Thursday, October 18, 2018

For those who don't believe, Number Four

I am 30, I am 31, I am 32
I don't even think these bear mentioning, just because they are so much part of the culture. It didn't occur to me until yesterday that these would even count as harassment, but then I watched this brilliant piece and it made me remember.

In Panama, in Chile, in Peru, in Guatemala, men say things to women.

It's supposed to be a compliment! they protest.

They say things like, "If I were your pants" or "Saint Michael opened the gates of heaven and an angel fell out!"

The second one is nicer than the first, but - if you are not accustomed to men you do not know talking to you - staring at you - in public, it's disconcerting.

In Panama, in high school, my best friend Julie and I would take the city bus home after swim meets. We'd be at the bus stop in Panama City, two ten graders with wet hair, long t-shirts, and shorts. 

Men would make this weird sucking kissy noise and shout, "!Ay! Chica americana!" as they passed in their cars or walking on the sidewalk.

I'm not sure what we were supposed to do with that.

It's disconcerting to have men yell things at you. You are used to the rules in the US, where a man yelling at you on the street (at least in Texas) can precede a man attacking you. When I got to Chile, men yelled things at me. I started planning my escape routes - where could I go if the situation became dangerous? Was there a house nearby? A major street? A cop?

After a while, I got used to it. It was just part of the landscape. I asked Chilean women about it and they laughed it off. "It's just what men DO," they explained.

I go to the movies on Sunday afternoon. There is nothing else to do - everything else is closed. 

The movie theater is almost empty. I pick a seat in the middle.

Five minutes later, a man walks in. He looks around. He sees all the empty seats. 

He sits right. Next. To. Me.

I exhale impatiently and move five seats over.

He moves and sits next to me again.

"There are a million empty seats! Why can't you sit in one of them?" I hiss angrily.

I tell this story at work the next day. My female co-workers - I work with a co-op of indigenous women whose main purpose is the empowerment of women - laugh and tell me that a woman who goes to the movies alone is trying to get picked up.

A Chilean woman is nostalgic for La Dictadura. 

"There were no rapes then," she says.

"There were no rapes reported," I answer.

When I finish my Peace Corps stint, I return to the US by land. 

I find seats by myself on trains, buses, ferries. I find seats alone when there are plenty of other empty seats.

Men sit by me.

I move. 

They move with me.

I politely ask them to sit elsewhere.

They do not.

They start talking to me.

I tell them I do not want to talk and to leave me alone.

They ask, concerned, if I am not feeling well.

Because the only possible reason a woman would not welcome male attention would be if she were ill.