The first time I remember being catcalled I was 16 years old walking from the parking lot to my high school. The parking lot was only three blocks away, but it still gave the two grown men slowly following me in their car enough time to repeatedly ask me what grade I was in.
Almost 10 years later, I still remember that day. I still remember what I was wearing. I still remember feeling every inch of my body burn hot with shame as I felt their eyes on me.
In an interview published Wednesday, 14-year-old "Girl Meets World" actress Rowan Blanchard revealed that her feminist activism was sparked after a similar encounter she had with a man at just 12 years old.
"I remember I was at a movie with my friend, and we were both in skirts... We were waiting outside the movies for my dad to pick us up, and this grown man came over and was like, 'You guys need a ride anywhere?' I was 12 years old and my friend was 15," Blanchard told Interview Magazine. "I always see girls getting catcalled. But up until that point, I hadn’t experienced it. And it was like I was out-of-body for a second."
Blanchard's story immediately resonated with me. I remember the realization I had that day walking to school: Wow, so this is what happens? This is what women go through. It was hard to understand at the time because I was not a woman -- I was a child.
I wanted to know if other women felt the same way Blanchard and I did the first time we were catcalled. So I asked women on Twitter to share their stories using the hashtag #FirstTimeIWasCatcalled.
Hundreds of women responded to my callout with heartbreaking stories. Many of the women shared my experience, but most detailed stories of harassment when they were much younger than 16.
As Julie Zeilinger, founder of feminist blog The F Bomb, pointed out on Twitter: 85 percent of women report being harassed before the age of 17 and 67 percent of women are harassed before the age of 14.
Here are just a few of the heart-wrenching stories women shared using #FirstTimeIWasCatcalled.
From Blanchard's experience of blatant harassment to other women's experiences with gawking or whistling, these heartbreaking stories reveal the reality all women deal with in public spaces. Street harassment is a subtle yet constant reminder to women that our bodies don't belong to us alone.
The common factor among all these stories is how every woman felt when she was catcalled for the first time: scared, ashamed, disgusted, confused. Women are forced to deal with this harassment at such a young age that it becomes a normal right of passage. And that's unacceptable.
Do you remember the first time you experienced street harassment? Share your story on Twitter with #FirstTimeIWasCatcalled.
Head over to Twitter to read more #FirstTimeIWasCatcalled stories or scroll through the slideshow below.
Need help? In the U.S., visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline operated by RAINN. For more resources, visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website. To learn more about street harassment head over to Hollaback!.
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