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Moment Mondays: “Catcalled” by Cathy Alter

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

By Larry Smith

On Mondays, we’re featuring a story from our upcoming book, The Moment, coming out in January 2012 from Harper Perennial. What’s a “moment”? It’s a story, told in words, images, emails or even the occasional Tweet, about something large or small, playful or profound, that changed someone’s life. Everybody has a Moment—what’s yours?

The story below, “Catcalled,” comes from Washington, DC-based writer Cathy Alter. Alter is both a longtime contributor to our community and a memoirist who’s been interviewed about her writing process on SMITH.

By Cathy Alter

It’s sad to say that I became a woman the day I was objectified by a man. It’s sad because I would be lying if I didn’t say I liked it.

It was summer and I was 15. Still flat as a board, but tall and willowy, my hipless torso and ribbon legs predicting the shape I would eventually own in adulthood. I realize now that I was pretty back then, but at the time, I compared myself to my mother, whose exotic Cleopatra hair and red painted lips seemed more glamorous. My mother moved through life in stilettos, polished her nails with Revlon’s Love that Red, and, as owner of her own women’s clothing boutique, enjoyed the reputation among the other suburban mothers of West Hartford, CT as fashion’s final say.

My mother was so irresistible to me that when we walked down the sidewalk that summer afternoon after a day of shopping for new school shoes, I couldn’t help but reach for her hand. The two of us shared long piano player fingers and slim wrists that wore watchbands on the last hole.

As we crossed the main drag, an eighteen-wheeler that had been idling at the stoplight let out a long, extended blast of the horn. I dropped my mother’s hand.

“Hey sexy!” shouted the trucker, his oily elbow resting on the open window. “When are we gonna make love?”

My mother, who actually loved getting catcalled, put her hand on her hip and did a little shake.

“Thanks!” she called cheerily.

“Lady,” shouted the driver. “I was talking to your daughter.”

And in that instant, I became someone else. I immediately recognized the significance of being noticed (and of my mother being dismissed), and the first delirious high of being appraised.
It’s sad to say that I became a woman the day I was objectified by a man. It’s sad because I would be lying if I didn’t say I liked it. If I didn’t confess to being jubilant about it. I looked at myself in the mirror afterward and finally saw something that was pleasing. Something that could take me places, could get me things. Something that could, and would, get me into all sorts of trouble.

Cathy Alter is the author of a memoir, Up for Renewal: What Magazines Taught Me About Love, Sex and Starting Over. Read an interview about her book on SMITH.

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