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?