Sunday, June 14, 2009
International House of Cat Calls
There's such a variety: they hiss at you like snakes, they make kissing noises, they whistle, they might honk their horn or slow down in the car and stare at you. I get told I'm pretty or asked if my hair color is natural. Paramaribo is not the worst place I've ever experienced this type of attention, but it's worth posting about.
I think the worst place I've ever been, as far as cat calling goes, is Merida, Mexico. Of course, back then I didn't modify my dress at all. I used to pity the Mexican girls who worn tight jeans no matter how hot and humid it was. And I couldn't understand it, why they didn't feel free enough to wear shorts like me. I don't know if they got as much unwanted male attention as I did, with or without hiding their legs. I don't know if it would have been that much better if I had conformed and suffered the heat in denim and long skirts. I usually cover my legs here, and still the bobagem persists.
It's not like there aren't any places in the United States where women get harassed just for being women. Canal St., New Orleans being a prime example. But I stand out here more than I do in most places in the U.S. (Although most people think I'm a Dutch girl, not American). Maybe Surinamese women get heckled too, but I know most of the attention I'm getting here comes from my being white, female and foreign at the same time.
What I want to know is just what men 1) want to happen and 2) they think will happen. I would like to conduct a survey, randomized of course, of Surinamese men's opinion on these questions:
1) What do you want when you (whistle, hiss, kiss, honk, heckle) women on the streets of Paramaribo?
a) I want her to smile at me
b) I want her to teach me English
c) I want her to marry me
d) I want her to get in my car and have sex with me like I see in the movies
2) What do you think will really happen?
a) She will love me forever
b) She will give me a rude hand gesture
c) She will ignore me but secretly like it
d) Yes, I really think she will get in my car and have sex with me. It happens in the movies.
There are a variety of ways for women to deal with this annoying phenomenon. You can ignore it. I don't believe that in any culture it is rude for a woman to ignore a stranger when he talks to her in the middle of the street. But ignoring it can only last for so long before you get really mad and flick someone off. And that can be rude to the other people who witness it and don't know you were being harassed. You can learn something clever in the local language and make a joke out of it. Or you can engage the man in dialogue. This might not always work- but sometimes when you confront a man about his bad behavior, he is at the very least shamed in public. That has worked for me just a few times.
Yesterday I was walking home from the malaria clinic when I heard "Sssssss, Sssssss" hissing at me. Usually I do ignore these things, but I turned around and said "Ssssss, Ssssss, what?! what is that? what is it that you want?" The man was at a table with his friends drinking beer. I think he was a little surprised. He threw up his arms and said "But- but I love you!"