The Hidden Sexism

How the lie of 'she asked for it' starts small.

It’s 6:00 in the evening on a Friday, and I am walking through downtown with two friends. It is still light out, and the sun is setting over the new convention center. I am wearing a backwards baseball hat and jeans I spent too much money on. One friend is wearing jeans and cowboy boots. One is wearing black leggings and a green shirt. We are walking down a city street, and we are girls.

Apparently, that is all that matters.

Two men in front of us turn around—three, four, five times before they say something. I comment back, and they see this as an opportunity. They ask if they can join us. There are two of them, and there are three of us. It is daylight, still. We should be okay. Yet, we run across the one-way street, dodging oncoming traffic, and escape into the evening, where, oddly enough, we are headed to hear a handful of Christian musicians.

Just because I am a woman does not mean I want to be shouted at. Don’t I deserve better than that? Don’t we all?

I am walking to a wedding in Cincinnati, wearing a dress and a jacket, and a man leans out his window and shouts something out to me about how I look. It is 4:00 in the afternoon, I am alone, and I throw up my hand in disgust. He makes a right turn, and I go into the nearest business.

I am everywhere, anywhere, nowhere: it doesn’t matter. I have a face, two arms, two legs and I am a girl and men think they can shout at me.

I did not ask for this. It is threatening. It is violating. It is sickening. It is harrowing.

Possibly, you don’t ever do this to women. Maybe you say things like, “I appreciate you!” or “It’s your inner beauty that counts!”

But maybe you’ve glanced down their shirt in the copy room on accident five too many times.

Or maybe you don’t say these things to girls while they walk down the street. Instead, you say them to your friends, inside the tiny cracking walls of your apartments. So no one hears; no one gets hurt. It's a just between the guys.

And then, just like that, it becomes easier. The first time a comment slips out in a kitchen amongst a bunch of guys, it's an accident. Then it becomes a joke. Then it becomes commonplace. Then it becomes real.

Suddenly, private conversations aren’t private anymore. The reticence becomes a whisper. And the whispered jokes become catcalls. And the catcalls become skin-crawling remarks and actions and movements and gestures that twist up our stomachs and force nervous lumps into our throats.

And we did not ask to be silent or fearful. Because the woman who says something back is causing a scene. The woman who is alone is dumb. The woman who says nothing is scared. The woman who runs is even more scared. The woman in too short a dress is “asking for it.”

I did not ask for this.

I did not ask to have people sling objectifying “compliments” at me as I’m walking down the street.

Just because I am a woman does not mean I want to be shouted at. Don’t I deserve better than that? Don’t we all?

It's easy to argue that, as a country and a society, we have come an extraordinary way from the days of outward and blatant disrespect and disregard for women. Women can vote! Women can go to school! Women can work! Women get paid equally (sometimes)! We don’t make them cover their heads or their bodies or their faces. We don’t keep them from places or businesses or opportunities.

Perhaps we feel making comments or catcalling isn’t harmful ... But what does it do to a woman’s dignity? To her spirituality? To her emotional security and stability?

And yet, have we, as a society, made equality safe for women?

We think we are keeping women protected. We pride ourselves, in America, with our equality and our rights and our fierce working women. And yet, we still scare women with our eyes. With our indelible words. With our exploitation and our magazines and our catcalls.

You Might Also Like

Do men know what it feels like to be looked at like we are looked at? To have gawking, bugging eyes glancing over your skin and body like it isn’t even your own? Like it isn’t even a body? To feel someone’s gaze penetrate through your clothing like that?

Is it possible to consider what that does to a woman’s dignity? To her spirituality? To her emotional security and stability? Those kinds of feelings do not build up the strong, confident women our country boasts it has empowered. They do not help show women they are loved and valued by their Creator. They do not build up women of strength and independence; they create women who cower.

I am not a supermodel. I do not look like Naomi Campbell or Britney Spears circa 2001. I am a normal, 25-year-old girl. I have arms and legs and hair. And no matter what I look like or what I’m wearing or who I am, I did not ask for this.

But sometimes, sometimes, men can make me feel like I did.

Top Comments

Erin Arendse


Erin Arendse commented…

Many people have claimed the opposite in this forum, but I don't think that Liz is in any way implying or stating that all men behave this way, or even that men who cat call regularly are irredeemable worthless pigs who hate women. But if I'm jogging in my neighborhood and (as happened to me just the other day) a man revs his engine as I cross the intersection and then proceeds to turn down the street where I'm running so he can yell lewd comments at me as he drives slowly past, the fear and vulnerability that I feel in that moment is truly painful. When that happens, I don't want my Christian brothers (and sisters!) to analyze the modesty factor of the t-shirt I'm wearing (we can talk about that, but it's another conversation!) or become defensive and accuse me of thinking that all men are pigs (I don't!). I want them to stand by me and fight with me against the injustice of being treated that way! That doesn’t necessarily mean chasing the guy down and giving him a piece of my mind, but I do believe the first step to fighting injustice is simply giving voice to its victims.

As an aside, we're fooling ourselves to imagine that simply increasing modesty will change the situation. Just do a little research on sexual violence against women in nations with extreme standards of feminine modesty (India, Pakistan, Afghanistan) and you won’t have a leg to stand on with that argument. I believe in physical, emotional, and social modesty for both men and women. It’s biblically mandated, closely tied with attitudes of humility and service, and is vital to building a healthy church community. But at the root of the problem Liz is addressing is the fact that sexual violence and harassment (against both men and women) is frequently swept aside and victims are too often encouraged to keep quiet about the abuse they receive.

Liz, thank you for giving a voice in this article.



