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OK so this isn’t a normal hollaback shoutout. This is more like my verbal travellers diarrhoea (see what I did there??). I’m not sure its really in the right place, but I hope it might be useful to some of you who need a response to ‘those’ questions or responses when you share your stories of harassment from your travels.
Street harassment abroad and what not to say
I have travelled in 4 continents now, I’ve done a brief inter-railing stint around Europe and then to Borneo, Southern Africa and now I’m in the Caribbean. In all these places I’ve experienced street harassment. I doubt there’s many, if any, places I could travel where this wouldn’t be an issue, even in England it happens to me on a weekly(ish) basis.
My involvement in hollaback has made me almost hyper-aware of the unhealthy views many people have of street harassment in the UK, but I’d never really thought about it on my travels before. That is, until the other day when I was walking through town and someone shouted something along the lines of ‘hey sexy’ in the local language-Papimento. I mentioned it in conversation with a friend back home, who has previously been supportive when I’ve complained about street harassment, but his not so great response of: “Hey sexy? Get you!” made me think of how responses to tales harassment abroad differ from harassment in the UK. I’ve found its somehow less acceptable to complain about what we experience abroad, you’re supposed to be find it funny rather than intimidating and we’re told that its just part of foreign travel or somehow we brought it on ourselves and there is an underlying message that we should suck it up or stay home.
On my first two travels (inter-railing and Borneo) I was intimidated by this harassment. I actually believed a significant proportion of the men who approached me would do me harm if given the opportunity. This paranoia was fuelled by well meaning but misguided advice and warnings on ‘staying safe’ given to me before I left. The phrasing of (some of) this advice implied that if I wasn’t following it, the harassment (and anything worse that might happen) was my fault and it added a negative twinge to my trips. Whilst it pays to be cautious, common sense would have you do that anyway and so advice or comments like this are not welcome, especially when its given in hindsight. So here’s my guide on what not to say to someone who’s told you their story of street harassment whilst abroad.
“You shouldn’t travel alone because you’re a woman”
This is the worst. The most annoying. I wouldn’t lose any respect for anyone who is reluctant to travel alone, because yes, you definitely get more unwanted attention as a woman travelling alone, and it can be intimidating. But attention is not the same as danger, and travelling alone is not necessarily less safe. And if you have already made the decision to travel alone it is not something you want to hear, nor is it useful advice. So don’t say it. Nowhere is totally safe, there are dangerous neighbourhoods in every city, and these dangers aren’t exclusive to women, you would be a fool to travel in some neighbourhoods alone at night no matter your size, strength and gender. Common sense (avoiding dangerous neighbourhoods, not using badly placed cash machines, not walking around late at night) is a necessity wherever you travel, but I doubt I am less likely to be attacked in London or Manchester than I was Cape Town , would you tell a woman not to visit Manchester alone?
“you should take it as a compliment/ they were just trying to be nice”
Someone said this to me a couple of days ago when I complained that my time on the beach in Grenada was cut short because I was a sick of men approaching me whenever I sat down, so I kept walking. I wasn’t scared of them, they gave me no reason to suspect they would attempt to hurt me or steal my wallet,but it was annoying, I wanted to sit in the shade read my book not chat about why everyone on the beach calls him “Scorpion” or explain why I don’t want to go on Abe’s boat and get a tour of the island.
I can see how on first thought someone who hasn’t had to experience street harassment on a regular basis can’t see why being told you’re attractive by total strangers isn’t a positive experience, but when I tell you about a time when it wasn’t, please just take my word for it and don’t argue.In this instance, I’m sure ‘Scorpion’ was trying it on with every female tourist on the beach who didn’t have a man with her, its irritating in itself and it isn’t nice to be objectified. And if you try and ignore them or keep walking, some men who start with these ‘harmless compliments’ can get really pushy and it can be intimidating. Not to mention some of the ‘compliments’ can be pretty lecherous and make you uncomfortable on that basis alone.
And as for “they were just trying to be nice”, sometimes, a compliment turns sour when you don’t respond positively to it. For example, a month or so ago in Sheffield, I was walking home, texting, when some men walked past me and one said “Why are you looking down? You shouldn’t look down, you should look up, you’re to pretty to look down. Smile” or something like that, when I didn’t respond, they proceeded to insult me, calling me stuck up bitch or words to that effect. People who are so quick to turn venomous are hardly people out to make others feel good. So don’t tell me these comments are compliments.
“Their culture is different to ours”
I’m not going to say that British tourists should be shouting from the rooftops of the places they visit, attempting to change the way things are done in our holiday destinations, but saying its ‘just culture’ makes these peoples comments excusable, when they aren’t, regardless of ‘culture’ and belittles the victims feelings.
Everyone has a story of how they know someone who went somewhere and someone offered to buy their little sister for 10 camels, and even joked about how they seriously considered it. To an outsider who wasn’t there at the time, it can seem like a funny story, but consider how uncomfortable and maybe intimidated it might of made that person feel before you dismiss them with ‘its just their culture’. I know some people can joke about these situations, I don’t mean to imply being compared to camels is traumatic to everyone, but I’m asking you to think before you speak and make an effort to read the person your hearing this from.
Secondly, saying street harassment happens abroad because of culture is simply incorrect. We have street harassment right here in the UK, check yourself before you start implying that other places are ‘less civilized’ than us in some way. I mean implying that foreign men are different from here and ‘just can’t help themselves’ would be racist, and I like to think I don’t speak to many racists.
And similarly: “But what were you wearing? If you don’t cover up in these places…”/ “If you go out dressed for attention you’ll get it”
I can honestly say, in my experience there has been no link between what I was wearing and how much harassment I have received.
