Just recently, I’ve been on a 4 days vacation to Paris with a girl friend (gender specification intended). Naturally, we were both armed with summery clothes, ballerinas and a good mood, unaware that our adventure will become a feminist nightmare. I mean…it’s France! Home of the ECHR, land of the Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité! We couldn’t have known that going 1000 km up north (we were departing from Spain, land of the beaches and skin showing) equals going back in time 500 years. Here’s what happened (in order of outrage):
In our student budget hotel, there were also some low class French business men that for some reason kept staring at us on the hallways. I have been started at before and I generally have a 3-5 seconds tolerance for lingering looks but this went beyond contemplation or admiration. I felt uncomfortable and since day 1 I avoided unnecessary movements on the hotel’s perimeter. But that didn’t stop them! At midnight, we heard knocks on our door and we both jumped out of bed, terrified the door would not hold and we would either get mugged or raped. Ok, maybe we weren’t as rational as one should be but there was real fear there. We did not open the door but the ‘’knocker’’ came back next night. We ignored this person again and we checked out safely next morning.
Going out wasn’t easy either: turns out the masculine behavior in the hotel was a short-scale representation of Parisian streets. Men of all ages and races had the same attitude: staring, smiling, visually harassing. I regretted having picked out shorts and skirts and since day 2, I pledged my loyalty to my old boring black skinny jeans. What was truly disturbing was that I felt guilty for showing too much skin and that I have been dragged into an introspective analysis of my provocative image: ‘’am I dressed inappropriately?’’, ‘’is this normal here?’’, ‘’am I wearing too much make-up?’’, ‘’I shouldn’t have straightened my hair’’. I must admit that no one touched me and I have never been in what others might call ‘’real danger’’ but deep inside I felt constantly unsafe. I remember telling my friend that I didn’t feel this way in Turkey, Dubai or Egypt where I also had packed my preconceptions about muslim men and where this would have felt normal to some extent. Just as we were chatting on the metro, a guy carrying two baguettes walked in and all I can say was that I secretly wished I were the sun in those moments. He went on a starting marathon and after 2 stops I decided to get off the metro, not even caring about my destination just to get out of his intruding sight.
All this and much more made me think about how lucky I was to have lived in Sweden and Spain and made me remember why feminism is still important. It doesn’t matter if there are policemen on the streets, it doesn’t matter if you can walk around physically unharmed. Being physiologically harassed will still feel exhausting and will affect your gender expectations and social adjustment. I’m pretty sure I’m not the first one saying it but HELLO, it is not ok to stare at women like that! Men in France just as men in all corners of the world, keep your eyes to yourselves! I know it might sound a bit extreme and politically incorrect but I promise I am using the same emotion equivalent to what I felt when I was being stared at.
So I guess I’m not saying don’t go to Paris, I’m not even saying don’t wear shorts, I’m just saying there is still A GREAT LOT we need to work on in our society so women can feel safe. During my professional life I came across thousands of statistics and gender studies and I was academically aware of the situation but having lived the fear and terror of bare skin gave me a whole other perspective and sense of immediate concern. I hope my short story stands out from the scholarly data and that men and women alike will elegantly glance at gender realities and act accordingly.