When “Fuck off” is the only appropriate response

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.

5 comments

  1. That kind of attitude really drives me insane… I lived all my life in Argentina so I should be used to it by now…. A lot of people think I’m crazy because I get mad about all this and they don’t even find this comments disrespectful! , but I just refuse to accept this agressions as “normal” behaviour. I even went to see a therapist beause there’s no way you can respond that can make you feel better so I ended up taking it out on myself… The thing is, you respond they get worse, you ignore them and the get worse! What can you do? You have no idea how much this kind of comments piss me off!

  2. Very well said Clare. Like you mentioned, it’s not even that the comments in themselves are always so horrible, it’s more the whole machismo thing where men think that saying anything they feel like is OK. that’s what gets me!

    Good to know I’m not alone in my frustrations. And it was very interesting to read about your comparisons of other countries!

    We are moving out of Estacion Central hopefully to Providencia soon so we’ll be in a neighborhood where I’m not the only blond. That might help, we’ll see🙂

  3. I was trying to think if there would be any evolutionary purpose to it such as a peacock’s feathers or other male birds’ bright colors. It’s like, “Hey ladies, I’m over here!” Or, maybe it has to do with being an alpha male and dominating the females in the pack. I am definitely not an AM and have never taking part in cat calling. Thank God for evolution🙂

    The most recent generation of men in America seem to be more respectful of women than previous ones, although I read a recent article at The Guardian about the reliance on the cowboy mentality in the US after 9/11. Here’s the link:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,,2210382,00.html

  4. Hi David. Thanks for all your comments. It is always fun to have new readers. That said, this comment was especially interesting because of the article. Everyone who stops by here, if anyone is actually stopping boy, should really take time to click on the link. Very interesting perspective.

  5. It is interesting to read about how you see his supposed Chilean behavior, but my Swedish friends used to say the same about American men, so I believe the discussion should centre on the image that men have on women in general. My experience is that people react stronger against bad things went “the others” does them. I know how Chilean men are (many of them), but to believe that this is a local problem could be self-defeating. I mean if we want to do something about it. PS. Excuse my English.

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