Image from Stop Telling Women To Smile, a street art movement combating street harssment by highlighting that women’s bodies are not public property, and that women do not owe men their time.
One of the big challenges that female volunteers in Colombia face is unwanted attention. Colombian men love to try to woo women by throwing piropos, catcalls, at them. Indeed, most of my research has found that Colombian women either legitimately like this sort of attention or just don’t notice it that much. In fact, there are women that use piropos on men. I found exactly one blog post from a woman in Medellín that hates it, and a website for an organization with a Bógota branch (ihollaback.org) that is actually based in New York. I personally hate catcalls for all the reasons that Lindsey of Cards Against Harassment so eloquently writes on her FAQ page.
While we as Peace Corps Trainees have been armed with strategies for coping with the men constantly chattering at us (talk to them, ignore them, avoid them, or cover your body in droopy clothing), I have found a couple of other methods much more inspiring.
From my dear Minneapolis comes Cards Against Harassment. Lindsey, the woman behind the movement, created cards which she hands to men who make comments about her or the way she looks. She also started to videotape some of her conversations with these people, posting them to Youtube.
Sports Brand Everlast has an international marketing team that has gotten surprisingly involved in fighting women’s issues in Peru. The campaign that caught my attention from them depicts men catcalling on the streets…to end up accidentally saying these things to their own mothers and sisters. While this relates back to Eltawahy’s argument (that I wrote about after my first book review) that women shouldn’t need to be protected simply because of their relationship to a man, I’m all for embarrassing men for harassing their family members if that’s what it takes to get them to stop.
Here in my town, I will not be handing out Cards Against Harassment, because that would really be jarring in this culture. Nor am I anyone’s mother, sister, or cousin to be able to receive their protection. Therefore, my first line of defense is always to just try to avoid having these piropos hurled at me by politely greeting everyone before they can comment on my appearance. If I am too late, I will continue to hold my head high and ignore them. Or, on the days when I’m extra surly, give them my best glare. Some day, when I’m feeling bold, I may introduce myself and ask that they please use my name because it is not hermosa, linda, or mona. But if I had my way, we would be teaching our sons, brothers, fathers, uncles, friends, and grandfathers that women deserve to walk down a street in peace without receiving an evaluation from every man they see.