Seventeen was an awkward time for Kelly, her physical maturity exceeding her mind’s. The first time she’d been catcalled, she’d been too young to know what it meant. Now that she had, walking on the streets felt more like a walking on a runway, only without the glamour.
Every man was a judge, and her body was on display for the world to see. Her attractiveness served as a sort of criterion to see if she was worth being treated to a leud remark or a stare that seemed to say it all. On better days she could find herself being treated like a decent human being, but only if she’d been considered attractive enough to deserve it.
After making her way home, she settled down to have a chat with her mother.
“Men are dogs,” she complained. “I can’t stand a single one.”
“I suppose you can’t stand your father then.”
“Ma, you know what I mean.”
“Not all men are the same Kelly.”
“Majority rules,” she mumbled.
Ena sighed, pausing her duties. “I’ll agree that something has changed. But there is something you can do about it.”
“Fight fire with fire.” That was the slogan of an activist group she and her friends hoped to form someday.
She shook her head. “Child. that’s not how I raised you child. Do better.”
Kelly sighed. “You don’t know what it’s like, ma. Sometimes you have to fight to get what you want.”
“And I agree. But there are other ways,” she continued, “and quite frankly, I dont think what we’re doin’ now is working. Fightin’ and insultin’ each other all the time.”
“I think it’s working fine.”
“Is it? ‘Cause I thought what we wanted was peace. These days, all I see is hate.”
Kelly paused in a moment of reflection. “Well then what do you suggest?”
“I say we fix the problem where it starts. Teach ’em early.” She explained, “Believe it or not, those men weren’t born that way.”
Kelly sighed. “So what you’re saying is, I’m powerless.”
“Who has more power than you? Speak up! Speak to the source of the problem. Make your plea.”
“But what about right now, ma? What about all those men on the street looking at me like a slab of meat?” Emotions were running high. Ena could tell.
Placing a hand on her shoulder, she comforted her. “Respect them.” She continued, “but more importantly, respect yourself. Don’t let anyone – man or woman- tell you what you’re worth.”
“You just don’t get it, ma.”
“What’s not to get? You want peace, but it’s going to take time to get it. Start with yourself.”
Kelly hated the old-fashioned. But in some ways, she could understand it. Her mother, however old-fashioned she was, only wanted to show her that equality, at its core, was about love.