Chasing Hemingway

Street Suitors

Okay guys, time for our first ever officially interactive post! Get excited.

I’m quite familiar – as are those of you who followed my blog in the first half of 2009 – with the Indian/Southeast Asian man’s way of treating women, particularly foreign ones, on the street. I imagine it’s also similar to that in the Middle East/North Africa/large parts of Central & South America, though I base that off of other people’s stories and not first-hand experience. That is to say, to men on the street, women on the street are fair game for all sorts of harassment, particularly if they happen to look Western/foreign or not be wearing baggy, all-covering clothing (though sometimes this latter condition is waived if you are the former). It bothered me, I hated it, I wanted to punch men, and couldn’t wait to get back to Western cities where everyone would just ignore me.

My friend Michal laughed at me when I said that, and said she’d been getting harassment on the street from men since she was about thirteen; I couldn’t imagine that, remembering, at worst, only comments from skeezy homeless Frenchmen in Paris, stares and calls of bella! in Rome, and hollers from construction workers pretty much anywhere in the US. Sometimes I’d gotten compliments from homeless guys on the streets of DC and Berkeley, but it usually only made my day, because they were just being nice and hoping for some money (which, by the way, is probably one of the best ways to get someone to give you money, in my opinion).

Needless to say, since returning from Asia, I have been infinitely more aware of how men treat me – not just on the street, but in stores, offices, pretty much anywhere – and I am sad to say that I will never again be able to feel I can walk down the street ignored. Did I just not notice it before? Maybe. It’s depressing. But you get used to it quickly, and only remember the memorable ones to pass on to friends as anecdotes. (For examples, see Métro Stories.)

Which means it surprised me when I was telling Alfie about my latest encounter (On my way into the complex where my office is, yesterday, the man bringing his motorbike in before me did a double-take and grinned broadly at me before starting to chat away, saying how beautiful I was and on and on; I was in such a bad mood that I wanted to yell at him.) and he said, “You seem to get a lot of sketchy guys hitting on you here – is that normal?” To which my response was, “Welcome to the life of a woman.”

But then I started to wonder. This is where you all come in. Ladies, girls, women (pick your appellation) – do you get hit on an absurd amount? Do you just block it out? Are you so inured to it that you don’t even know? And how do you feel about the guys who hit on you? Obviously there are the one just doing it to be a pain, such as the construction workers who holler, but there are also the homeless guys who say, “Good morning, beautiful,” as well as the guys who propose marriage in the métro or genuinely think they can pick you up by chatting to you on the street. Do you want to smack them, or do you find them bemusing if stupid? Worst experiences? Best experiences?

(In other news, it’s getting cold again. Couldn’t feel my toes again tonight. Poo.)

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This entry was published on January 19, 2010 at 11:33 pm. It’s filed under being a woman, France, India, metro, Paris, travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

9 thoughts on “Street Suitors

  1. An interesting issue.One can’t really generalise
    All Women. There’s a vibe which some of the pseudo glam lot generates,”C’mon, if heads don’t turn, then I haven’t done my homework”, so what do you say of that.In a foreign land,you may be letting your hair down and sometimes your guard too.The male species is picking up signals,if you are unnecessarily showing skin,in asian countries you are asking for it.That’s a general psyche.

  2. soooooooooosannah on said:

    Weeeeell in my experience it is ONLY the dodgy types who will actually hit on me in the street. but i sure do get plenty of lewd stares from guys, both while walking around and in the bar/café/whatever. i also teach 21 year old boys for most of the day so i’ve gotten used to deflecting unsolicited marriage proposals.

  3. Aunt Jan on said:

    Part of me tells you to enjoy it while it lasts. After a certain age, a woman becomes invisible. Another part of me remembers the time I spent in Europe as a young woman, with everything from really funny to very scary encounters, with a few annoying ones in the middle. When I lived in Italy, I made friends with a group of older-than-me-but-still-young men and women in Venice. I was out one evening with the intellectual of the group when a group of very drunk British sailors staggered into the piazza where we were sitting. He had been trying to answer my questions about why Italian men seemed to try to hit on every foreign-looking woman they saw. My ever-helpful friend decided to yell to the drunken Brits, “hey, she speaks English” (pointing at me). I was then surrounded and almost asphyxiated by bear hugs from these guys. I’m yelling at Guido to help get me out of the fix he’s gotten me into. He’s laughing and telling me to relax, nothing bad is going to happen. The sailors did eventually let me go and nothing bad happened. I was never frightened, but I’m not sure I thought it was quite as amusing as my Italian friend. He made his point, though–men of any country will hit on you under the right circumstances.

  4. I’m not a woman, BUT. One night in Paris, I was walking by Raidd, a gay bar in the Marais, and I was approached by an old man who I’m *pretty* sure was homeless. If not homeless, certainly disheveled, unwashed, and drunk off his ass. I was just trying to get home, but all of a sudden this dude is in front of me, slurring, “Tu cherches un mec?”

