I was waiting for the bus today, when a man approached me and asked me for the time. “Two-o’clock,” I responded.
“Oh, you’re English?” He asked. “American,” I corrected.
He then proceeded to talk with me in English, wasn’t actually too bad. He spoke about how he weight lifts and how he pulled a muscle, and that’s why he was at the hospital, which is right next to the high school where I work. He continued by flexing his muscles and talking to me about how he is so strong and muscular like sexy American men. When the bus arrived, I was relieved, until he followed me onto the bus and sat down.
“What’s your name? You have a beautiful name. You are a beautiful girl…. A sexy girl. I know beautiful girls. I take good care of sexy girls. How old are you? Are you married? Do you have children? A boyfriend?”
“Yes, I have a boyfriend,” I replied.
“Oh, where is he? Is he in France? The United States?” I didn’t answer.
“Okay, well, I respect him…. I respect your boyfriend.”
He then started to sing, “Beautiful Girl,” by Sean Paul, I addition to some song about how sexy I am. I didn’t know what to do. I was trapped in the bus. I don’t know the route very well so I didn’t want to get off and have him follow me, but I would have no idea where I was going. But I also did not want to get off at the stop nearest to where I live. I slowly pulled out my phone to make a call, but realized he spoke both French and English. I couldn’t call anyone to relieve me (I did end up calling Amber, though- thanks friend!)
“So, there’s no chance with us? You won’t be with me? Even when your boyfriend is not around? You are just so sexy.”
“No,” I replied.
He moved to the back of the bus, and then got off at the next stop.
I’m still terrified– he knows where I work.
(“Oh good,” I thought to myself, “I’m glad he respects my BOYFRIEND! I’m glad the the can’t just respect ME, or the fact that I do not want to accept his advances. It’s not until he realized I am in fact, someone else’s “property” until he started to back off. He respects the other man, but not me.”)
This isn’t the first time I have felt unsafe or uneasy in Toulon. Men here in this city make a lot of cat calls towards women– a lot more than I ever experienced in the north of France. There is something about the winding streets of centre ville that sometimes make me feel uneasy when I’m by myself at night, especially when I’m walking alone and I don’t have my bike. I know the reason I feel uneasy is somewhat due to the small groups of men lurking in the streets or kebab shops. And it’s not fair. It’s not fair that I have to constantly look over my shoulder to make sure I am not being followed or watched. It’s not fair to have to “deal with” street harassment or cat calling because the alternative of calling the misogynists out on their crap would be perhaps much worse- being attacked or raped, or both. It’s not fair that I once had to hide behind a car while a group of drunk, cackling men shouting vulgarities at women passed me by as I was making my way home. It’s not fair that a car full of three men slowed down yesterday and drove at my walking pace next to me, just to screw with me. It’s not fair to fear rape. Why do some men think it’s okay to harass women in the streets, or in their homes? Is their manhood really so threatened that they have to turn to putting down others (women) just to reassure their “power” and place in the patriarchy?
It’s not fair that my host family in Caen, who care for me like I’m a third daughter or sibling, had to warn me over and over about the dangers of the streets here in Toulon and Marseille. My host brother pulled me aside before I left just to tell me that I really should not walk alone at night in Toulon. Later, my host mom did the same thing. I didn’t want to take their advice too seriously, because sometimes comments like these can be very racially biased, especially coming from white people. It’s not fair I already had a preconceived dangerous view of my city before arriving— it’s even more unfair that it has starting to live up to its expectations.
It’s not fair that I have to be told time and time again not to get raped. It’s my responsibility to make sure I have a taxi or someone to walk me home, even if I live in the middle of no where and do not want to afford a taxi. Obviously if I didn’t have someone [a man] to walk me home, it’s my fault I was cat called or assaulted, right!? It’s not fair that I don’t feel safe on the street– that’s my right. It’s not fair that when I talk to other men or women about this, it’s always my responsibility to do something. When I told a few of my French guy friends and adult students, they responded, “Well that’s normal here.” Instead, these men should be using their male privilege and standing up to other men in order to make this kind of behavior unacceptable and unthinkable. Men in general should be inviting women to come play with them on the field instead of keeping us on the sidelines. We shouldn’t be telling women not to get assaulted raped– we should be telling men not to catcall, to assault, or to rape.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it’s not fair to men. It’s sexist (and sometimes racist) that I assume every man I encounter whilst I am alone on the street is going to rape me or hurt me. The majority of them won’t, of course. But we as a society condition women to feel this way. We condition each other to Faites attention and always be alert. We also condition each other to especially fear men of color, which is benevolently racist (and many French people I have met dismiss this kind of racism). We as women are told to be thoughtful about the way we dress, act, and go about our daily lives. And then if something happens to us, it’s always our fault, instead of the person committing the crime.
Perhaps what is the most important about this is the fact that this does not just happen abroad– this happens in the United States, on college campuses, in downtown Milwaukee, in downtown Waukesha, in Oshkosh, in Paris, in Caen, in Amsterdam, in Barcelona, in London, in Japan. These sort of isolated incidents should not discourage women from traveling solo, but should instead encourage men and women to take action wherever they are, and realize that the fight to true gender equality (and racial equality) is far from over. I have been harassed in almost every country to which I have traveled, including my own. The problem isn’t me traveling alone- it is worldwide phenomenon and problem of Violence Against Women being acceptable. But it hasn’t stopped me from traveling– it has motivated me to keep traveling and to become an activist.
If you are a male who has doubts, I encourage you to watch this video: even start at 2:00 if you want. It’s fantastic!