Or, open-mouthed ogling and how to not/deal with it.
Taking the piss
A couple of years ago a feminist collective in Barcelona mounted a provocative campaign. They put together a map showing sites across the city where women could legitimately urinate in the street. As I understand it, the objective was twofold; to protest against the few and far-between public toilets provided, and to highlight the very different stance taken by the authorities and society towards the respective genders’ need to spend a public penny.
I’m going to skip over the first objective with a neat “yeah, it’s crap, give us more toilets”, and alight swiftly onto the second. I admit it, I was shocked. Not at the idea of women taking a leak on the streets (let’s just all agree that’s rank whatever your gender) but at the fact that this particular double standard had never even occurred to me before. Normally I’m quite on the ball with these things, you could say.
I mention this campaign not in the hope that more portaloos start to grace Gràcia’s cobbles, but to raise in a rambling, roundabout manner, the topic of this post – sexual inequality on Spanish streets.
Now, I’m as over-eager as the next person to disassociate myself from the potential pitfalls of generalisations, but here’s some anecdotally verifiable observations. Men on the streets here STARE at me. By which I mean, they look me up and down and then hold my gaze when I look back at them, rather than look away in embarrassment at having been caught out catching an eyeful. Some of them make soft clucking noises, as if addressing a farmyard animal, as I come into their line of sight. Others deliberately slow down their cars and motorbikes to make sure they get a really good gander as they scoot past, tongues lolling out of their mouths.
Yet others, in a posse, pull over their car to kerb crawl alongside me, gesturing and suggesting that I get into the vehicle as I walk along the pavement in broad daylight.
And this happens to me several times every single day.
Pissed off yet?
My Spanish friends here, understandably under some duress, offer up a few different theories for this behaviour. First, maybe Spaniards are just more ‘expressive’ than their stiff-sphinctered British counterparts. (Ah yes, you’ve got to love a useful euphemism.) But, if that’s generally true, where are the equally uninhibited females signalling their irrepressible attraction towards the not insignificant number of nubile male specimens?
OK, they concede, it’s probably because I’m a lone female here – an easy target, without the protection of a symbolic male. And I’m a foreigner to boot. Although, now that they come to think about it, it does happen to Spanish girls too. Maybe after a lifetime of this I too would have learned how to live and let ogle.
I’ve spent weeks trying to downplay how much this issue is bothering me, as well as ranting at anyone who’ll listen about the gross injustice of it all (sorry, Jorge). I may have moved to a machista culture, but I’ve also moved from one western European country to another. The looks and stares are dirty and dehumanising – in an instant they leave me livid, vulnerable, and even cause me to subconsciously check what I’m wearing that day, which enrages me even more. God only knows what reaction I’d get if I went about more scantily clad (god forbid, when it’s 30+ degrees).
Flip the finger or turn the other cheek?
I’m the first to admit I’m not dealing with this well. I mean, I’m not exactly some ingénue, uninured (I know, but it should be a word) to the ways of the world. Do I walk on by, feigning dignity as the catcalls follow me? Do I retort with an insouciant and yet witty comeback in Catalan, just to really freak them out? Or do I gyrate, whirling dervish-like, on the spot, go right up to their faces and start screaming about not being meat? You see the dilemma.
As it happens, I’m writing this on the same day that Delhi holds its first ‘Slutwalk’ protest march. This is a movement that started off in Canada, after a policeman there advised women ‘not to dress like sluts’ to avoid being victims of sexual violence. It’s since spread to cities like Boston, London and Mexico City, but as far as I know, women of southern European countries have yet to appropriate the movement as their own.
So, sick of dealing with ‘casual abuse’ on the streets of this city and of being expected just to accept it, I’m calling for an official Slutwalk protest march down the Ramblas. Bring your basques, fishnets, high heels – hell, even come on stilts. Just not this passive silence…