Catcalling and Cappuccinos: My Rude Awakening on the Streets of San Francisco

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The following story was produced for Youth Takeover week at KQED.

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When I was 11, my best friend Elena lived about three blocks away from me. Almost every Saturday, I would hop on my razor scooter and roll downtown to her house. By the time we had graduated elementary school, we had turned Noe Valley into our very own playground. We would scoot down to 24th Street and get caramel frappuccinos at Starbucks with extra caramel and whipped cream. We would then scoot to Day Street Park, frappuccinos in hand and flirt with middle school boys playing basketball. It was our weekend routine and the highlight of every single week.

Then one day, everything changed. It started every other Saturday. I woke up, got dressed, and texted Elena that I was on my way. I remember exactly what I was wearing - light grey sweats, a cropped black tank top, and an oversized flannel in the 2014 fashion. I hopped on my scooter and began the familiar ride to Elena’s house.

I was one block away when a truck rumbled by, a big white truck with two grown men in the front seats. It happened in less than a second: The man in the passenger seat stuck his head out of the window, looked me up and down and whistled while the driver yelled “damn,” and laughed.

Before I knew it, they were gone. Fear enveloped my body. My chest tightened and my heartbeat shot up like a rocket. That was the first time I had ever been catcalled. For such a short interaction, it had a very long-term effect on my 11-year-old brain. Suddenly, the commute down to Elena’s house, one that used to be second nature, became a scary uncertain journey. Every car that drove past made me feel paranoid. Every man became a potential danger to me. I was so young and no longer felt safe in this neighborhood, which had always been home.

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Eventually, I got over it, and now I can sadly say that catcalls and other instances of sexual harassment are occurrences I’ve become far too used to. But that doesn’t make it okay.

Every day, women and even young girls are being objectified and made to feel unsafe. I don’t have a little sister, but if I did I would tell her to be confident about herself and to not let men stop her from going out and doing what she wants to do. I would also tell her to stay safe and cautious and, most importantly, to remember that even though some people in the world may view her as a sex object, she is so much more. Every woman is so much more than that, and that is something we should all remember.

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Karlee Van attends George Washington High School in San Francisco and produced this piece through the 826 Valencia Tenderloin Center writing program.

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