The streets in this region are beautiful with their houses in orange, blue, yellow, pink, and green tones. But their fair facades mask a less pretty side to the street life. Before moving to Nîmes, I’d never experienced street harassment at the frequency I do here. It’s sad. It makes me angry. It’s at all times of day. One of the assistants here in Nîmes was violently assaulted recently in full daytime. Luckily, people came into the street and the man fled. I’m not saying this to scare anyone, but to be honest. This is a major problem. So it really doesn’t shock me that this video was produced in Languedoc-Roussillon. I’d very much like to recommend you to check out the post A Day in the Life of Street Harrassment in the South of France by Dana of the blog The Great Big World According to Dana. She really sums up the issue quite well.
It’s not right that when I walk through the streets I have to be vigilant about being followed. It’s not fair that men can call out to me inviting me to step inside their apartment or drink a coffee with them. I’m sick of the cat calls, comments about appearance, and the obvious stares. It’s not right that I have to ignore the cat calls because if I respond I feel I will be attacked and it will be my fault. I feel I dress pretty modestly most of the time, and even if I didn’t, that’s MY prerogative. It’s not right that guys talk about scantily clad women being a good way to attract people to events- in front of several women! It’s not right that I feel unsafe because of the groups of men that stand about in the streets. It’s not right that almost every adult I’ve met here warns against walking anywhere at night and tells me to stay alert at all times. Most recently, a guy called out to me from his doorstep asking me to come drink a coffee with him. I ignored him completely, so he called out “Bon ok. Bonsoir, mademoiselle,” with such a tone of overdone “politeness”. As if I was the one being disrespectful! I felt so angry.
Street harassment isn’t fair to women. Nor is it to men (read Dana’s post!). It serves as a reminder that feminism is not a bad word and there’s a lot of work that remains to be done.
What can be done about this? We need to teach boys to respect women. We need to teach boys to see women as equals and to admire them for qualities other than their looks. We need to teach men and women that most of the time, women are not guilty for sexist acts against them. We need to teach men and women that being a stay-at-home mom or dad to take care of the children is a valid choice (post by The Culture Monk). We need to stop the flood of media showing women in sexually objectified ways. The same for men. We have to stop telling children to “be a man” or “you’re such a girl.” The image of the virile man isn’t fair and promotes men harassing women just to prove they’re “a man”. The gender role messages in media today hurt those who are not cisgendered as much as they hurt women. Why should anyone have to prove they’re “a man” or “a woman”? What does that even mean? Why do we need to put pressure on people to choose from two set definitions to define themselves? Perhaps above all, men need to stand up to other men against harassment.
I do feel obligated to disagree with one part of this video and that’s the scene with Nissar and the commentary on the headscarf for Islamic women. I’ve had conversations with Islamic friends about the headscarf and it gets a bad rap perhaps unjustly. In France, schools don’t allow girls to wear the headscarf. In their communities, there is often pressure to wear it. French law imposes just as much a decision for how Islamic women can dress as their communities do. Can the headscarf be used to fight sexism? I’d argue that it can, depending upon the circumstances. Beyond that, shouldn’t it be up to the women how they dress? French laws don’t necessarily make it easier to do so. This really wold require a whole new long post to discuss…
I don’t want to damage anyone’s likelihood to choose the Académie de Montpellier or any Académie in the south! I am glad I ended up where I am and am happy here. Yet the negative shouldn’t be ignored.
What else can be done to prevent street harassment? What are your thoughts on the video?