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Despite meeting numerous men who’ve gone out of their way to treat me with kindness, I’ve also encountered stares and shouts, lusting eyes and flexed hands from car windows and unwelcome heavy steps echoing behind me.Depending on the country, I’ve averted my eyes and refrained from ‘upsetting’ the perpetrator, or I’ve stared back sternly, raised my voice and made sure the surrounding people are aware of my discomfort.
I saw them look her up and down, lips stretching into smiles.In India, I was respectful to the point of deference, because I knew how important the act of covering a woman’s shoulders, cleavage and knees was to the local culture. I can easily say I’m probably more self-conscious than most women.I often feel people’s eyes on me – or rather, I continually notice where the people around me are looking – and I knew that I was often being stared at.Hell, they might even enjoy the attention that I found so problematic!Walking through the narrow streets of Cuba’s capital of Havana one day, I found myself behind a Cuban woman and slowed my pace.Despite being foreigners and strangers, women often connect with local children, young mothers, and old ladies with an immediacy borne from an innate trust in our gender.
We are invited into Indian wedding ceremonies and Thai family kitchens, and given privileges that a male stranger could rarely hope to receive.
Well, I was either alone or with other women, for starters.
Any time I walked with a man the behaviour either disappeared, or shrank to such a minimum that I didn’t register it – although when I was with a man, he sometimes noticed instead. One of the factors that often arises in sexual harassment cases is also often referenced in terms of a traveller, because there are so many cultural boundaries you might be overstepping with your dress sense. There, women of all ages are dressed in much less ‘modest’ clothing – particularly in the hotter, more humid countries – and I wasn’t about to sweat in jeans and jumpers for the sake of not getting catcalled.
The one and only facet of Latino culture I have still not changed my opinions about, because it tapped straight into a core part of my belief system.
Being treated differently, simply because I was female.
He was sweet; his suit looked a bit too big for him, and I immediately thought of the quintessential photos you see of male Latino pensioners. “Mi princesssa…” he hissed with a wide grin, turning his wrinkled and liver-spotted neck to keep his gaze on me as I picked up my pace.