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Whilst traveling in Egypt I was conscious of the need to be culturally sensitive in order to prevent unwanted attention. I lived in Saudi Arabia and had traveled extensively through the Middle East and dressed conservatively and respectfully and knew the codes of acceptable male-female contact. The women there appreciated me covering up, and many of the men I met complimented me on my respectful dress. This however, did not make me immune to the catcalling, stalking and groping that Egyptian women deal with everyday. On one instance I was standing at a fruit stall by the road with my mother when a man reached out of his car and grabbed my bum, slipping his hand between my legs. I was covered and I was not alone, but this did not stop him. I was furious, turned to face him and hit his car repeatedly with my hand yelling “haraam, haraam” (forbidden, forbidden). The whole street stared at the man in his car as he sped away. I think the power of my response lay in the cultural accessability, promptness and volume. I was not rude. I did not degrade myself and I shamed this disgusting individual.
After a day out in the city with my 5 year old son (who is autistic), we were sitting on a bus on the way home. A group of older teenage boys (aged roughly between 18 and 20, perhaps a little older) got on the bus, all talking and swearing, acting up, discussing the merits of each others’ girlfriends and so on.
Shortly after their arrival, 2 seats behind my son and I (with an older male passenger separating us), I realised that they were talking about me – my breast size, that I’m not thin (“Why is it fat slags have the biggest tits?”) and so on – all within obvious earshot of my son.
I didn’t realise it, but the window above my son’s seat was open, and one of the “boys” leaned forward suddenly to slam it shut, making my son jump. As he sat back down, the lad ran his fingers through my hair.
A moment later and the group was making lewd suggestions and repeatedly leaning forward to touch me, laughing and carrying on the whole time. I turned around and demanded they stop, loudly enough for the other passengers to realise there was a problem, and was laughed at by the boys, who promptly carried on – now adding an impression of my voice to their game.
Eventually the male passenger sitting behind me turned around and shouted at them, saying if they didn’t stop, he’d hit them.
At this point, though it was raining and my son was tired, I decided to get off the bus – three stops early. I live in a part of Bristol where you need to be careful after dark, but, frankly, Stapleton Road was preferable to this continuing harassment – and in front of my child.
As I reached the front of the bus, I told the driver what had happened, and that a fight was about to break out between the passenger and the boys. The driver shrugged and said “What do you expect me to do? Boys will be boys.”
This sentiment was echoed by the bus company, who said that, as there was no camera on the service and as I didn’t get either the driver’s name or the contact details of any of the other passengers, there was no way of verifying my story (because, apparently, women like to make that stuff up a lot?!) and, in any case, it just sounded like they were having “a little harmless fun”.
Interestingly, whenever I’ve told any of my male friends, they’ve barely blinked an eye. All of them have made the right noises while being obviously confused about what I’m so upset about (“No one was hurt, after all”). Meanwhile, all my female friends have been utterly disgusted by what happened – and in front of my son, who was possibly more upset about it all than I was, and now refuses to get on a number 24 service.
“Boys will be boys” is NO excuse for this type of behaviour – if I had have been the one behaving in a sexually aggressive way toward them, you can bet I’d have been ejected from the bus without question. But the message seems to be very clear: if you have boobs, you should sit down, shut up and put up with it without complaint.
Inner city bus services should ALL have CCTV cameras on them (not just on “selected services”), and bus drivers should be accountable for ALL behaviour that takes place on their buses – they carry DNA swab-kits, after all – it’s not up to them, surely, to pick and choose what’s important and what’s not. There needs to be a nation-wide policy in place to protect women (and children) using ALL forms of public transport.
Thank you for this campaign and for giving me a place to write about what happened without fear of people (men) rolling their eyes and tutting about yet another female over-reaction.
Good luck to you, and to all women who pass through this site: it’s about time someone made a serious attempt to give voice to the outrage, distress and fear this sort of thing causes.
I was studying in Cairo for the summer, trying to improve my not-so-great Arabic. A few weeks into our time there, my roommate and I decided to go for a shop in the marketplace in the middle of the day.
Both of us had been making a conscious effort while in Egypt to dress conservatively – loose trousers, baggy shirts, nothing “provocative” by Egyptian standards. (Something that quite a few Western tourists never bother doing). In our naivety, we assumed that by dressing in a culturally respectful way, we would be treated respectfully.
Anyways, we were walking through the marketplace when this man began following us, muttering sexually suggestive phrases in Arabic at us (never imagining, I’m sure, that both of us understood full well what he was saying). We ignored him, darting in and out of shops to try and shake him off. He just hung around outside them, waiting for us to come out.
