I am super-excited to introduce my friend Hayley to y’all. She was one of my first guest bloggers, and I am thrilled to have her write for me again! Hayley is a twenty-something, public relations major with a drive to conquer the world. She is currently studying Spanish in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She hopes to one day be a successful writer. In her free time she teaches swim lessons, reads, and, of course, writes! While I am working on my tan and catching up on my reading, you should check out her adventures at Classy in Argentina.
Leaving my apartment, dressed in jeans, a ponytail, and a heavy coat, I didn’t expect I would be garnering much male attention. But nonetheless, I was greeted several times by “aye chica” and “que hermosa” as I walked to my University. Such is a day in the life of a woman living in Latin America.
Before coming to Argentina, I thought I understood what the culture between men and women would be like. I knew that men would occasionally call out to you on the street, complimenting you on your striking, American beauty. In my head I had envisioned these comments coming from gorgeous men that were sure to fall in love with me. I thought I was going to feel complimented.
But in reality, these catcalls often come from men I have no interest in associating with. Whether it is a construction worker, beggar, or businessman on his way to work, they are all the same. They gawk at you, regardless of how you are dressed, and try to get your attention anyway they can.
At first, I thought that they were just stupid. Clearly, they weren’t going to get my number from telling me how beautiful I was when I was walking down the street. So why were they bothering?
It wasn’t until I took a Gender Studies class that it dawned on me that their catcalls had absolutely nothing to do with me. They don’t happen because I’m dressed “too provocatively” (which I’m not--it’s winter time here). They don’t happen because I’m the most beautiful girl the men have ever seen, and they just have to tell me. The real reason is much more calculated and more cunning than I ever thought.
By catcalling, they are objectifying and demeaning me. They’re trying to make me feel ashamed about being a woman. Having the right to access my body whenever they feel like it is a way of exerting their dominance as men. In that moment, they are reaffirming the belief that I am an object. My value lies in my body and what sexual acts I can do with it, not in anything else about me.
Every time I look at my feet as I shuffle past, I’m letting them win. Every time I question wearing a skirt of a perfectly appropriate length for fear of their stares, I let them win. Every time I pull my jacket closer over my chest to cover up my curves, I let them win.
I’ve realized that the phenomenon of being shamed by these jeers seems to lie with mostly foreigners or women that aren’t native to Argentina. The Portenas (Argentine women) tend to hold their heads high, fix their gazes forward and treat these men like they are aren’t even worth their time to notice. They are not ashamed or intimidated by these men and by doing that, they take away their power.
The only power they have over us is what we let them have. By reacting to catcalls and street harassment we open the door for it to happen more frequently and for it to advance in seriousness.
Now, when I walk down the street I’ll wear whatever I damn well feel like because it has nothing to do with anyone else. I won’t let their catcalls phase me and I won’t let them use my body and my female sexuality against me.
Friends, just a reminder that those of us who have faced street harassment have done so under different circumstances, in different cultures. It's okay if you react differently in those situations than Hayley has or I do.