I don’t remember the first time I got catcalled. I must have been in middle school. I grew up in a peaceful, small town, so I started walking everywhere I wanted to go starting in the 6th grade. Walking while female is taken as an invitation by catcallers, so the shouts, honks, and comments were a constant part of my adolescent experience. And as I grew into adulthood, they became part of the background noise. Those comments have been woven so deeply into the fabric of my life that I began to forget they were there.
Then, at the age of 24, I moved to South Korea.
In the past year, I have only been catcalled one time. For the first time in my life, I am living without catcalling.
At first I didn’t notice. I was busy figuring out the subways and buses. I was constantly meeting new people, and trying to navigate my way to unfamiliar locations. Also, it was winter time. Everybody was bundled up under thick coats. But then summer came, and the layers came off. My figure was revealed for the world to see! I try to be respectful of Korean sensibilities. I exclusively wear high-necked shirts, never showing even a hint of cleavage. But I won’t go so far as to wear the over sized, shapeless outfits Korean women wear, so my curves are undeniably visible. And yet, there were no catcalls, no comments.
Part of this is due to some subtleties in Korean culture. Korean people don’s usually start up conversations with strangers. Even in a social setting, everyone must be introduced before they can chat. In that context, the dating culture is very different from in the US. To flirt with a stranger would be rude. To call to a stranger from a distance would be shocking.
The truth is, the only reason I got catcalled at all was because I went to a bar district frequented by foreigners. The guy called to me and said, “Hey, your beautiful.” He was American; possibly a soldier.
Before I came to Korea, I worried that the shape of my body would draw unwanted attention. But it hasn’t really happened. I feel free here. I never realized how I carried strangers comments around like wights every day until there were none. I am more happy in my own skin than I have ever been before. I am so grateful to have had the experience of living without catcalling. Every woman and girl should get to know what this feels like.