I want to take a second from my usual food-related ramblings to talk about something more serious: harassment on the streets of Paris.
The wave of women posting #MeToo statuses has meant that journalists are getting the green light to publish articles which state the bleeding obvious.
The Local, for example, recently published a piece detailing the experiences of women in Paris. It’s a sad state of affairs that the only woman they could find who hadn’t experienced any kind of harassment was a 19 year old student who only moved to Paris “a few weeks ago.”
My experience is much the same. On a daily basis, I was made to feel uncomfortable, being subjected to looks, calls, whistles… all of which were supposed to be taken as compliments.
I tried to change my habits. I would wear jeans rather than a skirt. That didn’t stop the harassment.
I chose to Vélib rather than take the métro. That didn’t always work because on several occasions, a car would follow/keep pace with my bike just to check out my ass or proposition me. On another occasion, the man also took a Vélib bike himself and chased me down the street to my house.
I took a taxi a short distance to go home late at night… and that got me nothing but a black eye when the driver assaulted me.
I got cat-called and mocked by the vigiles at Monoprix. They are supposed to be the ones who help and keep you safe and yet they failed desperately. Their head office subsequently received a strongly-worded letter.
Women should not be told: “you live in a big city, you should expect this.”
Let’s hope that the next generation of boys will grow up knowing that this behaviour is unacceptable and the next generation of girls will no longer be afraid of speaking out.
In the meantime, we’re in this transitional period in which we know it’s wrong, we’ve had enough but we need to speak up and take back control of our streets.
That’s the key word: control. What’s most hurtful and traumatic in these harassment situations is your sudden lack of control. That someone else has the upper hand, that you are being objectified.
Number 1: please, take a self-defense class. I cannot recommend highly enough Ladies System Defense in Paris but there must be others too.
If you are physically attacked – like the British woman in the supermarket in the Local article – kick the fucking man in the balls. Men have never been particularly good at listening… but they do remember acute pain. Put your two hands on his left shoulder and drive your right knee up where it hurts. (The same movement can also be used on women too… if need be.) Incidentally, this technique worked wonderfully on that aforementioned taxi driver (read my piece on Medium below.)
That said, if the initial attack is verbal, you must remain verbal. If the attack is physical, you can get physical as long as your reaction is APPROPRIATE, TIMELY and ALLOWS YOU TO GET AWAY.
If you slap someone for having said something, according to French law, you are in the wrong. Please, please read this (written by the same French police officers who take time off work to teach self-defence) to know your rights.
Number 2: Speak out or step in when you see it happening to another person. Always consider your personal safety but if you can intervene or take a photo – or better still, a video – it may well become the most valuable piece of evidence to take to the police and result in a conviction.
The points at the end of this Guardian article are worth remembering.
Number 3: If you have evidence, or you’re worried for your safety, go to the police station. I will most likely write something about the inner workings of the French justice system, of the differences between a main courante and a plainte but that’s for later.
Finally, I want to end on a positive note.
I moved to Italy – a country with a reputation for dark-haired Lotharios calling out ciao bellissimaaaa – but I’ve been here for over a year now and I have had just two such experiences:
I’m sitting outside a café, writing the address on an envelope that I’m about to send. Suddenly, breaking my concentration, a car pulls up, with the window down and the man calls out: “hey girl, come stai?” … I give him a filthy look… He continues “how’s Alessandro?” Oh shit, I realise: this is Alessandro’s cousin, a guy I’d met once before and he’s just being friendly.
Secondly, walking along the pavement with my dog… and a guy on a bike cycles past and calls out, “ciao bello” to which I realise (because he’s used the masculine) that he is actually addressing my dog!! Yes, my dog got cat-called! He gives me a courteous nod and says “buona giornata / have a good day” before cycling on.
Ok, I’m in a small town in the north of Italy where people generally mind their own business. But street harassment does not have to be part of your daily life and nor should you accept it as such.