Eventually, he came up behind me and began rubbing his pelvis against me, and groping my butt. I managed to shake free of him, and then he did the same to my roommate. Unbelievably, he came up behind me AGAIN to try for another feel, at which point I elbowed him as hard as I could in the stomach. As I turned around, I saw him looking at me with this expression of mingled fury and hurt – as though somehow, he’d been doing me a tremendous favour, and I was the one behaving outrageously.
Another time, early in the morning, I had a guy follow me for about an hour. He followed me all the way to my classes, leering, catcalling, calling me a whore in Arabic – all at 8 o’clock in the morning. All I had done was hold a door open for him as I went out of a coffee shop.
I’m sure everyone now is aware of just how bad the sexual harassment problem in Egypt is, but I just want to go on record as having said the following: it doesn’t matter what you wear, it doesn’t matter if you speak any Arabic, it doesn’t matter how many people you’re with, and it doesn’t matter what time of day it is. If you’re a woman in Cairo (particularly a Western woman), men will follow you, make comments, and call you a whore – and it has to stop.
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?
It was last call at this bar. I was ordering for our table but the bartender said, “I’m sorry I can’t give you anything unless you show me your tits.” He reached out and tried to pull my shirt down. The manager was watching the whole thing. I tried to slap the bartender. At this point the manager tried to throw ME out. I told him that my friends and I would never go back and I had the police investigate the bar. Unfortunately, because an officer didn’t see it and there are no cameras in the bar they couldn’t do anything. Next time someone gets groped though, they have more evidence to go on I guess. I wish that bartender was fired and the bar was no longer in business.
Last Halloween I was out with my friends at my favourite nightclub in Manchester. It was pretty packed and at the bar we started chatting with some guys. They seemed friendly and were asking us about uni and things. We all moved onto the dancefloor and it was all quite innocent.
Suddenly, one of the guys stuck his hand down the front of my jeans and tried to get into my underwear. Shocked, I moved and told him that if he did that again I would slap him. He apologised and then did it again! This time he managed to get into my underwear before I could shove him away. I walked away and he followed me. I told him that I would report him to the police for sexual assault if he didn’t leave. He called me a frigid bitch and walked off.
I went to the bouncers and told them about this guy, they just shrugged and said it was probably an accident. They weren’t prepared to cause a scene even though by this point I was crying and felt so awful.
I’ve spoken to other girls and they’ve had this sort of thing done to them before. Nightclubs and bars need to be prepared to take action when things like this happen.
My best friend was groped in the breast by the owner of a bar in Devils Lake, ND. Apparently, he has done this to countless victims. Beware!
I was riding my bike home from a friend’s house on a pleasant afternoon. In fact, it was broad daylight, 3pm and I had been spending the last few hours with my friend and her 6 month old son.
Bikes of course have the right of way in Milwaukee so I was riding in the street. As I approached a red light at the intersection just north of Humboldt and Locust, I see a dirty old truck and the backs of men’s heads. I make a conscious decision to ignore them straight off the bat and not “provoke” by even looking in their direction. Wrong. Nothing I could have done would have prevented them from doing what they did next. We got the green and I started pedaling, only to have the truck SWERVE right up next to me. I THOUGHT they were trying to avoid hitting something in the street, I thought they were going to hit me (for the second time in my life). They slowed down, then the passenger leaned out his window and smacked my ass before driving off like the cowards they were.
I couldn’t see their license plates, my sunglasses weren’t prescription.
I was full of rage and sadness, I felt ashamed and feared for my life all because some jackass thought it was his RIGHT to touch me.
you know what I would have said had you not been a coward?
TAKE YOUR MISOGYNY and SHOVE IT UP YOUR ASS!
I was once going to my car to retrieve something out of it. When I was finished I turned back around to find a man standing directly behind me. I thought to myself that maybe he was there to ask for change, something that I was used to. Instead of hearing the words “Can you spare a quarter M’am?” I got “I was just tryin’ to make love to you.” Not exactly sure how to react to this I started walking away. He then proceeded to follow me and he asked me where I was going. I said, “To my boyfriends!”. That’s where he grabbed my arm and said something to the extent of “What your boyfriend got on me?”. I was able to remove his hand from my arm. Luckily he just walked off. The man seemed out of it and was possibly drunk or on something else. Not much later I saw a group of horse cops in the same alley way. I approached them and informed them that a man had just come up to me and tried to pull me away and possibly rape me and that they could please stay around to keep a look out. Not only did they barely acknowledge me, but they all road off about 5 minutes later.
I was in Sainsbury’s and I was buying cakes and these two guys looked at me and said ”nice” and followed me around the whole shop and wouldn’t stop looking at me, so I left my cart and went and this isn’t the first this has happened. On nights out, guys would touch me.