I was walking down the street hand in hand with my sweetie on one of the first truly warm days of spring. We were on our way back from buying produce, a bag of vegetables weighing down my shoulder, talking about what we might cook. As we approached my house, two five-year-old boys playing on the sidewalk called out to us.
“Nice tits!” one yelled from his scooter, the one with the handlebars almost as tall as his head.
My teeth clenched.
“Nice ass!” his playmate called out.
I squeezed my sweetie’s hand tighter and walked a little faster. I could feel the weight of my brow furrowing. I’d never been cat-called by a five year old before; I wasn’t sure how to respond. These were kids I knew, kids I saw daily and talked to sometimes about their games or toys, their classes and sports teams. These kids had sweetly asked me “what are you doing?” every time I was out gardening last summer.
“Hey! Tits! Ass!” Even in their young voices, I could hear a sense of power in these words.
“Be respectful!” I called back as we approached. Truly persuasive words to a pair of five year olds, I’m sure. We were rounding the corner of my front walk, I was fumbling with the key at my door, hurrying for this moment to be over.
“Hey!” he yelled as I finally got the door open. “You have a big booty!”
“Be respectful!” I locked the door behind me, leaning into it to turn the deadbolt, hiding in my own house. The darkness of the indoors replaced the sunny sidewalk.
I remember spitting out the word, “Fuck!” I remember walking across the house, throwing my keys, throwing my purse, I remember feeling stupid and angry and powerless, I remember uttering a bitter “fucking bullshit” as I grabbed a cutting board and an eggplant. I pulled a knife out of the drawer, and it made hard sounds as it hit the board at the end of each forceful cut.
I thought about the glee I’d heard in their voices. They’d learned something new about how the world works, and they were testing it out. In the voices of these children I sensed a pride in having newly discovered that men were superior to women, and that this was a way in which that superiority is exerted. The eggplant was in pieces; there were tears in my eyes.
My sweetie touched my arm, gave me a long hug. I didn’t recover my good mood for the rest of the day.