by Annemarie McDaniel and Anya Josephs
Annemarie and Anya are both SPARK bloggers, in Paris studying abroad for the summer! We’ve both had magical experiences here, but we’ve also noticed significant street harassment. We wanted to write this blog together to talk about the ways we’ve experienced harassment here differently than back home in the US–Annemarie goes to college in New Haven, Connecticut and is from San Diego, California, and Anya studies in New York City and lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Annemarie: I’ve definitely experienced a new range of street harassment and comments than what I’m used to back home, from things that are clearly street harassment to getting asked out when I’m walking down the road. When I was getting followed late at night by a biker who was yelling at me, I could tell pretty clearly that it was street harassment, but when a guy on the street in broad daylight says that I’m so beautiful and he would die for a date with me, I feel more conflicted.
Anya: I feel like I’ve had a similar range of different experiences. In New York I feel like I’m pretty good at identifying what’s street harassment, mostly because almost all of the things strange men say to me on the street are pretty crude and pretty explicitly sexual, and I know how to react to that. I can just be like, oh, I’m being street harassed, and move on. But here, partially because of the language barrier, and partially because I’m moving in a culture that I’m not really part of, I feel like sometimes when strange men talk to me on the street, that’s more of a sincere gesture. I feel like I’ve actually been asked out on the street here, where in NYC I don’t think any of the men who shout on the streets really wanted to take me on a date.
Annemarie: Another big difference I’ve noticed is in big cities, really often, it’s comments that are not only crude, but by much older men, potentially married men, whereas here in Paris, it’s more often guys around my age really asking me for my number or out to dinner.
Anya: I’ve noticed that too, and the other thing is that in New York it’s almost exclusively groups of men, and that makes it much clearer that they’re trying to be intimidating, whereas here it’s pretty often a single guy.
Annemarie: There definitely are times in Paris where guys will be creepy like they are in the United States. When I was walking home late one night, one of those pedicabs pulled up next to me. The driver said I was beautiful and offered me a free ride home. I declined, I lived less than a block away, and I didn’t want to get on this guy’s cab. He followed me the block and a half home, the rest of the way, yelling how I didn’t know what I was missing out on, how he was a great guy, and how all he wanted was my number. He only turned around when he saw me go in the door of my dorm, his peticab parked right next to the curb as I walked in. That’s clearly not ok! Being followed home is terrifying. Women have to worry about being assaulted for denying men’s advances, like we’ve seen recently in the news this past year when a young girl was stabbed for rejecting a prom date, the Isla Vista shooting, and the many more cases that don’t even receive news coverage.
Anya: I’ve had a similar experience. It started out as one of those weird compliments that I didn’t know how to react to, and then when I ignored the guy, mostly because I was in a hurry, he wound up following me the rest of the block, and then trying to physically prevent me from walking away from him- he sort of stood in front of me and tried to block off the sidewalk so I couldn’t get past him. Luckily it was broad daylight, and there were lots of other people around, so it wasn’t super creepy, but it was still obviously a little nerve-wracking. As opposed to just now- while I was writing this, in a café, I was looking at this group of guys wearing sort of medieval costumes and one of them blew me a kiss, but didn’t say or do anything else. And I feel like that’s fine- I mean, I don’t feel like no man should ever look at or speak to a woman in public- but I also feel less sure of how to react than with really explicit harassment, like the getting followed or the stuff I’m more used to in New York, where I just ignore it and walk away.
Annemarie: It’s the same for me. Recently, when I was at the flea market, a group of friends and I got multiple individual comments saying how beautiful we were.
Anya: And in the States I feel like you usually only get talked to if you’re a woman alone.
Annemarie: The men said how “they want to sell us their heart, for life,” and other cheesy, but kind comments. It seems in Paris, asking a stranger for a date is less abnormal than in the States, and especially because I’m single, I feel an obligation to acknowledge their nice compliment and their request. Honestly, when I feel like I’m in a safe environment, it’s nice to be complimented.
Anya: I mean, the other day, in the same spot where I got followed- right in front of the market by my host family’s apartment- a guy who was sort of hanging around by the market, just like that creepy follower guy was, saw me approaching, did this cute little bow thing, and said (in French) that I was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen in his life. I tried to just ignore him, because I’ve been told that’s the best way to discourage that kind of attention, but honestly I couldn’t help but smile a little. I certainly wasn’t interested in this guy, but it was nonetheless sort of nice to get such an elaborate compliment. I’ve also been clearly genuinely asked out a couple of times- one afternoon I was reading in the Tuiliries Jardin, by the Louvre, and I had one guy ask me to take a picture of him, and after I did he invited me to take a walk around the garden with him, and the same afternoon I gave another man directions to Montmartre, and he invited me to come along and have dinner with him there. The nice guy who works in the market, and was very friendly when I was trying to figure out how European money works, has asked me out for coffee every week for the last three weeks. Unlike in New York, where men are talking at me just to talk, often with the intention of making me feel uncomfortable, here in Paris, I feel like if I said yes to one of these guys, they would actually take me out on a date. Obviously, for me, unlike you, that’s not really a consideration, since I’m in a relationship, but it does alter things. I feel like I’m a little rude for just ignoring these guys, but I also feel like if I acknowledge them, I’m taking a risk that they could decide to follow me or assault me.
Annemarie: The way that I remind myself that it’s acceptable to ignore these guys is remembering a few things. First, that I’m a tourist, and as kind as these guys may seem, if I was stranded somewhere in Paris, I wouldn’t have the language skills or knowledge of the city to feel I could get back safely on my own. Furthermore, my French cell is unreliable on calling and texting, so if I needed to call for help, I don’t know if a friend would pick up the phone, or what number to call the police at. And lastly, I sometimes feel in a safe enough environment where I can appreciate a genuinely nice compliment, but sometimes I can’t. Sometimes it’s late at night, or I’ve been crudely harassed earlier in the day, or I am far away from a neighbor I know, and it’s ok to not feel comfortable with a stranger approaching me. I wish I lived in a world where I felt safe receiving a compliment anywhere at anytime, but that’s just not the case.
Anya: Very true. And I’ve been followed, after just saying “merci” or whatever. But then if I don’t say anything I feel rude. It’s seriously a lose-lose situation. I think no matter what country you’re in, there’s basically no ‘right’ way to respond, because you’re being put in a position you never should have been in in the first place.