Monday, June 11, 2007

Whistlin' a change

A couple of nights ago a group of us were out on South Beach’s Lincoln Road, having drinks, eating, and laughing. And then, the whistling began.

Lincoln Road is a closed-off-to-cars street where tables and chairs line a six-foot-wide pedestrian walkway. We were on one side – closest to the bar – and a table of four (three men and one woman) sat on the opposite side.

I realized that every time I heard whistling – followed by incessant laughing – it was coming from the direction of the foursome. In no time at all I was 100 percent sure that they were whistling at the hordes of people who walked by the tables.

But it wasn’t just anyone who they were whistling and laughing at, it was directed towards groups of women, or single women. I began monitoring the action – just to make sure that I was not crazy – and indeed they were never whistling when there was a man in the group.

As each group or individual woman passed, they would suffer the same humiliation as those before them. Because I was standing at a table further down the road than the ignoramus table, I had a clear view of these women’s faces. They NEVER looked thrilled, they NEVER looked as though someone noticed them as sexy, and they NEVER incited the whistling…they NEVER even looked over at them until they were publicly humiliated by their catcalling.

After the 20th girl (or group) passed, I just could not take it anymore. I was meaning to hold back – because honestly, you never know how a bunch of drunkards are going to react to a life lesson – but before I knew it, I was crossing the pedestrian divide and standing over their table.

Calmly, I asked them if they were whistling at women as they passed. All eyes were on me, but no one dare admit to their wrong doings – and no one fought the accusation either. I did not want to simply say that their act was appalling and that they should be beat up for their sexist harassment, but instead I wanted to fight fire with humanity. I politely explained to them that these women do not look happy to be called out amongst the hundreds of partiers on Lincoln Road, and in fact, the ones who were by themselves, looked downright scared of her verbal attackers. More, I told them that just like men, women have the right to wear what they want and not feel like their outfits (or just having boobs for that matter) deem them candidates for marginalization.

They nodded in agreement.

I never asked them to stop though because I figured I said enough already, and I was already on my fourth beer. To my glee-filled surprise, the whistling ceased. And within the next five minutes the group stood up and walked away; down the same path that their victims eagerly strolled along.

Sure, they may have been annoyed and left, or happen have a meeting time with other friends, but I contend that the foursome left because their actions met its consequence.

Standing up for those around us CAN make a difference, and even more, standing up without raising one’s voice, or belittling someone can really turn the tides. I mean, no one wants to be made to look like an ass – not the innocent women who walked by their table, nor the antagonists themselves. We all come from environmental situations where bigotry, racism, classism, sexism, etc, permeate. But there is wiggle room for change – one advocation at a time.

That night, I whistled myself a happy, social justice tune.