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Save your catcalls, show respect

| Thursday, February 13, 2014

I used to hate Beyoncé’s song “If I Were a Boy” when it first came out. As much as I love Queen B, her song irritated me because it was another lamentation of bad boyfriends breaking girls’ hearts. There wasn’t anything original about the lyrics, other than the fact that Beyoncé would make one heck of a boyfriend. But the real reason I hated this song was what it provoked me to think about: What perpetuates these terrible-boyfriend qualities in the first place? Does it stem from being viewed as inferior?

As a society, we eat up all the love garbage thrown at us from all of the heartthrobs making up our musical timeline.

“I’d catch a grenade for you,” a courageous Bruno Mars exclaims.

“As long as you love me, we could be starving/homeless/broke,” declares the soon-to-be-deported Justin Bieber.

“I will take you in my arms and hold you right where you belong,” ‘N Sync promises.

Why do women swoon over these lyrics? Maybe it’s because these songs paint an alternate reality of nurturing, tender relationships where boyfriends respect and value their girlfriends. Or maybe they subtly empower women to feel superior as the captors of men’s hearts, the dominant figure in a man’s life. Maybe it’s a little of both. I’d like to believe the real issue is more than the “all men are pigs” attitude, but a deep-rooted social structure that has historically made women inferior and feel like that respect and appreciation Beyoncé and other artists dreamed up for us is unattainable.

Don’t get me wrong; there are multiple dimensions to this problem, and I am in no way stating these examples are all-inclusive or even correct observations about the issue at hand. At the end of the day, though, women aren’t treated right because as a whole, we’re simply not respected or valued the way men are. I have a personal example:

Ever since I was a little girl, I was always considered the son my dad never had, “Daddy’s Little Athlete.” Growing up in a house full of women, though, the “girly” stuff was inevitable, too, but my competitive personality gave me a masculine brand. I was a “tomboy.” My sisters used to tell me guys would never like me if I continued to act like a tomboy when I got older; guys want girls who dress and act, well, like girls. As I got older, what girls were expected to look and act like evolved. I couldn’t just be an athlete anymore without being “butch.” Even now it’s shocking to others that I can be heterosexual, box and play rugby, too.

Yet, no matter how “tough” I am perceived to be, I’m still scared to be a girl sometimes. I cross the street to avoid large groups of men waiting on the corner because I’ve been harassed by their catcalls, the honking and whistling, the explicit images shouted at me. I’ve been followed and asked to get in someone’s car, not once, but twice, so I keep my key locked between my knuckles on my walks home at night. I’ve been criticized for my physical appearance and sexually assaulted at my own university. I’ve been degraded and disrespected, not because I did anything that “asked for it,” but because I am a woman.

Women shouldn’t have to ask for respect and dignity. They earned it the day they decided to carry you for nine months and bear the scars and stretch marks that development would put on their bodies. You have the right to be respected, solely on the basis of being human.

Yes, sometimes my hormones make me emotional, but not irrational. I have my period every month, so don’t give me a disgusted look when I pull a tampon out of my backpack. You did not choose the genitalia you were born with, the same way you did not choose your skin color or birthplace.

When I stand up for myself or other women, I am a feminist, sensitive and emotional. Why should I justify my right not to have my body violated? I didn’t ask for a play-by-play of what you wish you could to do to me. And if I did, it certainly wouldn’t be while I’m waiting to cross the street.

I am not a dog. You do not own me. Do not whistle at me or think you’re allowed to touch me just because I’m not growling. Don’t sell me to strangers. Don’t put me on a leash and call me stupid for choking when I reach the end of it. And don’t pull me back for running faster than you can keep up. There is so much beauty and potential in the human spirit; we deserve respect and dignity by that merit alone. Human rights aren’t up for debate.

Amanda Peña is a junior and a sustainable development studies major with a poverty studies minor. She can be contacted at apena4@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • John

    Are you claiming that guys, in general, aren’t caring boyfriends and don’t respect women? I guess I feel bad for you if those are your experiences in life.

    No doubt there are bad apples, but most are very good in my experience.

  • Amanda Pena

    John, this article was in no way a generalization that guys aren’t respectful or caring boyfriends. I know many wonderful men who are very loving and respectful to their girlfriends and wives. I’ve dated some incredible men and am very grateful for how those experiences have helped me grow and learn. I was inspired to write about this topic though after all of the catcalling and harrassment I have been experiencing so far during this semester abroad. I was simply trying to understand where and why the stereotype that men don’t care or respect women exists in the first place. The stereotype itself is found in music and many complaints women have about men over the course of history and it got me to ponder the greater treatment of women. In many countries, women are denied education, property, the right to show their faces/hair/skin, raped or trafficked, and so forth. This treatment of women as a whole is why the male-dominated culture exists. My point isn’t to say that there aren’t good guys out there- that would be a lie to say there aren’t. But rather I believe that in order to foster greater treatment of women in relationships, our society needs to recognize where we fall short in our treatment of women in other areas. When men as a whole can treat women as equals on the basis of being human, then I believe we’ll start seeing a change in how women are treated in relationships. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me; I hope I was able to answer your question. If you would like to discuss this further, feel free to email me at apena4@nd.edu. Thank you!

  • Amber Abbigail Barbara

    Great article love, but remember that gender and sex are different not all women have the same genetalia we have (like some trans women) or just that kind of genetalia (intersex women may be born with two different ones) and some people’s outsides and insides reflect different sexes, hormones vary, also not all women are able to bear children, not even all cis women (I’m not sure that I can have them b/c of my imbalance). As your article suggests we as women are more than just body parts. I do agree with everything that was written though, just some women experience the same harrassment but can’t identify with some of the framework…