Street Harassment of Women Needs to Stop. (A Public Service Announcement).

I try not to use bad language in my blog but I am making an exception today.

All day today I thought about whether or not I was going to blog about this, and then I thought, yea.  It needs to be said, even if it has been said over and over again.

I was pretty happy today to start my day by going to the American Embassy in Florence to renew my passport.  So all was going well, it was a sunny day and I had just ridden my bike down the river to the Embassy.  I was crouched down, locking my bike to a post, when some asshole walked behind me and made a disgusting remark about my body.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, the guy did not keep walking, he stood there with a creepy disgusting smile on his face, parading himself in front of me, intimidating me and crossing his arms, challenging me with his body language.  This was different from some idiot just walking by muttering something under his breath or whistling.  His stance, facial expression and crooked smile said to me “What are you gonna do about it, bitch?”  This was purposeful intimidation and I was totally shell-shocked.

I was fuming angry.  I wish I could have thought clearly right then and there.  If I hadn’t been seeing red through my eyes, I would have done a smarter thing and taken out my smart phone and snapped his picture.  But, hindsight is 20/20.  Instead, I shouted at him, told him to go fuck himself, do the world a favor and drown himself in the river and that he was a piece of shit.  He laughed at me and continued taunting me.  I hated myself for giving the reaction he obviously wanted from me, but God I was angry, and I felt helpless.  It was the middle of the day right next to the super high-security embassy and this dickhead made me feel helpless, intimidated, fearful, and yes, violated with his facial expression. What gives this piece of shit the right to an opinion about me?  He doesn’t know me and I didn’t give him the permission to speak to me about my body.  It’s mine.  Whereas I would normally completely blow off some loser who whistles at women on the street, this was different.  I wanted him to unsay the words he said and unsee me; thus, I felt helpless.  There was nothing I could do.

Well, the dickhead picked the wrong girl and the wrong place and time.  The (female, Italian) guard standing at the entry way of the Embassy saw the whole thing.  She asked me if I was okay and I told her that I was shaken and I wanted that guy to get away from me, and I told her what he did.  He kept arrogantly walking past the entry way of the Embassy, and she got on her little radio and told the guards to go check him out.  She told me that “she didn’t like his face” and that I was completely right to complain about him, and that “you can tell by his face that if you had met him in a dark alley way instead of here, he would have tried something worse.”  So the Italian military guards stopped him and confiscated his ID.  I went inside and the military guards came up to me, showing true concern on their faces, and asked me if I wanted to press charges.  I said I was moving overseas at the end of the month and unfortunately did not have time to go through with a full-on procedure, and as far as I’m concerned, he’s probably learned his lesson by now, seeing as how this was probably super embarrassing and inconvenient for him.  I went in for my appointment and came out about 20 minutes later, and much to my surprise the guy was now surrounded by police!

I asked the female guard who originally helped me what was going on.  She said that it was “standard procedure”.  They were still holding on to his ID and he was being talked to by about 2 police officers and the military guards.  They then came up to me, asked me to tell them what happened, and asked me again if I wanted to press charges.  I asked them if this was because he had some kind of a record, and the police replied that they had done a background check on him just now (wow!) and that his record was clean.  I told them that I was really happy that they had shown such concern, I really appreciated it, but that at the end of the month I was moving abroad and, knowing how long these things can take in Italy, it wasn’t really worth the trouble for me.  Then one of them escorted me back to my bike and waited for me to be about a kilometer away until they let him go.

This piece of shit obviously had no idea that he had just harassed me in front of a place crawling with armed guards who take any sort of “suspicious activity” really seriously.  I will admit, the super high-security, police-state feel I get from being in American state buildings and airports has always made me roll my eyes and think it’s a bit ridiculous, but hot damn! It definitely worked in my favor today.  He obviously was not expecting that to happen.  Ha.  Good.  Take that, dickhead.  He messed with an American citizen on American soil and had his ass figuratively kicked by an American so hard that he’ll be coughing up the stars and stripes for months.  Or maybe not, but I bet he won’t forget this any time soon.  Maybe he’ll even think twice before he harasses another woman on the street.  Either way, his day was ruined and now his ID card has a red mark on it.

