Why catcalling is wrong - in wherever part of the world.

Since I am in Kenya, I receive daily catcalling - and in many forms. I go out, and while expecting people to just say "hi" and to smile, most men smile in provocative ways; send slimy kisses; call me "mzungu" in a very loud, depersonalising way like I am personifying a label and not a human. The other day I got surprised because someone said "hi" in a very polite, cordial way. I was lost in my thoughts and I didnt realise it was a woman :-/
While passing by with cars of motorbikes, they need to honk and to make you jump with that unexpected sound; then they pull down the windows and call you, or, in the best case scenario, they don't say anything but they scan each part of you, almost getting the car to stop (or to smash against a wall) to stare at your figure.
I receive inappropriate calls and messaging every day, by people who I don't know and I don't wanna know, who have my contacts from friends, or whatsapp group, and feel like it is okay to disturb me.
If I am walking in Eldoret, men would come out of their shops and come really close to me to convince me to go in.
The conductors of motorbikes and matatu (the local bus) even pull me from my arm to get me on board of their vehicles.
I receive the most creative requests for sex, which I don't necessarily condemn for their level of creativity, but for the level of directness and rudeness with which the requests are made - like "you mzungu lady, you must surely be up for it".

After almost 4 months, I am tired. Well to be honest, I freaked out long time ago - almost immediately - and started replying to them, or stear of them, or call them out for what they just did. Also, an unlimited amount of middle fingers have been raised and umpteenth "f*** off" have been shouted.

Someone says I would get in trouble with it. So basically I should just shut up and carry on, pretending that this is not happening and there is no one there, every day, at every corner, annoying me in some ways.

This is my experience and I am sorry to say it is really compromising my feelings toward Kenya.

These are the days when catcalling has finally being called out to be a social phenomenon of which WE NEED TO TALK. This doesn't necessarily mean that society is ready to condemn it, or to do something about it. In fact, in some places (e.g. Italy!) we are still discussing whether it is appropriated to annoy women while they are just walking on the street - or not; whether it is acceptable to whistle, to wink, to honk at them - or not; we are still actually discussing if it is acceptable for men to touch women without their consent.

Well, to be fair, when I say "we are discussing", I am mainly referred to my home country, Italy. A country of passion and emotions, of good food and awesome weather, of.... patriarchy and religion, of complaining and conservatism, of contradictions and disputes - usually fuelled by some narcissistic character who doesn't really care about what they are saying and want to take advantage of a sensitive topic to raise their popularity. Some of the most heartfelt opinions came from men (!) - which is upsetting, especially when entailing a high degree of moralism; some come from women, who says "I am actually one of the few women who like to be catcalled". Glad for her!

In the last years, I have been living in nations that are very different from each other - culturally, politically, socio-economically, not ultimately for their religion.
And because I am an anthropologist, not only I tried to pay attention to "The Culture", but I was also embedded in it and I at least tried to live in the same ways as local people. And because I am a woman, in wherever context I was I had to spend lots of time with women - in Poland, India, Jordan, and now in Kenya. I thus experience the local forms of catcalling, the one reserved to local women. And then the "special treatment" reserved to foreign women like me. Whether coming back home on a tram from the center of Warsaw in the middle of the night, surrounded by too many ingested liters of vodka. Whether been whistled constantly in the streets of Amman by men in posh cars bought just to show off. Whether I had my hair touch by strangers in the middle of Eldoret because "they are so soft". 

This is quite interesting anthropologically, that catcalling is a universal phenomenon, and it happens wherever in the world. That is each society some men felt authorised to annoy us for really no reason. Especially, without our consent.

But ultimately, this is the main feature of the #metoo, the refrain of women's disappointment for something that society wants to normalise all over the world - usually by saying that "there are worst things"; "it is not like real violence"; or the damn "but you though, you provoked them".

I am an anthropologist, and I often was tempted to justify verbal harassment and catcalling by aligning to the notorious "this is the culture". But the point is that wherever I go I feel like there is a new, completely different culture ready to justify shitty behavior from men. Men and their behaviours are always somehow minimised, made digestible,  normalised.

In Kenya is even more difficult than anywhere else I have been before. I think it mostly has to do with the fact that I am white, thus visible, thus associated with money, easy sex, visa, etc.

In Kenya is an exhausting, frustrating experience. I often would like to scream against casual people in the street "do you realise you all do this? Do you realise each of you think it is nice to whistle, honk, call, shout, stare at me?".

We could argue that this is the price to pay to be a traveller, right?
I am sure some of you are thinking this.

But the point is that no, it hasnt anything to do with it. Because these crappy behaviours are all over the world, and every women are getting annoyed while just trying to carry out their normal activities. They are harassed for doing nothing, for the only fact of being females of human spieces. 

Where do I want to go with this post?
I am not sure. I never defined myself as a feminist, and this post has nothing to do with it.
I just wish that by sharing my frustration more men would understand that it is not fine to wink at someone. It is not fine to shout, honk, whistle at someone. 
Especially, I would like them to understand that we dont like, we dont need and we don't appreciate that.
That it is not a features of being a woman to be ready to accept and accommodate men's more instinctual moves. 
We are tired, for a very long time now.
Thus try to behave! And leave us in peace!

(in the middle of the Indian Ocean, where I realise that was the only place in Kenya where I wouldn't be annoyed by someone)


Popular Posts