Column: The walk of shame


Photo credit: Sophie Altemus

My friends and I pictured in a variety of clothing, yet still the target of catcalling and public harassment. The issue is a commonality among girls and women. It needs to end.

By Azel Al-Kadiri, Columnist

Last week I turned 17, one year closer to 18. The year I officially become a woman, whatever that means. To celebrate my birthday, I had a night out with my friends.

What was supposed to be a scene reminiscent of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” quickly turned into something more resembling a horror movie.

I watched the blue sky turn orange, then light purple and then a much darker shade of blue. The air went from a warm 75 degrees to a cool 60 degrees Fahrenheit. It was now nighttime. 

Every new block put us on edge. The evening became an overwhelming pattern of catcalling, uncomfortable stares and hostile behavior from men, both young and old. One would think a group of six girls walking down the street should feel moderately safe at dusk, right? Wrong.

Unfortunately, almost immediately, we felt eyes on us, and I don’t think it was because of our quirky fashion sense. 

You can tell women to carry pepper spray and teach us self-defense moves, but when a man is relentlessly hitting on you, following or threatening you — well, your mind pretty much goes blank.

I watched one by one as men would slow down at the sight of my friends’ bare legs and youthful laughter. We may have looked a bit older, but not that old. 

Still, in classic female fashion, we began to blame ourselves for their behavior. The group began to speculate: “Maybe it was your sunglasses?” or “Maybe your skirt’s too short?”


It’s no coincidence that every time I saw a woman in the distance I would unclench my jaw and slow my speedy pace. I think we all did. 

It makes me sad that a group of young girls innocently walking were met with such a disturbing opposition, an opposition that was 100% male. There is nothing flattering or complimentary about being objectified in public. It’s scary, disgusting and an issue overwhelmingly relatable for young women. 

I hear weekly stories of harassment from my friends about them being pursued and harassed by men as they are coming to or from school. For girls, this is a problem that our mothers and grandmothers share. It’s generational, and it’s exhausting.

Personally, I rarely hear society shame men about public harassment and inappropriate behavior on the street. Instead of holding the offenders accountable, society blames women. Her hair was too styled. Her eyeshadow was too bold. Her skirt was too showy. She was asking for it. It’s no wonder girls are raised to be so fearful around men. We are raised to be prey. 

So, as I age another year, the last before I am an adult, I am reminded of what 17 really means.

It means becoming increasingly sexualized. It means covering my body so as not to “distract” the male gaze. It means turning my head repeatedly on the sidewalk to see if I am being followed. It means being prepared to sprint at any moment. 

 So, was my night out really a huge metaphor for my future in womanhood?

Only if I let it be. As a woman, I recognize that the sickos I have described will always be watching. What I strive to do is not let them define where I can and can’t go, and what I can and can’t wear. 

Because girls, your skirt and sunglasses are not the problems. 

You are not a cat meant to be called. You are a lion. Let them hear you roar.