Harcelement dans les rues

I just wanted to share this because the harassment has gotten so bad now that it’s spring. I feel so degraded.

On Saturday: I stayed in until almost 4 p.m., just reading and doing silly little Saturday things. I wanted to just have a nice day all to myself.

Then, I decided to go to the city center and go for a nice walk, maybe pop into a bookstore or two, and then later take myself out for a nice solo dinner, maybe at a certain amazing pizza place in my city.

I was wearing my favorite spring jacket, plus a pair of somewhat loose shorts that I paired with dark colored tights and my new high-heeled ankle boots. I like to look nice, just for me. I didn’t think that my ensemble was particularly provocative; I was covered, and just the other day I had counted at least a dozen other girls wearing shorts/tights/heels, so I figured that they were now in season.

I left my building, and that’s when the trouble started. On the bus, a man across the aisle couldn’t keep his eyes to himself. He wasn’t just looking; he was looking with a lewd smile…and breathing heavily. Creepy. But I pretended that I couldn’t see him since I was sitting in the back of the bus. I didn’t want to make a scene.

Later, after having a nice little wander in a couple of pretty streets, I was walking to a coffee shop when a man began to say, “Mademoiselle! Mademoiselle!” repeatedly. I finally looked his way (Maybe he needs directions?), and he told me, “Vous etes tres bien habille Mademoiselle.” (You’re very well dressed…he repeated 3 other variations on this theme)
*I shrug* [and proceed to ignore this man who is probably older than my father, but he won’t go away].

“You’re not French, are you? Where are you from?”

“It’s not important”

“Oh, well if it’s not important, then why don’t you tell me?”

“Because it’s not important.”

*He sees someone he knows and goes away.

ODD.

I walk a bit more, pop into a couple of stores to contemplate a new skirt (48-hour rule!), and then I decide that it’s time for supper. So, I walk, probably about 20 minutes, to that pizza place. On the way, I’m whistled at no less than 5 times, and I’m also ordered to smile by a pack of men at an outdoor cafe. They also let me know that I have nice legs. There are no women around, even though it’s a main street; it’s completely dominated by men.

Creep Radar is on alert.

I get to the pizza place, and I’m pretty relieved that the server is a woman and that it’s an awesome, family-run place. I have a nice solo meal. An hour later, it’s dark (8pm-ish), and I decide to leave.

As I walk back to the main street, I have progressively freaky encounters:

1. Within the first 5 minutes, I’m barked at by two guys passing by on bicycles. Unsettling.

2. After 10 minutes, I reach the cafe square that’s filled with men during the daytime but is now kind of deserted. Some dude makes his presence known behind me by saying, “Hey, sexy! Hey, you have some really sexy legs!” [I walk faster] “Hey, you’re sexy, come on, that’s a nice thing to say! Why won’t you say anything? Come on, sexy!” After about a minute, he gets frustrated by my lack of response, calls me a “pute” [slut/whore] and goes away. Why me?

3. I decide to veer off to a section of smaller streets to avoid the rest of this main street. I quickly realize that, while these little streets are full of people during the day, all the people have gone away. I get a bad feeling, and I make sure that I have my mace in hand. It’s only 8 or ten minutes more ’til I’m in the open again. I’m walking towards a street with a bunch of trendy little wine bars. There’s a girl walking towards me; she suddenly picks up the pace and practically flies past me. I’m on my guard now. Suddenly, I sense movement and look down. Not a foot away is a corpulent, hairy man sitting in a car. His face is shadowed, and the window is rolled all the way down. His arm is resting where the window should be. The car is not running. I start violently, and he calls after me that “It’s okay, there’s nothing to be scared of.” But I’m scared now. Where there’s one, there could be more.

I finally emerge onto the main street in my city. I can breathe again. I vow to never go into that area alone after dark. (Although considering that it’s also where I work, I can’t avoid it altogether. Let’s not even talk about the 40-something man who approached me on Thursday and asked if I would have a drink with him. I’m in my early 20s).

There’s now a group of young guys ahead of me, talking and laughing about music. I’m relieved to have males in my general vicinity who do not exude creepiness. But I can’t keep within the safe aura that being near/with decent men provides because my heels are restricting my steps. Then, I notice a different guy walking towards me. He looks at me, and then he approaches. “Please, God, no.” I say in my mind. I don’t look at the guy, but he looks at me, and he says, “Mademoiselle, Mademoiselle, tu es si belle! (You’re so beautiful!)” [I ignore him. I’m so completely fed up with all of this by now, and I wish that I could tell him off. No really striking French comes to mind, and I can’t say anything in English. If I did, it would be over. All English-speaking women are, according to all films and anecdotal accounts, easy and should be treated as such, right? Wrong.].

He says, “Why won’t you look at me? Look at me, Mademoiselle! I want to see you smile!” He’s blocking my path, and then he steps in and grabs my arm. He just grabbed my arm. I can hardly believe that he just did that. “Look at me!” he says.

All that I can think of to do is raise my other fist and say “Laisse-moi” (leave me) in a cold, low voice. Thank God he did. (Since then I have, of course, come up with much more cutting, direct French responses and have practiced them over and over so that I’ll be ready next time someone tries to grab me).

At this point, I’m angry, but above all I’m really shaken. That last one was the last straw. I see my bus approaching the next stop, and I make a run for it. 4-inch heels, but oh yes, I can run! I fly onto the bus with a “Merci” since the driver saw me running and waited a few extra seconds for me.