This ‘what were you wearing’ attitude is dangerous. It’s the same attitude that leads to victim blaming in sexual assault cases, aka the idea that women in short skirts are asking for it because men just can’t help themselves. Being dressed nice is not an invitation for people to make crude comments. We all have the right to dress however we please. Obviously, it is respectful to dress appropriately depending on the beliefs of the country you are in, particularly if you are visiting a place of religious worship, but getting this dress code wrong is not an invitation for harassment. Not to mention, men shouting sexual things at you is hardly the sign of someone being offended by your inappropriate dress.
I feel like some who read this will think that I am making mountains out of molehills, that we have bigger things to worry about than catcalling in streets. And to this, I suggest you do some reading and some thinking. Street harassment is a symptom of a bigger problem, allowing people to think it is ok is allowing outdated attitudes to persist, which relate to bigger problems. How can we teach people that women deserve equal pay, the right to feel safe, the right to not be thought of as a liar or a slut when reporting sexual assault, if we can’t even teach people that women have the right to walk in public places without having things shouted at them?
I was walking back towards London road from a friend’s house on abbeydale road at around 9.45 this evening, with a group of friends. Two men (white, young-ish, speaking to each other in an eastern European-sounding language) came towards us and as they passed one grabbed my bum. They didn’t even turn round for a reaction, just carried on as if groping women you don’t know on the street was the most normal thing in the world. I was pushing a bike and it was hard to turn to try and hit him as I’d have really liked to. I couldn’t even think of words to say – this was unusual as I always shout back, and did so yesterday to a man on London road who told me to smile. I still feel furious at not having been able to respond, and embarrassed that it happened in front of my friends at the end of an otherwise nice day.-
I was out at Corporation one night – which happens to be one of my favourite places to go out to and my friends and I have been many times – and as I was walking through the crowd back to my friends with our drinks, a guy pinched my bum.
I got quite angry and turned around and shouted in his face – “What the f*** do you think you are doing?” – he looked taken aback that I’d had the nerve to turn around and confront him.
However, getting shouted at in the street and whistled at from cars and the like over the years, I have not answered back due to fear that the person responsible would react to my reaction.
We should not be made to feel guilty for who we are and what we wear – I’m glad that we are stepping up and showing people that this kind of behaviour is not ok and that we won’t stay silent any longer.
A few months back I got a tattoo of a cat on my calf which has provoked numerous responses; some are playful miaows, some slightly more distasteful, the current best being ‘I like your pussy, love!’. Delightful.
Today I’ve experienced 4 accounts of sexual harassment which is a bit over average. I find that when men are in groups they are more likely to harass you but this is not always the case. Today its been one guy alone stood next to his car, after he whistled I turned around and shouted “WHAT?” and he pretended he was whistling at his friend (who wasn’t there), a boy about 14 years old walking around with his peer group, and the other two were from groups of men around 25.
This verbal abuse undermines every essence of my being as if I am just some sort of play thing for male satisfaction. I am not a piece of meat. This harassment is a crime. I deserve to be able to walk the earth without this burden of male objectification.
This all occurred within my first half an hour of walking through Withington and Rusholme.
The other day I wore a bright blue wig around town. I visited Stockport and the centre of Manchester. Over the course of the day (from about 9AM until I started work at 6PM) I was subject to about 20 different cases of verbal harassment (along with many weird looks from men and women which come with wearing a blue wig).
I think this shows how deep-rooted men’s problems are. They could only see me as a body, someTHING to be shouted at. Not a human worthy of respect.
What is respect? What is respectful appreciation of women? Not this. Because women are not solely bodies. The men who do this believe that women are not worthy of respect and therefore are not equal human beings. Where does it come from? Look around, look into language, advertisements and magazines. This patriarchy has its roots deep set in everything we consume every day.
This happened yesterday: I was cycling up manchester road to a friends house, a van drove past and two people shouted “FIT” out of the open window. It was gone too fast and i was too out of breath to shout anything back. left me feeling degraded and pissed off.
A while back I was out clubbing with friends in Corperation. I usually don’t go clubbing because I don’t like dancing, but I always go for friends birthdays and such. Anyway, I was upstairs, standing next to one of the bars where people put their drinks and just swaying to the music, when some guy comes up behind me and tries to do the “grind dancing” thing that most people seem to do.
I leapt back in shock and hid behind one of my friends, as he simply laughed and gestured at me to move back to where I was. After shaking my head no to every attempt, he eventually moved off with his friends.
But when we went to get more drinks, he turned up again and started saying that he knew me, that we went to the same school. I don’t know why he was saying that but I knew 100% that I’d never met him before. He asked me to dance again, and I just said no again, while backing away with my friends. He and his friend just kept laughing, which was kind of creepy. We ended up moving downstairs so I could avoid them.
Now whenever I go to clubs, I stay near the wall so it doesn’t happen again. When did it become acceptable to start rubbing against complete strangers in clubs?
Ok, so this didn’t happen in Sheffield, but we don’t have a site in Doncaster and I wanted to share.
I was walking home this morning after taking my daughter to nursery, I passed a group of around 6-8 council workers (all men). They all stopped talking as I walked past and gawped at me, then as I walked off one wolf whistled at me and they all laughed.
I turned to glare at them, and I really wanted to say something, but I felt quite vulnerable as there were so many of them and I was on my own, there wasn’t anyone else around.
I emailed doncaster council and made a complaint, I have already had a reply saying that this behaviour will not be tolerated and the offenders will be dealt with. Result!
I have to walk past this group of men every Monday morning, so I am relieved that they will be spoken to and educated as I was dreading further incidents or escalation.
Thank you Hollaback for giving me the confidence to challenge this. I’m feeling pretty pleased with myself right now!