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Davis, California

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Rape? Yes, I do want to talk about it: Cat Calling

Ah, Picnic Day—a wonderful event filled with friends and popsicles and music and puppies. It’s a day we all look forward to, a day we can’t wait to enjoy. And most importantly, it’s a day that’s only “fun” when the alcohol starts to kick in.

Only when that vodka you brushed your teeth with finally finds its way to your agitated bloodstream does Picnic Day truly begin. As your blood alcohol content transforms, so does your day; your friends transform into overly confident drunk guys, your popsicle transforms into a cigarette, the peaceful music transforms into choirs of men chanting obscenities and the puppies transform into – wait – never mind, the puppies are still cute.

For a school like UC Davis, where eventful days involve mundane activities like cow tipping, Picnic Day – our one huge party day – is a pretty big deal. Understandably so, everyone hypes the day up for weeks, even months. And everyone tells us about all the fun things there are to do and see when the day finally does arrive.

Yet even with all the talk and anticipation, I didn’t realize, until this past weekend, what the doing and seeing truly entailed. I had no idea that the “doing” almost exclusively involved long jumping over vomit obstacle courses and the “seeing” meant watching creepy shirtless guys “heroically” rescue girls from falling into poles.

While I stood there, overwhelmed by the heat and the wretched smell of what was once a mimosa, I began doing what I do best: complaining. As I did so, an upperclassman overheard me, proceeded to stand uncomfortably close to my face (as to make sure I could detect, from her breath, precisely which brand of beer she had just downed) and said, “HEY! It’s Picnic Day! Stop complaining, this is all just part of it.”

So I took her words to heart. She seemed like an intellectual being, disregarding her inability to remember her own name, and I decided to accept the annoyances thereafter as all part of the Picnic Day experience.

I just accepted it when I got cat called. I just accepted that there weren’t enough fingers on my hands to count the amount of times someone yelled “DAMN GIRL.” I just accepted that it was normal for a stranger to objectify my body as they slobbered (more than the dogs did) at my skimpy tank top and shorts. I just accepted it when a man forced his beer into my face in hopes of acquiring my number. And I just accepted it when I watched guy after guy beam with excitement upon discovering their next drunk target. I just accepted it.

But here’s the thing: I can’t just accept it. Because while I did wear next to no clothing on Picnic day, given the 80-degree weather, that doesn’t mean that I did so with the hope that some disgusting drunk stranger would grope me. It doesn’t mean that I will be flattered when somebody yells out their car window, “YOU’RE HELLA HOT.” It means that I wore a tank top to avoid getting gigantic sweat stains all over myself. Am I hot now?

Quite honestly, I used to be flattered by cat calling. It was validating to hear a compliment, whether it was in the most objectifying way or not. But then I realized something: it’s not a compliment, it’s an insult. A big one. I know it sounds crazy, but think about it.

They’re not calling you out on your shirt because they noticed that in small writing it had the name of a charity organization and thought you seemed like a caring person. They don’t even think of you as a person with important emotions, desires or aspirations. When they cat call you, they are essentially saying “Hey, thanks for wearing that tube top that gives me a perfect view right down your shirt. Thanks for dressing that way FOR ME, it really gave my eyes something fun to look at.” Not someone fun to look at, but something fun to look at. Don’t get me wrong, when they cat call you, they do genuinely appreciate the cover of your book. They’re just too self-entitled and stupid to actually read the book.

By “just accepting” cat calling, we’re allowing our culture to believe that females exist for the sole purpose of satisfying male desires. We’re telling the world that this total objectification isn’t that big of a deal.  And it is for this reason that our culture has such a messed up understanding of rape — especially on college campuses.  When we’re taught to believe that excessive drinking, aggressive guys, objectification and cat calling are normal, we’re indirectly taught to believe that rape is normal too.

So to the upperclassman that told me that all this stuff is simply “just part of it,” I hope you understand the implications of that statement. I hope you know that the plethora of police circling through campus this weekend were there because of all the assaults.

Cat calling is more than just annoying — it’s offensive. REALLY offensive. Because guess what: we are not somebody’s something, we are not somebody’s this thing or that thing, we’re just somebody. Somebody with great depth and beauty. We are worth something — and you might actually come to appreciate that if you stopped calling AT me, and started talking TO me.

Like her bluntness? Contact Maddy Pettit at mepettit@ucdavis.edu

Graphic by Jennifer Wu.

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