I tried to read to take my mind off of everything, but I just couldn’t do it.

What am I supposed to do? In the grocery store, I was buying a sandwich, and a guy walking past me whispered, “You’re very beautiful…you’re very beautiful, do you know that, you’re very beautiful” and then kept on walking. It’s just so unnerving.

All winter, I would walk home or anywhere when it was dark, and I felt perfectly safe. There were people out walking their dogs or exercising. It seems that the spring has forced all of the decent people inside and/or awakened the street creeps from hibernation.

It’s all about control. This isn’t nice, it’s harassment.

I wish that I could get a bike. It would be so liberating.

– anonymous

Location: France

Share your street harassment story today and help raise awareness about the problem. Include your location and it will be added to the Street Harassment Map.

11 Responses to Harcelement dans les rues

  1. Golden Silence says:

    I wish I remembered the French I learned in school so I could say how I feel about these men. Babelfish translations won’t do any justice.

    I am so sorry all this happened to you. Don’t these men get how creepy, desperate and annoying they come off as when they do this? Why do they think women care that they find us “beautiful”? Their random opinions don’t matter!

    Vous êtes une femme forte! (At least I remembered how to say that!) Stay strong.

  2. Commiserating in the City says:

    As someone who has been on the train through some of the less glorified areas of DC, and on foot for the rest, I understand how you feel all too well. You are not alone, you did nothing wrong, and there is no reasonable excuse for anyone to _ever_ lay a hand on anyone else. I don’t care what you were wearing or if you looked like the Goddess herself come down from the heavens, it is your right to walk through your city unmolested, unharassed, safe and confident in your skin and on your streets. I am sorry they violated your space and bruised your feelings of security, no one has the right to take that from you. I keep you in my heart, and hope you find peace and joy.

  3. Golden Silence says:

    I wish that I could get a bike. It would be so liberating.

    Maybe they have something in France similar to the want ads or Freecycle here where you can find a cheap or even free bike someone wants to get rid of.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Hi,

    Thanks, everyone! It’s really nice to have a place to type it all out, and I’m feeling lots better now. And Golden Silence: good idea! I just heard about a site called pap.fr, which is like a French Craigslist. Here’s hoping!

    Oh, and PS: There’s a guy who lives near me who persists in calling me “Miss America.” Today, when he drove in front of me in a crosswalk, instead of just ignoring him, I looked him in the eyes and told him to stop. He told me it was “just true, and nice en plus,” but I told him that, to me, it wasn’t nice. And then I kept on walking. 🙂

  5. Golden Silence says:

    Today, when he drove in front of me in a crosswalk, instead of just ignoring him, I looked him in the eyes and told him to stop. He told me it was “just true, and nice en plus,” but I told him that, to me, it wasn’t nice. And then I kept on walking.🙂

    Good for you! Standing up to harassers can feel so refreshing.

    Good luck with finding that bike.

  6. Commiserating in the City says:

    <>

    Nice! The more you stand up to them the easier it gets- very proud of you! Definitely agree with Golden Silence, look for people parting with their bikes for free or cheaply- it is absolutely worth it. I switched over to biking to work when we moved into the city two years ago and it has made a marked difference in my daily quality of life.

  7. Julien says:

    Dear Anonymous who wrote this post,

    I am a French guy, currently living in Paris (so please apologize for my broken english). Although I have never tried to talk to a woman who did not want to, I do like to watch elegant girls when they pass by. So far I never realized it would make them feel threatened: in my eyes it is like admiring beautiful paintings or sculptures, and I never intended to behave in a creepy way…

    I am very sorry for the bad experiences you have endured in our country, and hope you will also have the opportunity to enjoy wonderful times here.

  8. Golden Silence says:

    in my eyes it is like admiring beautiful paintings or sculptures

    But most women don’t like being treated like objects. We’re human beings and we want to be treated with respect, not as objects to leer at.

  9. Julien says:

    Yes, I agree with you of course. I did not mean women should be treated as objects, my comparison was merely to try to point out a sense of admiration regarding these gorgeous women. But I can understand that the frontier between genuine appreciation of beauty, and leering may sometimes be blurred.

  10. Blaine says:

    i studied abroad in Paris and the amount of harassment i received was crazy and constant. everything from cat calls to gropping on the metro. i’ve never experienced anything like that in the states

  11. livingin paris says:

    Dear anonymous

    i’m half-american, half costa rican and have lived in france almost 3 years. the day you described is very typical, especially in the spring/summer months. as much as i dread winter, i actually appreciate the anonymity that being bundled up gives me.

    i’ve come home so many days exhausted, FURIOUS, irate, angry at the amount of street harassment i have faced that day. it sometimes interferes with my work, my personal life, because i can’t believe how bad it is here… and that it’s not something any of my male colleagues/friends will ever have to deal with.

    i now plan my outfits based on whether or not my boyfriend will be “escorting” me somewhere. i say escorting because when i’m dressed a little “sexy” and we walk by street harassers, you can tell instantly that they are watching their mouths (and eyes) because i’m in the presence of a man. i’ve been claimed, so he won’t “step on another guy’s toes”.

    the thing i hate the most is having other people (especially women) tell me to calm down and let it go. if a black person had the n-word shouted at them 50 times a day, nobody would tell them to “get over it”. i think that even though it’s tiring to be so angry all the time, we need to figure out ways to channel that anger (commenting on blogs, joining groups, educating people, etc) instead of pretending that the anger doesn’t or shouldn’t exist.

    Bon courage —

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