How to Deal With Catcalling
How to Deal With Catcalling While Traveling
How to Deal With Unwanted Sexual Advances, Flirting, and Catcalling
As women, we have become accustomed to a certain level of misogyny in our everyday lives. From unwanted stares to un-welcomed advances, situations can get tense when members of the opposite sex take it upon themselves to harass us. I know some women who have never traveled solo before due to fear of being annoyed by random men, and so I’m here to give you some advice on how best to handle it if and when it happens to you.
Get to know the different cultural rules
Each place you visit is going to have different cultural rules on what’s appropriate when it comes to interactions between members of the opposite sex (excluding same-sex interactions in this article). Some rules are unspoken and learned solely by trial and error, while others are quite clear. For example, in Paris, if you make eye contact with a stranger on the metro and you smile, it’s a direct invitation for them to speak to you. If you look at them multiple times without smiling, it is still an invitation for them to flirt with you. I learned to dart my eyes around at people only one time, just to get an idea of who was around me but not to look again. That did not prohibit unwanted advances, but it did help reduce them.
Tell them off VERY directly
Multiple times I had men follow me off the metro at my stop and try to speak to me in both English and French. I’m not a rude person, but in order to dissuade someone from harassing you, you need to be strong on your feet. I learned how to directly tell them off in French, straight-faced and straight-forward, so there would be no misinterpretation. Some ceased right away, while others were more persistent. One man walked next to me down an entire street, looking me up and down, complimenting me, and telling me to “smile” (the cringe!).
Seek a public space with people who will pay attention to you
I was so furious at how disgustingly he was looking at me, I eventually veered off into a bakery, ready to ask for help if he continued harassing me. He waited outside for a while, then lost interest and left.
Learn phrases in the local language
Depending on where you’re visiting, it’s a good idea to learn simple phrases in the local language. Knowing how to say, “Stop,” “Leave me alone,” and “I’m not interested” are some basic ones to help keep creepers at bay. You should also know how to call for help in the way that locals nearby would immediately understand, as not everyone is going to recognize, “Help!”. On my study abroad program we were taught to scream, “Violé!” in emergency situations, which translates to “rape” in French. People react instantly to hearing that word yelled.
Be impolite and "rude" if you have to be
To the most persistent of French men I encountered, who would talk to me while I was waiting for my friends to arrive, or for the bus to come, I learned to be stone-cold in my dismissals. Saying that I had a boyfriend meant nothing. Saying I was a lesbian and had a girlfriend meant nothing. The only thing that worked was when I looked them dead in the face and told them to leave me alone, with the implication that I’d call for help if they didn’t stop.
Never feel bad for standing up for yourself
Even if they walk away angry or call you a curse word, you must not feel bad for standing up for yourself. We are no man’s object, and for them to disrespect you enough to continue harassing you once you’ve said no, shows that they do not respect women. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, how you’re behaving, or whether or not you are waiting somewhere alone. They do not have the right to continue being in your presence if you do not want them to be. Assertion is the answer here.
Please do not allow the fear of unwanted sexual advances keep you from delving into your adventurous dreams! If you have the guts to get on a plane and travel places by yourself, then you certainly have the means to tell some hooligan to back off. If you’re nervous about being followed or you feel like you’re in danger, listen to your instinct. Stop somewhere for help. Don’t dismiss it as paranoia. People will help if you ask.
Wait it out in a safe place
If you’re in a place where hardly anyone speaks English and you’re not sure what to do, wait it out somewhere. A restaurant, store, gas station, anything. Find someone you can communicate with and ask for help. I never had a situation escalate to that point during the year I lived abroad in Europe, but I always listened to my intuition, and if something didn’t feel right, I refused to go along with it.
Be aware of your surroundings
Being aware of your surroundings is key when in a foreign place. Having a map that shows local police and fire stations also helps. Memorizing which places in the city are crowded (versus empty), which metro stops look questionable, and which neighborhoods make you uneasy will also help avoid unwanted situations. Being prepared for a bad situation will make you more quick to act in the event that you did find yourself in danger.
Self-defense is necessary
Remember: eyes, throat, and groin area. If they try to grab you or physically hurt you in any way, don’t wait. Hit them where it hurts, then run to the nearest safe place you can. Don’t be ashamed in fighting back. Self-defense is necessary. If you’re worried about being taken advantage of when you’re intoxicated, then make sure you don’t get intoxicated unless you are with people you trust to take care of you. Best advice would be not to do it at all. Bad decisions are made and you regret them later. You can enjoy yourself without going overboard!
Traveling as a woman has its set of extra challenges, as female tourists can be targeted by locals as being “easy” sexual successes. If hooking up with someone does not interest you, that is your absolute right. Be stern, demand them to leave you alone, and if they will not, it is only natural for you to defend yourself. It does not make you a “bitch” to be assertive. You are not a “whore” for refusing to interact with someone who is bothering you. Whatever they say in retort is irrelevant. Stand up for yourself, and chances are you’ll dissuade them.
Do not sacrifice your dreams because of fear
Most importantly, don’t sacrifice your dreams of traveling just because you are weary of these situations! You can handle them. If you’re truly unsure, then find a buddy at your hostel who’ll go out with you. Stay in groups. Men may still annoy you in a group, but it’s easier to deflect it when you’re not alone. I believe in you, and I know from experience that these situations mean nothing in light of all the amazing experiences you’ll have as a solo traveler!
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