Just another Tuesday
Ever since I was 14, when I innocently smiled back at a man who winked at me on the street in Baranquilla, Colombia, and was subsequently greeted with a full view of his genitals, I have been searching for the most dignified response to unwanted sexual attention on the street. Should I look down, pretend to text, as if too busy to notice? Should I respond, tell them to fuck off, act tough? I most certianly was not going to “just take it as a compliment”, as some guy friends see it appropriate to suggest. What is the best way to maintain self respect in the face of objectification? I guess the best response I have found is to keep my head up high, and walk right by, indicating that I have heard, am concious, but choose not to respond. But usually, not even this response is convincing enough for me.
Last Tuesday, I got off the metro and started my usual walk home, dodging through construction sites and attempting not to lose my life to rush hour traffic. When I reached the bridge, it was heavily backed up into the main road due to traffic. I noticed a street dog aggresively barking at a car, waiting in traffic. Currious, and without really thinking, I looked to see what this dog could be barking at. As soon as I made eye contact with one of the five shirtless guys sitting in the car, blasting reggaeton, I knew I had made a mistake. He smirked. “HOLA!!” he shouted at me. I quickly looked away, kept my head up, and continued walking faster. Traffic progressed slowly on the bridge, seeming to egg these men on, and they slowly followed.
As their luck would have it, the traffic maintained a slow pace, making it so they could yell insults at me until the intersection at the other side of the bridge. “That´s a sexy dress you´re wearing! Nice legs! Puta!” (I was wearing a dress that almost came down to my knees, with thermal black leggings) I continued walking, pretending to pay them no mind. I knew that the moment I had made eye-contact with one of them, I had already lost. They continued yelling, and at one point, even acted like getting out of the car. My blood boiled, and my insides felt sick with something. Was I scared? These guys were all much bigger than I, and their aggresive attitudes would probably justify any fear I was feeling. But it couldn´t be fear. Ever since I came to this country, I decided I no longer fear any human being. Some situations might be scary, sure, but no human being in paticular has any power to envoke fear in me. Even what may seem like the strongest and most terrifying person has their weaknesses. So no, these wachiturros were far from making me scared. But the situation was far from comfortable for me, although certainly familiar. Was I hurt? Not really, because I dont really care what people think, either. Was I angry? No, it was something besides anger, this situation was all too common to arouse anger at this point. I guess I was feeling frustrated. Why must I be yelled at in the streets for what I choose to wear? Why do men need to belittle others anonymously and arbitrarily on the streets in order to feel masculine? What could they possibly have to gain from making these remarks at me on the street? The worst part is, there is no possible way to show them the irony of their actions. I know from experience that any response from me would be further amunition for a counterresponse, which I could care less to provoke. Furthermore, I refuse to give them the satisfcation of a reaction, which is clearly what they want from me. So I am forced to suffer these attacks in silence. No one talks about it, no one complains, and men carry as usual. The bridge that night was full of people walking beside me, walking home from work or to the supermarket, yet no one dared say a word or even look at me.
At last, we reached the intersection. As I waited to cross, I played with my hair, a nervous habit I´ve picked up on since my hair started dreading. Before driving away, the guys yelled, “comprate un shampoo, fea culiada!” (buy some shampoo, ugly bitch!- rough translation) At least they were gone. At the intersection, before crossing, I saw my friend Gustavo, a man who sells roses on the bridge to cars stopped in traffic. He had apparently seen the whole interaction and uncertainly approached me, and asked, “are you alright?” I paused before responding. I am not alright. I am fucking sick of this happening to me every night, without being able to respond or defend myself. But I look at him, force an ironic smile, shrug, and say, “It´s just another Tuesday”.