Yesterday I left work in tartan rain boots and clutched a tartan umbrella. I felt cute, a little sassy with my Macalester College pride-inspired rain gear, but I peeked out from under the umbrella at the rolling clouds with some sense of foreboding. A tornado watch was in effect through the length of my whole commute, more than an hour and a half on the commuter train. “Don’t get squashed by a house,” my boss had said. I pictured my plaid boots wriggling from beneath the foundation of some windblown farmhouse.
As I made my way from the office to the train station I scanned the sky for telltale green, dodged tidal waves splashed from the street by cars zooming through the intersection, clutched the umbrella close to my side to keep my tote bag dry. It was raining pretty hard and the wind kept teasing the trees that lined the road. I waited for the scream of the tornado siren, scanned the street for storefronts that would let me seek shelter.
And then I heard it.
“Hey, pretty lady. You’re looking good.”
As I trudged by the red Camry idling in traffic I glanced at its occupants. One of the guys was hanging out an open back window, leering at me.
“What, you don’t like men?” this guy called after me.
I pulled my umbrella closer and kicked through a puddle with my boots. I said nothing. I thought, It’s pouring rain and you’re hanging out an open window. Maybe I don’t like morons.
I encountered my first catcallers when I started running ten years ago. Once I ran up the street we lived on, a fairly busy four-lane road, and a guy leaned out of a truck to lay on the charm. In response I imagined creating a running jersey bearing the words, “What if I were your daughter?”
Instead I took to the back roads. Often I raised a middle finger in the direction of the offender, yelled angry curses, envisioned kicking those guys in the balls with my run-strengthened legs. Lately articles by well-meaning men have popped up on Jezebel and Slate, articles that explain to other men why catcalling is demeaning, disrespectful, and wrong. How catcalling makes men look like sex-crazed animals. These articles usually remind me of my father, who taught his daughters feminism by example.
A few months ago I was on the phone with my dad, talking about how much I loved taking the train to and from work. “Be careful of pickpockets,” he said. I ignored this mild fatherly advice, confident that after two years of that commute I knew how to navigate the crowds on the platforms.
This time, I arrived at the train station and waited for my train under the station awning, my bag tucked tightly under my arm. I shook out the plaid umbrella and clicked my plaid heels together. I thought of my imaginary running jersey, thought of how my father had taught my sisters and me to respect ourselves and each other, to value how we might contribute to make the world better, smarter.
I thought, Don’t get squashed by a house, moron.