Mariel’s story: Is catcalling initiated by eye contact?

A few years ago I was visiting my friend who was studying abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France. She had warned me before I arrived not to speak English loudly in public, so I wouldn’t draw unwanted attention.

We were walking down a pedestrian walkway to get to her University. It was broad daylight. There were plenty of students scattered along the length of the long walkway. A large group of young boys(18-19 years old) approached us but I didn’t pay any attention to them. One of them came up to me and said “You are so beautiful” in French, grabbed my breast than walked off laughing with with his friends. It happened so quickly all I could do was make a disgusted noise, which all the boys mimicked and laughed at.

The thing that gets me is that my friend and I were walking silently together. He didn’t grope me because I was speaking English or drawing attention to myself or because I was a tourist. He attacked me because I was a woman and he wanted to put me in my place. And he knew he could get away with it.

Once we arrived at the University we told her friends what had happened. They tried to comfort me. One of her male friends said that a French man would never do that, so they must’ve been Arab immigrants. He said a French man would yell or say things to me, but never touch a woman. That did not comfort me at all. And sure enough before my trip was over “real” French men catcalled me without groping me. I felt violated and disgusted when that happened too.

On another note, it seems to me that a lot of catcalling is initiated when a woman accidentally makes eye contact with a man (though this wasn’t the case in my story above). As result I try really hard not to make eye contact with men on the street. But I wonder how much that I (and other women) miss when I am looking at my shoes or staring off into space. Do I clumsily walk into things more often than necessary or put myself in danger just because I can’t look forward like a normal person? Or even am I just deprived of enjoying the sights and scenery around me? Maybe this has just been my experience, but I’d like to know what other things do Hollaback readers and contributors think they miss just because we are forced to look away?


3 Responses

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  1. margaux says:

    Hi Mariel,
    I am from France so I know exactly what you are talking about. I think France is a bad place for women. We are supposed to be one the best place for fashion, love, but the reality is so far away from this cliché. France is still really macho, it is true because of the migrant population as you say, but not only. Actually if they act this way without being ashamed of it,that’s also because of typical French men who think that’s okay.
    Something which happened to me is a good representation of what I am talking about.
    I was in the Parisian underground when I noticed that a guy (in his twenties), was following me. I was in one part of the train, and went to the opposite part of the train, and he followed me all the way down, and sat down just next to me, his leg touching mine. At that moment, I starting to panic, and didn’t make a move.
    I was really scared, even if I was surrounded by people because I knew I would have to get off and walk alone until the house.
    The train arrived at my station. The doors opened, I waited the longer pretending I was not going to go. Then , just the last second before they closed I jumped out of the train, and walked very far.
    Fortunately he didn’t follow me. I was still really tense, and a bit scared…looking at every men as if they were dangerous too.
    When I went home, I saw my big brother and told him about my story, and how panicked I was. His answer was “you shouldn’t have wore a dress”.
    I think you understood the message of my story.

  2. Mariel says:

    Hi Margaux,

    Thanks for replying. I’m so sorry that happened to you. It just goes to show that we’ve got a long way to go in France, the US (where I am from) and in many other parts of the world.

    Your brother’s comment put the blame on you and society has been putting the blame on women for this far too long. Now is the time where we need to ask and tell men to step up and be held accountable for their actions. It is not too much for society to force men to act like decent human beings. It is too much to tell women that they must be careful not wear the “wrong” kind of clothes or go to the “wrong” neighborhoods.

    This is why I love Hollaback. It forces men to be accountable. If they don’t want to labeled as scumbags on the internet for eternity they shouldn’t harass women and non-gender conforming individuals.

  3. copykat says:

    This needs to be publicized more than it is:

    Because if we don’t want rape to happen… well, then men should not rape!

    Keep up the good fight —

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