My experience in four different countries this summer has shown me that street harassment towards women is not just US problem, it’s global, societal problem. Street harassment is any unwanted comments or actions that can take place in broad daylight or nighttime against women who are just walking along. These comments are hurtful and sometimes threatening to women, who simply want to get from point A to point B.
If I walk behind my apartment in the evening, I’m met with guys screaming out their car windows at me. It doesn’t matter what type of clothing I was wearing that day; I’ve experienced cat calling in parka. Women are greeted with the same reality if they travel outside of Millersville. Cat callers shout unwanted comments at women from their stoops in Lancaster City.
In Spain, I was lost in Granada with only a map. I stopped to talk to a man who worked in a hotel and asked him to help me. He responded back in Spanish that he would only help me out if I helped him out first. As he raised his eyebrow, I could not believe what I was hearing. I walked away preferring to get lost than be in the presence of this creep. In a vulnerable moment, a stranger was willing to take advantage of me when I just needed a little help.
In Portugal, I was physically grabbed away from my friends in the streets. This unbelievable scene took place in Albuferia. Albuferia is a strange beach town filled with nightclubs shaped like spaceships and neon signs reminiscent of Las Vegas. Rowdy men stumbled out of a bar, likely members of a bachelor party. One of them grabbed me as if I would willingly go along with him, but in an instant I batted off his paws.
I was walking the winding medina alleyways in Marrakech, Morocco. The group I was with was composed of five other young women, most British and Australian. The Moroccan men called us the Spice Girls because they heard my British friend speak. They called me Shakira because of my curly hair. The comments were not threatening, just annoying at first. Then we could see the men didn’t have the best of intensions. One man followed us closely from behind for a while, asking us to come with him. “Come back to my place.” We all declined. Some men approached me and explicitly said what they wanted to do with me in detail. They commented on my body parts, but I was wearing a maxi dress and fairly covered up. “Shallum” the group and I yelled at the men, which means “shame on you” in Moroccan Arabic.
I encountered no problems with street harassment in Turkey. I spent for days alone in Istanbul. I wandered the streets every day in whatever I wanted to wear. Turkey is very secular and covering up is not a requirement for women. The only men to approach me begged me to come to their restaurant or buy their Turkish rugs. The Turkish men were kind and welcoming. I made a few male friends; and they didn’t say anything inappropriate to me.
These are only my experiences in these four countries. I’m sure others may have had a different experience. No matter how a woman dresses or where they are, women deal with street harassment daily. It is a way for men to belittle women in space that they believe should only belong to them. I can imagine that men know that making comments like this to strangers on the street will not get them laid. It’s just a tactic to humiliate women. It should stop.