I am living in Mexico City and receive a lot of unwanted comments that make me feel deeply uncomfortable and angry. Almost exclusively from men in their 40s and 50s. Two of my neighbours keep bothering me for contact I don’t want. Taxi drivers are some of the worst culprits. Notably, Uber drivers don’t do it because they obviously know that they would get bad reviews. Almost every single day that I walk in the street there is an incident. It makes me not want to go out and use public transport. Of course this is very much the thin end of the wedge in terms of sexual violence in Mexico, but it is still exhausting on a daily basis. As young European woman here I seem to be a lightening rod for all arseholes. Add to this the lower-level sexist attitudes of young people as well, even the well-educated. I have never experienced so much ridiculously explicit mansplaining as I have here. It is jarringly obvious that I am intellectually and professionally looked down on due to being a woman. On the up-side, I have found that perhaps due to a cultural aversion to conflict, confronting men calmly and directly works very well. But occasionally it results in abuse being shouted at me. Either way, it is exhausting to be constantly confronted with the harsh reality that here, being a women means you are objectified and many men believe they have a right to you, and also the disturbing reminder that you are at constant risk of more extreme violence, although thankfully I have not experienced that personally.
Back in the summer I went on a trip to Italy with a couple of friends and we arranged to hire a car. I had arranged the booking before the trip, so I was listed as the primary driver with all the documents in my name, and one of my male friends down as the secondary driver. When we picked up the car, nobody would speak directly to me, pointing all questions to my male friend. On more than one occasion he was offered a form to sign, only to have to tell them they actually wanted my signature as it was my name on the form, much to their surprise. If this wasn’t bad enough, when we returned the car exactly the same thing happened, even though I was the one who drove the car back into the garage and handed the keys back in. It was like I was invisible to them, because surely women shouldn’t be put in charge of cars, right?
When I was younger, around 8-10 (I can’t remember exactly when), my parents took my younger sister and me to Italy. It was a fantastic trip and we traveled around the whole country on trains. At our last destination before going home we stayed outside of the city in a gorgeous self-catered apartment and we would spend the days there either exploring the countryside or going into the city. One day in the city centre, we all got on a hugely crowded bus. I remember being pressed up against a lot of sweaty, hot people. A short time after we got on, I felt something on my back. I presumed it was just a strap of a bag or someone’s belongings pushing against me. However, slowly but surely, whatever it was (and I’m pretty sure it was a hand or at least a finger) slid it’s way down my lower back and started into the back of my trousers. It didn’t get very far, only to the top of my bottom, but it was enough to make me feel awful about the whole thing. I kept telling myself that it was just a bag, that it was just moving downwards as the bus jolted it around, but I never truly believed that and still don’t, although I’ll never know the actual truth. I was frozen in place, I didn’t dare move in case it got worse, and I didn’t know how to tell my parents, almost 15 years later they have no idea of it. I know it’s only small, and I know how lucky I am for that to be one of the worst encounters of my life, but I still think about it relatively regularly, and I never ever want to go back to that city. Even writing this now my hands are shaking and I want to cry. I’ve told friends about it before, but only ever briefly, as if it was just an anecdote and I always try to pass it off as lightly as I can. We shouldn’t have to put up with this sort of thing. Ever.
I travelled to Qatar to study Arabic. Upon my last few days I found myself in the Souk Wakif often, the market place. It is a place full of beautiful sights, but at times, absolute movement impeding crowds of people. One of my final nights I remember walking in the Souk with my group, I was close to my teacher and some other men leading students like myself around. I felt something rub across my backside, I dismissed it as a purse or article of clothing unintentionally touching me. When I turned around I saw a man, he disappeared. Two minutes later I felt something again, as if someone was trying to lift me up by my ass. I turned around to find the same man, this time he smiled before he left in the herd of people around us. I was 14 years old.
I was studying abroad in Spain and decided to go for a walk one Sunday afternoon to clear my head as I’d been cooped up inside writing an essay all day. I walked to an area on the map I’d never been to before and soon realised that it was a pretty dodgy end of town. Having been catcalled by men driving by in cars 4 times, I decided it was time to make my way back home sharpish. As I was walking back I suddenly heard a voice behind me calling several times (in Spanish) ‘Bonita!’, ‘Do you want to be my best friend?’ and finally, ‘Don’t you speak Spanish?’ (as if that would be the only reason stopping me from replying!) I turned round briefly to see how close he was and realised it was one of the men who had called from his car a little earlier and that he had been driving in the opposite direction which means he not only turned his car around but also parked it and got out in order to follow me. I didn’t reply and practically ran back to my flat, fortunately he stopped following me after about 100m. I was so shaken up for the week that followed and asked my Spanish friend whether she’d experienced anything similiar: she explained ‘You have to go into a shop or a bar when that happens’, I told her that it was a Sunday so nothing was open and she just said ‘Oh, that’s too bad’.