A couple days ago Kyle wrote about her experience running in Santiago and some of her outrage at the men who feel it is acceptable to make obscene gestures and inappropriate commentary simply because she is female. This was actually a topic I wanted to hit on during NaBloPoMo: What exactly do men get out of such commentary? Do they really expect some cat calls and leud remarks to get them a date? Or is it simply a game to see who has bigger balls?
But then, since Kyle has said a lot of what I was thinking– not to mention given a pretty good Spanish lesson along the way– I thought maybe a more comparative perspective would be interesting.
Living in different cultures, it is not just the language one needs to learn but also how to carry ones self and how to react in uncomfortable situations. Growing up in the states, women are sometimes subjected to cat calls or inappropriate comments. However, at least in my experience, these experiences were few and far enough in between to not completely eat at me. Also, I had a rich vocabulary to respond if and when I choose.
In Chile, the commentary is much more frequent– especially for a gringa living in a small town like Rancagua which is not a tourist destination. In high school, it drove me crazy. I dyed my hair black. I avoided people’s eyes. And, every so often, I would explode and yell at the men. Some of Kyle’s phrases have come out of my lips many a times. My other favorite response is not to assail the man with derogatory comments, but rather to have the same attitude towards them as they have towards me. AKA throwing out lewd and inappropriate statements. This approach generally flusters and embarrassed them enough so that I am left alone. Overtime I learned to tune out most of what is said at me and for the most part I am not really upset any more. When I am, often it is not what is actually said, but rather the concept that it is appropriate, acceptable, and commonplace to degrade women in this way.
In Moldova I also had problems. My biggest frustration here was that I did not have the words to adequately yell at my verbal assailants. When we asked Peace Corps for things we could say to defend ourselves we were given useless (in my opinion) phrases like “You make me sad when you do that” or “please refrain from continuing this action”. Further problems stemmed from feeling invaded not just by men, but also on occasion by little old grandmothers who believed it was appropriate to feel a young girl up to determine if she is fertile or not. Really, what do you say to grandma as she is squeezing your breasts? Finally, as opposed to Chile where pretty much any male can and does make inappropriate comments and passes, in Moldova mostly you just had to worry about inebriated people.
Cambodia was the other side of the spectrum. Although men thought awful things, went to prostitutes and considered women as property and meat, they would rarely express it to you. The idea of standing out in such a way was embarrassing culturally. In the six months I lived there I only ever hear one really inappropriate comment, and he was obviously drunk. However with the threat that I would start screaming if he did not immediately walk away, he did. The idea of some barang (gringa) screaming like a mad woman was enough to shame him.