Saturday, November 08, 2014

Catcalls and Harassment: The Mexican Version

Photo by the great Nacho López.
Ever since I saw that video of a humorless woman who walked the streets of New York for 10 hours and endured plenty of catcalls, I have been wanting to add my two cents to this outrage du jour.
Well, here goes:
I grew up in Mexico City. What she went through is Emily Post's version of chivalry compared to the kind of stuff I, and every human with a vagina, goes through in Mexico. To be honest, when one comes from a Latin country this is so commonplace, so accepted, encouraged even, that I was shocked, SHOCKED, when I read that people were calling this gringo version of male attention, harassment. Not that it isn't, but that there are entire countries on Earth where nobody thinks it is.
Of course, upon watching the video brimming with Latinos, I was not surprised.
A little bit of background:
In Spanish, there is a name for gallant, poetic, corny, inventive catcalls. They are called piropos. Examples:
"It turns out that sculptures walk!"
"If you lived in heaven I would die just to see you."
"From what toy store did you escape, doll?"
You get the idea.
I died laughing at the Black guy in the video who comes up with the priceless: "I just saw a THOUSAND dollars!" He would not pass muster in Mexico.
I got only a handful of piropos. Apparently, modernity is the great vulgarizer, so most of the ones I got weren't particularly creative, but they were sort of romantic, something praising one's superior beauty. Those made me smile, and sometimes even say thank you. Men who utter piropos or gallant phrases would never dream of pursuing the issue further. It's just a bon mot, and one's acknowledgement is their prize.
I just found out there are internet websites with lists of piropos to aid males in their conquest of females. Americans, please don't faint.
Then there are the double entendres (a skill Mexicans excel at), some of them clever and some of them vulgar, and many of them bizarrely both: "I'd like to be your blowdryer, so you could hold me by the handle." I got some of those. The really clever ones, you got to hand it to them, they make you chuckle inside; for the vulgar ones, the best response is chilly hauteur.
And then I got some, usually from construction workers, or other men in the lowest economic rungs, muttered under the breath but clearly audible, which were so violently filthy that they actually made my heart pound with disgust, and made me feel violated. I don't remember exactly what they were, and I may have been young enough not to even know what the hell some of them meant, but I knew they were revolting, and had the intention to debase.
And that is not counting the dirty, salivating ogling of one's legs or breasts as if the viewer had never before seen a pair. A typical Mexican female response to extremely aggressive gaping is: "Did you lose something?" I find this kind of gaze far more intimidating and disgusting than catcalling. Also, it is more cowardly.
Further along the scale of objectification, how about the guys on crowded streets that deliberately bump into you just to graze your breast with the tip of their elbow? In the Mexico City subway, at rush hour on certain lines cars are segregated by gender. I was once on a very crowded bus when I felt a digit go up, way up, between my legs. That, ladies and gentlemen, is harassment.
When I was about 14, I was with a big bunch of friends at a park in Mexico City, all girls, all the same age. A guy drove by, rolled down his window and exposed his erect dick at all of us. It was brutal and shocking and we all screamed and averted our eyes, but we also, if I remember correctly, started howling with laughter. I think a couple of my friends pointed at his dick and laughed and laughed. I'd like to think that was the end to that erection.
So permit me if I roll my eyes at the nationwide outrage unleashed by the video (plus the added outrage when it was found that they edited out all the white guys and left only the Blacks and Latinos to represent).
I don't dispute that there is something wrong about men feeling entitled to comment on any female who simply happens to be walking by. They certainly do not do that to their own kind, do they? I wish they'd try it, see what happens. But I find that when guys simply saying "good morning" elicits the kind of outrage almost fit for a sex offender, something dangerous is at play. The lack of a sense of humor is very alarming to me. It reminds me of lynch mobs.
There are degrees, people. I bet if it's Hugh Jackman saying "good morning, beautiful", nobody would call it anything but charming. Women need to understand very clearly the difference between an innocuous catcall and truly abusive harassing behavior, like that of the guy in the video that walks by the woman's side for 8 minutes. If she wasn't being filmed, I bet she'd have screamed 30 seconds into it.
Like porn, you should know it when you see it. When confronted with a catcall, you have three choices: best and most effective to ignore it, appreciate it if it charms you, or tell the motherfucker to shut the fuck up.
As for stronger kinds of harassment as described above, it is very hard, but also very important, to do something. Scream; if safe, confront the perp, if not, report him or ask for help.
"Good morning, beautiful" is okay, but all that other stuff has got to go.