home from work today, various men on the street and in nearby cars at three separate times yelled “hii!”, whistled, and made lewd noises at me – all in a matter of 30 minutes.

As a child I was taught that it’s rude to stare at, point at, or talk loudly about other people. Even if you are pointing out something you like about that person, you just don’t it. It’s rude.

So why is it that some men feel that they have the right, the permission, and the authority to comment on, point out, judge, and – the absolute worst, to me – assert publicly what they want to do to my body – to my face?

Now, I know there are differences culturally when it comes to some of this. Some women feel affirmed by being whistled at. I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically wrong with this, but I’m also concerned that, as women, we don’t attempt to empower ourselves with the tools that are being used to oppress us. We are not objects; we are beings with a soul. We are not for anyone’s viewing pleasure and we are not for anyone’s consumption.

Not to mention the fear that is perpetuated by every comment or whistle. “How close is he?” “Where’s the nearest store I could duck into?” “Are there enough cars driving past that someone would notice if he grabbed me?”

A whistle may be just that – an acknowledgement, an affirmation. Or it could mean more. One can usually tell by the pitch, intonation, and length of the whistle.

A “hii!” seems simple enough but in my experience, this is usually a distraction technique so that once you look over, blatant vulgarity is expressed.

I don’t think I need to, or care to, define lewd noises.

Most of the time I ignore the comments. Sometimes I’m caught off guard and I do look – and then berate myself for doing so. Occasionally I stare them down. Most rarely do I actually say anything in response.

A few months ago as I was driving home from my Life Group, I was stopped at a stop light and a man in the car next to mine started yelling “Hey! HEEY!!” over and over at me. I put on my “death face” and stared straight ahead pretending not to hear him. Eventually I realized that I recognized the voice – it was one of the men from my Life Group. I rolled down the window and yelled, “Now you know what I do when men yell at me from their cars!” Even after I realized it was him, I was still shaken up from tornado of emotion inside of me. We had a good laugh afterwards, but it was a rare moment in which he was able to experience the toll that these sorts of occurrences have on me as a woman.

Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany

I’ve had quite a few conversations with Christian men who express their frustration that Christian women aren’t able to take a compliment. I definitely have problems in this area. But I don’t think it stems from insecurity of self or distrust of that specific man as much as it does from building a fortress around myself so that anything a man says about my body or my appearance is unable to penetrate its thick walls.

Because usually, the comments that are made towards me should have been checked long  before they made their way out of a man’s mouth. It’s a necessary fortress. But that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be sensitive to when I should let the drawbridge down (and maybe stop the archers from shooting). I’m thankful for the grace men have offered me after giving me a compliment and I shoot them a funny look or there’s an awkward pause before I say “thank you”. It’s challenging to let moments like that sink in and take the men at their word.

So what can we do to change this?

Men, you can talk amongst yourselves about making comments or whistling in public. You need to be having these conversations. You should be as outraged as some women are at this reality. Discuss the attitudes men hold toward women. Explore why men feel they are justified in letting their opinion about our appearance be known publicly. Educate yourself on concepts of privilege, power, and internalized superiority. Keep each other accountable. Confront men who do this. And continue to give compliments and the needed grace to accompany them.

Women, I’m afraid I have no simple answer. Be willing to consider that there may be cultural differences at play. Sometimes responding to men in the moment only incites them more. Most of the time I want to flip them off or yell a profanity or “would you say that to your sister?!” back at them. It’s more complex to think of a gracious response that takes the higher road, stripping them of the power they’re wielding. Sometimes a long stare might be enough. Other times there may be opportunity to start a conversation. We need to work harder at receiving compliments well too. Be slow in your response. Be willing to take the complimenter at his word. I think practicing giving compliments to men may also assist in the process.

“With [the tongue] we both bless the Lord and Father and curse human beings made in God’s likeness. Blessing and cursing from the same mouth. My brothers and sister, it just shouldn’t be this way! […] Show that your actions are good with a humble lifestyle that comes from wisdom. […] What of the wisdom from above? First, it is pure, and then peaceful, gentle, obedient, filled with mercy and good actions, fair, and genuine.” James 3:9-10, 13, 17 (Common English Bible)

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