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Sunday, 29 September 2013

What brings me down

I had expected to write a post about how lovely the last week has been, how I have been on a couple of hikes, visited Annecy and Chambery, walked up to la bastille in the centre of town, eaten authentic Japanese food with a Japanese friend, spoken more and more in French, played a drinking game in French (Je n'ai jamais... so-not me but I enjoyed myself for once!) changed courses for a few options, thoroughly enjoyed my first Chinese lecture and just generally had a really great time. Instead, I am going to briefly talk about something that happened today, and how it made me reflect on my position as a female in society.

To cut a long story short, I got spat on twice. I was walking through town with my tandem partner. We were in the old centre near la bastille and suddenly I felt and saw a large disgusting gob of spit land on my leg (I was wearing Jeans, fortunately). I started to walk back then looked up and saw someone staring at me in a really hostile manner and they spat at me again, I had jumped away but they caught my coat anyway. Ran away pretty fast and my friend helped me find a fountain to rinse my clothes. I do not know why that happened. Did this man sense that I was a foreigner? Was it my blond hair or my black waterproof coat? I do not really know, though I know that I was the target. It was not my friend, who was slightly shocked and very sorry that it had happened to me. His hypothesis was that the man was probably crazy. That is probably true, but it is still the case that I was most definitely chosen over my friend, who is a guy.

I would just walk away irritated and disgusted with the intention to get over it, as assholes like that should not get a special place in my head, but at the same time, this is not the first time something like this has happened to me. A few years ago I was chased down the street by a man in central Athens who was waggling his tongue out at me. A month later in Florence I was walking from the centre to the station at 9am when a man stepped out of his house and started masturbating in front of me. I ran, I was not touched, yet I still felt assaulted. A month later this happened again in Antibes, France. I was walking home from an afternoon language class when a guy pulled up his car next to me and started doing the same thing as the man in Florence... I promptly went home, felt paranoid, gazed around alert and wide-eyed like a hunted deer. 

Before you ask, I was not dressed provocatively. I rarely wear any makeup, I was just dressed in casual clothing, jeans and a waterproof coat with a pair of hiking shoes. This should not even be regarded as important though. What kind of society and we living in if women have to dress to avoid sexual harassment, when men can strip down to their underpants and still remain relatively powerful?

I am a powerful woman. I have strong ideas, though I do not voice them in public so as to not start unnecessary conflict. I have ambition, plans, I work hard in just about every sphere. I have a boyfriend and like to feel as though I am on an equal level with him. Sure, we have different reproductive systems but similar ideas about politics and ethics. Whatever I have inside of me will perhaps never be enough to counteract some of the prehistoric ideas of some human beings. 

Recently the rape case in India brought media and global eyes to the country and deemed it a dangerous place for women. I would like to emphasize that it is not the only country in which females are vulnerable. In mainland Europe I have avoided the so-called dangerous areas, taken no risks, and yet still I have encountered threatening behaviour. Even in the UK, Rape is more common than it should be and usually women are the victims. Far more women are the focus of domestic violence than men, women are still poorly represented in politics and traditional roles for women are still common received ideas in many spheres of society. Men are often still frowned upon or mocked for taking on so-called "women's roles" such as house keeping, cooking or looking after the children, whereas women who make it in business or demand more equality in society are often deemed "raging feminists" or "dykes". Does this make me one? I have far too many female friends who have told me that they have been in similar situations, i.e. they felt threatened/intimidated in public spaces as females. 

I would love to leave the house without feeling the need to plaster myself with bubble wrap, but sometimes this seems one of the only options. 

Whilst my next post will most certainly be about exciting experiences, curiosities, and linguistic and cultural encounters, this post is important. I recommend you all to try and stay safe, but I would also suggest that you remind yourselves that these things can happen. Occurrences like this do not mean we are guilty of being provocative, or "wanting it" as Robert Thicke's embarrassingly crude song Blurred Lines seems to suggest; it is rather indicative of the sad fact that many changes are still necessary in order for women to be truly counted as equals in a male-dominated society.

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