Street Harassment au Ch’nord and La Solidarité des Femmes

According to my blogging statistics, one of my most popular posts of 2013 was The Day in the Life of Street Harassment in the South of France. In this post, I talked about a specific incident in which I was followed and harassed on a bus, but also the day-to-day hisses, whistles, and cat calls I received while living in Toulon. Overall, I received a lot of positive feedback on this post, including many Thank yous! and Mercis! from fellow women who have experienced similar treatment on the streets of France and beyond.

Frankly, France’s mentality as a whole towards street harassment is dismal, and has a long, long way to go before both the mentalities of men and women change (from what I have experienced). For example, the reactions I receive here when I discuss the problem of street harassment in France are sometimes still along the lines of, “Well, don’t go anywhere alone at night,” or, “Well, it’s a compliment, he just likes you,” “It’s not harassment unless he touches you.” Thankfully, conversations in France regarding this topic ARE starting, and it IS getting better. Unfortunately, I still experience occasional cat calling in the north of France, but it is definitely not as frequent. However, my friend and I were cat called and threatened last night, and one bus driver’s response to the situation gave me a twinge of hope for the future.

Last night while coming back from Ghent, my friend and I were waiting for the bus on the Belgian border around 21h00. A very smelly man stumbled over to the stop and mumbled, “Bonsoir Madame, je suis désolé mais je suis complètement défoncé.” (“I’m sorry ‘mam but I am completely belligerently drunk.”) I glanced up with a stone cold look on my face, and glanced quickly back down. He continued to speak to us in his loud, obnoxious voice, in a way that only exemplifies his entitlement to the attention of the two young women near him in a dark, empty street. Desperate for some relief, I turned to him and said, “Sorry, I don’t speak French. I don’t understand what you’re saying,” and then quickly faced the other direction. He responded, almost immediately, “England? English? England? C***e.” (That last word is an insult.) I accidentally released a snort under my breath, and the man reciprocated almost immediately, “TU ES FRANÇAISE, TU ES FRANÇAISE MENTEUSE ET TU COMPRENDS TOUS CE QUE JE DIS! TOURNES-TOI, REGARDES-MOI, SOIT TU VAS PAYER! TU VAS PAYER! C*******E! C*******E!” (“YOU ARE A LIAR, YOU ARE FRENCH AND YOU UNDERSTAND EVERYTHING THAT I’M SAYING, NOW TURN AROUND AND LOOK AT ME, OR YOU’RE GOING TO PAY, B***H, B***H!”) 

Glancing up at my friend, I said to her, “Shall we move?” and with a quick, “Yup,” we crossed the street, only to hear the echoes of, “TU PARS, S****E, S****EEEEEEE!” (“OH SO YOU’RE LEAVING, W***E, W***EEEEEEE!”)

The street was pitch black, the surrounding shops were completely deserted and closed, and the fact that my friend and I had to catch the last bus in twelve minutes meant we A. Had nowhere to go to (ie: a store or a bar) and B. Could not go very far without flirting with the possibility of missing the only sure way back home. The two of us crossed the street, walked down about 200 meters, crossed the street again, and lingered about 25 meters from the bus stop for the next 12 minutes, while talking to our other friend on the phone, just in case.

When the bus arrived, my friend and I flagged it down as we were not exactly at the stop. I saw our man friend slowly making his way over as well. My friend and I quickly climbed on, and I said to the driver, “Cet homme qui va monter est complètement défoncé, et il vient de nous menacer. Il est dangereux et il nous a fait peur. C’est pour ça qu’on vous attende ici au lieu d’à l’arrêt.” (The man who is approaching the bus is extremely drunk, and he just threatened and scared us. That’s why we were waiting for you here instead of at the stop.”) 

And then, the most amazing thing happened: The man approached the bus, the driver closed the doors on his face, and drove away. That was the last bus until morning.

The solidarity between the bus driver (who was female) and my friend and I glowed the entire way home.

Karma is a bitch sometimes.



8 thoughts on “Street Harassment au Ch’nord and La Solidarité des Femmes

  1. I’m glad that story had a somewhat happy ending (though sad it had to happen in the first place, ugh). That bus driver rocks! I have experienced a fair amount of street harassment here so far – usually just “bonjour beauté” and other similar things, but it makes me very uncomfortable, especially when I sometimes have to walk a couple of kilometers by myself to get home after the bus stops running (after 8:30). It’s definitely an unfortunate thing to have to deal with. Stay safe!

  2. Unwanted advances from men have haunted me (and I assume most women) throughout my life. And yet, it has never happened to me in France. Is it because I was older, married, living in Paris and Lyon but not the south? I am not discounting your experience, just putting it in perspective. I don’t believe that French men are worse that Brits or North Americans, at least not in my experience. You handled the bus stop weirdo very well. No, it’s not fair, but neither is racism, homophobia or any other form of prejudice.

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