Kristin commented…

I completely relate to this and often find myself frustrated with the "compliments" from random strangers. It is infuriating how so many men seem to feel entitled to comment on women's physical appearance as they often become offended when we ignore or reject their advances. Most of the time I wear headphones while I'm out around the city by myself so I can either legitimately not hear or believably pretend to not notice.

But one thing I would suggest, and that could even subtly help the situation, is to refer to yourself and other women as "women," not "girls." We are not "girls" and we all would think it sounds ridiculous to refer to men of a similar age as "boys." Yes, we usually refer to younger men as "guys" but the counterpart to that is not "girls," it's the outdated and quaint sounding "gals." I don't necessarily think that word is a good substitute, but it seems we should try to find some alternative if "woman" sounds too serious. I understand that this language is so pervasive in our culture sometimes I even catch myself referring to women in their 20s and 30s as "girls." But I think it perpetuates an infantilized, dependent image of women.


Landi Janes


Landi Janes commented…

Does NO really mean NO? LIVE debate against feminist:

And here's a full debate with a feminist about rape:

Garrett Keafer


Garrett Keafer commented…

After reading the article multiple times, I feel that not only are men themselves being lumped into the same category, but all comments that men make are as well.For instance, there is a difference between "Hey, sexy," accompanied by a catcall, and "Hey, you look really nice." The first is exactly what the author directs the article towards, while the second is far more innocent and is most likely an attempt to make her day. If I would say that to a woman, it would be similar to "nice shirt." It's not discriminating, it's not sexualized, it's not demeaning... it's just a compliment! Take that while keeping in mind that not all men say sexualized comments, and consider your day made.

Secondly, most "hey, sexy," comments can be avoided if you don't dress, well... sexy. Short skirts, low shirts, tight pants (yes, yoga pants ESPECIALLY), and tight tops all invite that kind of comment. It's in the media because sex sells. Avoid the kind of clothing that you think could invite those comments. We aren't to cause our brother (or sister) to stumble, so therefore, the responsibility lies on both sides of the argument. Men, practice self-control; women, practice mindful dress code. Be careful of what you wear, and we (men) will make the conscious, difficult, and ever present decision to turn away.

Women, you cannot always play the victim. There are times where you have done your side and taken responsibility for what you wear (because it DOES make a difference), and still you are objectified, still you feel the eyes go straight through your clothing. In that case, I'm sorry for the invasive things other men have done, and I will do what I can to protect you and help you. But why would any man want to help someone who has them lumped in with the bad guy all the time?

In summary: women are also in part responsible for their own objectification, but men need to be the courageous men we are told to be. Men and women are both somewhat victims, and we can learn from one another ways to avoid this crisis if we'd stop victimizing ourselves and alienating the other. Admittedly, women are more the victim than men. Men are secondhand victims; therefore, men need to stand up for the women in their lives, teach them how they can play their part (from a man's perspective), and make an effort to be decent. Meanwhile, women need to accept men's perspectives as valuable, and recognize that some of us are different and are trying to help, not condemn and blame you when we say "you need to watch how you dress." Take it seriously, because it could really change the tides of this battle.

Jessica Allen


Jessica Allen replied to Garrett Keafer's comment

What you wear doesn't make a difference at all. You can b wearing baggy sweat pants and a regular shirt that covers everything and still some gross creepy guy is going to say "Hey sexy". You don't have to wear short, tight clothes, for a man to catcall and harass you.

Jessica Allen


Jessica Allen replied to Garrett Keafer's comment

Also you say "recognize that some of us are different and are trying to help, not condemn and blame you" yet, you do exactly that and blame the women for what they are wearing. It shouldn't matter what they are wearing men should still have respect and control themselves. Women shouldn't have to change or be mindful of what they wear and limit themselves just because of some disgusting men in the world.



NIKKI commented…

I would like for all us females to get into the habit of referring to ourselves as women and not girls. We call a man a man because it is clear if we call him a boy it possibly has a negative connotation (maybe insinuating that he's immature, childish, etc.). I feel the same applies to us. We're not defenseless or weak children, we're capable, respect-deserving women. Liz Riggs, you are not a 25-year-old girl. You're a 25-year-old woman. Yeah its just a word, but words are powerful.

Nicholas Johnson


Nicholas Johnson commented…

I agree whole heartedly with the idea that women are aloud to be proud and not have to be afraid of a man. I support your rights and your freedoms and I don't want this question to be thought less of just because it came from a man.
What are men supposed to do to make the situation of being attracted to women better for you? We (in most cases) are drawn to the sight of a beautiful women. And I refuse to believe that this is wrong. I refuse to believe that me being attracted to a girl is 'sexist'. So my question stands. What do you expect of men? Do you want us to never comment on how you look, or do you only want it to happen on dates? Pease tell me.

Sierra Allen


Sierra Allen commented… a Christian woman, I completely understand the need for conversation around this important topic, but I think this article completely misses the larger issue. It completely ignores the fact that we don't live in a vacuum. Society and culture have radically changed and we have a social media culture and television programming that communicate to us that the more depraved you behave, the more attention you'll get. We have women (and I think of the hip hop culture but it's certainly not limited to this), that have women undressing and behaving in sexually provocative ways on Youtube, in music video and television. At what point to we factor in the fact that culture has made it easier for men to act out? That culture has normalized this type of behavior. And most of all... WOMEN need to be held accountable as well. Where's all the outrage at the Nicki Minaj's of our time? Women who strip down naked and suggestively gyrate for media attention. This is what our men are consuming. Maybe not our Christian men, but the men who give you the catcalls on the street most likely. Christian culture - stop acting outraged like you don't live in the world we do. And for Pete's sake, hold other women accountable too. Rant over.

Please log in or register to comment

Log In