Monday, May 26, 2014

On Sexism, Sexual Harassment, and Misogyny

I don't usually post political things as I do plenty of thinking and discussing about such things in my offline life, but I can't help but feel really disturbed as I read about the massacre that happened in California over the weekend.

Though I've told this story to friends and acquaintances in person, I have never written about this on this blog because I didn't want to speak ill of France and give a bad impression the town I was staying in, my friends there, and my experience, but now I feel compelled to share.

When I was living in Saint Étienne in 2010-2011, I experienced nearly daily sexual harassment and sexism by men and boys hanging out in the streets. There was the time I wore red-orange nylons at American Thanksgiving and was chased after down the street by an adolescent boy shouting «Madame! Madame! Vous avez des belles jambes!» There was the time I was on my way to the gare early in the morning when it was still dark out and a man asked me if I wanted to «sucer» him. There was also the time I was out for a walk with a friend wearing the blue shirt (pictured in my American Thanksgiving post) and another adolescent made sexual sounds at me. There were other times too, that were less memorable because it happened so frequently. The men were persistent and relentless. Often they would engage you under the pretense of asking you a benign question. You were damned if you answered them and you were damned if you ignored them. It got to the point that at one point I decided to change my birthstone ring to my left ring-finger, recalling something my room mate had said about travelling in West Africa. But it didn't matter, the men would just say that well, your fiancé isn't here, right? I remember that time I ran to the Méliès café and hid out from that one aggressor. 

It also got more violent. A friend of mine was grabbed in the crotch by a complete stranger. One of my room mates was mugged by two teen boys. One time, a group of four of us was walking home when one of our friends walking home with us who is gay was threatened to have his eyes and tongue cut out. It had never occurred to me until that point that they would be armed. It got to the point where I was afraid to go out after dark, even in spring time. My fear of being out after dark persisted for a while after I returned home to Vancouver. I was particularly afraid walking home in the dark from the seabus, which is less than a 10 minute walk. It took me a while to feel safe again. But I still often look over my shoulder when walking alone at night no matter where I am. 

I tried talking to my colleagues at school about it. They sympathized. One said that his girlfriend got it worse because she was of North African descent, so "one of them," so they held her to a higher standard.

It got to the point where walking to the train station to head to Paris for the marathon I thought to myself "I'm dressed like a slut," when I was only wearing a modest dress without any nylons because it was a heatwave. The heatwave lingered, during which time I felt the need to wear jeans and a sweater in sweltering heat in order to try and avoid the harassment and nearly gave myself heat stroke.

Me, in Paris, wearing the dress.

This is in part why I think France is over-romanticized. But this is nothing particular to France, as we can see from the massacre in California, or the hundreds of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada, or the suicides of Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons, or the 1989 massacre at École Polytechnique in Montréal.

I'm really shaken. J'en ai marre.

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