Compared to other countries, Italy is notorious for men leering at and whistling at women on the street.  The stereotype makes it seem like ALL Italian men are sleazy, which I promise is not true.  But for people who come from countries where the culture is slightly more reserved (and more respectful of females), it’s always a bit shocking.  Normally what happens is that some guy might walk by and say something under his breath, maybe a bit louder, or whistle.  While I do find this offensive, it doesn’t intimidate me; my reaction is that I might shoot the guy a dirty look, if I even look at him at all, and he will carry on, continuing to be a pathetic loser for the rest of his life.

Having grown up in Chilean culture, “piropos”, or cat-calling to women, is as common as the cold and is a part of every day life for a women.  I hate it.  I think most women want to walk down the street unnoticed.  My observation from when I lived in Chile, and now living in Italy, is that this gets a range of reactions from women.  Some women feel flattered, while others get offended.  I see it as a sign that a society has a long way to go as far as treating women as equal members of society.  We’re human beings, not pieces of meat on display for some asshole’s enjoyment.  I, and every other woman on the planet, have the right to walk down the street without being leered at, whistled at like a dog, or in today’s case, made to feel intimidated and helpless, unable to react quickly.  To me, anybody who does that is demonstrating that they are a not evolved enough to live in this century.

The thing that makes me really angry is the way society reacts to this.  “Oh you just get leered at/whistled at/shouted at because you’re pretty/you’re wearing a tight dress/you look nice today.”  WRONG.  That is NOT why that happened.  That happened because some asshole’s parents and his society did not teach him to respect womenSaying that women get cat-called on the street based on their looks pins all the blame on the woman and that NEEDS. TO. STOP.  It completely takes the responsibility off the man and pins all the weight of it on the woman.  What society is saying is “If you’re pretty, you will be harassed.”  There is nothing a woman does, not the clothes she wears, not how she looks, not how she walks, and not how she ties her bike to a goddamn pole that warrants being talked to like a sub-human piece of meat.

Parents, relatives, friends, and neighbors of young men everywhere:  I am telling you, even demanding of you, this one thing:  TEACH YOUR BOYS TO RESPECT WOMEN.  Our society is always telling women to not “get themselves into trouble”, to “not get themselves raped or harassed”.  Honestly, stop this bullshit. How about society start teaching men to NOT harass, rape, molest and cause trouble.  Enough with the woman-hating.  All human beings, male and female, deserve the right to walk up and down any street in the world without being harassed. Street harassment of women needs to stop.

I will say one other thing:  The Italian police has redeemed themselves in my eyes, for now.  In the past I have only ever observed them not doing very much and not caring a whole lot.  I did not think for a second that they would react the way that they did, but I am glad.

With that, I will leave you with this incredibly powerful and thought-provoking video made by a French director, where the tables are turned and a man experiences what it’s like to be a female.

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  • Reply
    March 6, 2014 at 5:17 am

    You’re my hero queen Bea. I kinda wish you had just punched him in the neck but what happened was good I suppose. Great video too. -AB

    • Reply
      March 7, 2014 at 6:39 am

      Thanks lovebug. Speaking of heroes, you’re mine. xoxo

  • Reply
    March 6, 2014 at 9:35 pm

    Wow, Bea. What an incredible post. I’m so sorry to hear what you had to go through, but wow! So charged to hear the response of the authorities you were so incredibly lucky to be near to, Italian and American. I do wish he could be charged, but totally understand why you weren’t up for that. I agree that North Americans are slightly more reserved and more respectful, but I would put a heavy emphasis on the ‘slightly’. We’ve got major issues with how we treat women too. But I’d like to see the way these officials helped you as a sign that more people are taking this shit seriously. And the video! I can’t believe I hadn’t seen that yet. LOVED it.

    • Reply
      March 7, 2014 at 6:43 am

      Thanks Michelle. I wish he could have been charged too, but as far as I know, what he did was technically not illegal… so what could he really have been charged with? Maybe I am wrong? I felt like the police asked me that because they are legally supposed to ask anyone who complains about something if they wish to proceed like that.
      And yes, definitely a heavy emphasis on the “slightly”. I suppose I should have elaborated on that. For sure, I don’t know of any country where women are treated equally and respectfully throughout the society; violence against women and horrible portrayals of women in the media as nothing more than sexual objects exists everywhere. But I guess I was comparing my superficial experience… where I come from, cat-calling women on the street isn’t really the norm, especially not the way this asshole did it. That’s not to say we also don’t have a long way to come though! And thanks, by the way, because your blog was an inspiration to ME for me to write about this experience! xoxo

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