    Which basically translates to, “Hey, you looking for a guy?” And I thought to myself, “Well…yeah–but preferably not one who literally just stumbled into my path on his way to passing out on the sidewalk.” I just kept walking, a little amused, a little worried that he’d follow me, and–frankly–a little offended that with all the intimidatingly good-looking guys hanging out around Raidd, he was the one who considered me in his league. But this only happened the one time, so I concede that it must happen much more frequently to women.

  5. Kakalak on said:

    I just block it out. I think I’m kind of immune to it after Paris (seriously? you never noticed it in Paris until now?). Sometimes it is seriously sketch and I feel the need to walk into a store/coffeeshop/office building, but I find that level of sketchiness rarely happens here in the States. Here it’s really just looks and lewd comments by the crazies.

  6. I still think it’s weird you never noticed it before. Mainly because I KNOW people have hit on you! Oh well. I think the best way to deal with it is to just block it out. Or imagine despicable things happening to the offender. Whatever works.

  7. @kesa21, kakalaks: it’s not so much that I didn’t notice before so much as that I saw it as general behavior and not worth noticing. Definitely did notice it in Paris but I never actually felt threatened or anything; I still don’t feel threatened by it in Paris, but rather find it disturbingly more personal than it ever used to be. Like, I’m now afraid of this guy (the one who I ran into going into work) seeing me again and recognizing me and trying to talk to me again. Whereas, random dude on street who hollers or whatever, I don’t feel he’s going to remember me, it’s more just because, whatever, I’m there. The difference also being in Asia that the stares were sooo intense that you felt violated. I always felt they would remember me, even though I know it wasn’t personal.

    @Riten: I think you can and can’t generalize. Because I think you can generalize women’s experiences – as Nick pointed out, men don’t usually get it the same way, and as every woman posting on here demonstrated, women take it for granted – but it’s true that it’s different depending upon country and situation. I understand the idea that women do somewhat expect to be looked at and feel let down if they don’t get ANY attention – that’s biological, in a sense – but I think different cultures have manifested this differently. That is to say, different cultures have different ways of acceptably expressing sexual attraction, and the crossover can be jarring for both sides.

    What you say about women “asking for it,” though, is one of the biggest things feminists fight against. A rape court case was once decided against the victim because she was wearing a short skirt and it was decided that, because of her attire, she was “asking to be raped.” Needless to say, it caused a huge uproar and I believe it was overturned – it is certainly not the precedent used anymore in the US. While it is true that women should not be stupid – for example, wearing a bra and mini skirt and heels out in the middle of the night in a dangerous part of town when you’re by yourself would be just plain stupid – they only have to be so careful because the generally accepted idea is that men can’t control themselves. And because men can’t – and, really, don’t have to – control themselves, then it’s up to women to “ask for it” or not. Women have to do the thinking for both sides of the species? Well, that wouldn’t be the first time that’s been mentioned, but I don’t think that should have to be the case. Why can’t women be allowed by wear what they want – in socially appropriate settings, of course – without being accused of catering to or teasing men, in some way or another? Yes, I dress to look good, but I’m not usually trying to attract anyone; rather, I happen to like nice clothes and looking good, I feel better about myself when I look nice.

    I would also like to point out that when I was in Asia, I mostly wore baggy, covering clothing. In India, I almost exclusively wore Indian clothing (kurtas, etc), as did all the friends with whom I traveled. This did not make any difference whatsoever in how men treated us (I’m talking really about on the street). It was purely the fact that we were women – particularly foreign women – that influenced their behavior towards us. I understand that there are foreign women who go to those places to pick up guys, but shouldn’t there be some ability to distinguish between a women actively trying to hide her body and one trying to attract a man?

  8. While a lot of what you say is the essence of what freedom is all about,women across the globe are going overboard if they can manage to//ofcourse in Tehran a cousin or uncle is not entitled to see the hair strands on the head of a woman, but tell me does feel good and nice
    include a cleavage where above 90% of the breasts are visible,what is it,Freud’s interpretation of admiring one’s gland or something,and surely women dress in accordance with the venue they are hitting,fully covered in subways and transition to plunging neckline in the lobby of the hotel or bar,and what for those cosmetic surgeries and implants, for whose benifit and tattoos now,is it not sacrilege of the body nature has gifted us, men are bigger culprits but why on earth are women
    causing a risk to their own safety.

  9. I’m pretty aware of this stuff, and whether it has to do with my fantastically gay haircut or the fact that people in San Francisco are particularly mellow, it’s been a long time since anyone macked on me on the streets, catcalled, what have you. It may have happened once or twice in Boston, but even then, my most flirtatious interaction with older straight men was them calling me honey while giving me change at the gas station. So… I get what you’re saying, but how does that interact with variances in the way your appearance genders you and hails others?

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