DR’s story: Is street harassment a ‘cultural’ thing?

This isn’t a story about harrassment. Not exactly. But it is an important story to tell, nonetheless. I have a dear friend that I have known for over 10 years. She is beautiful and adorable and has a bit of extra weight on her. She decided a few years ago to put herself in situations to date latinos because they appreciated “all body types,” unlike many other cultures, such as caucasions, like us. I was and am supportive of my friend’s decisions, not because I think she needs to date latinos, but because she is happy.

That said, we recently had one of our biggest arguments that we have ever had. We were discussing catcalls or whistles from men. I noted my extreme distaste with this and complete lack of acceptibility on my part. She, however, completely defended this behavior from “certain cultures” because it is “meant” as compliments. This was code to say that it is and should be acceptable for Latino men to verbally provide “statements” to women, because they are “compliments.” In my attempts at rebuttal, I was, quite honestly, very emotional and not as effective as I’d like to have been.

I know that my friend is blinded by her insecurities and adoption of a foreign culture and love of a good man. But I am still angry with her for supporting this type of behavior from men.

At BEST catcalls may be complimentary, but still put women in a place of objectification. At worst, it is clearly sexual harrassment, and putting women in potentially dangerous situations. It is about power. And when a someone creates an environment where another person is uncomfortable, whether meant as a compliment or not, is unacceptable.

I would truly like to hear from Latinas. In my attempt to see my friend’s perspective, and explore the possibility that I have more to learn, I would like to know how hispanic women feel about this behavior. Do you feel this is a compliment? If so, do you feel any danger in these situations? Do you find that you avoid these environments? Are you offended, and if so, do you let them know?

Thank you for listening.

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4 Responses

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  1. My Take On This says:

    As a Latina, I do tend to be less offended by Latino men catcalling me, as opposed to men of other races/ethnicities. However, it is not because I think they are being complimentary, but more because when men of other cultures are attracted to me, I feel it is more likely to be due to some kind of fetishism and racial stereotyping and objectification (the “hot” Latina, the “Latin Lover,” etc), whereas with Latinos, I know they have a mother, a sister, a daughter, etc., who look like me, and are therefore less likely to see me as some kind of exotic, nonhuman “other” who somehow has a looser moral code than their “own” “nice” women.

    That said, the difference is only in degree, not in overall feeling, because I still feel it is rude and it does make me uncomfortable. It’s just the slight difference between being objectified ONLY because I am a woman, and being objectified BOTH because I am a woman, AND a Latina, that makes it more tolerable. For example, I find that Latino men are far less likely to call me dirty names or say sexually explicit things to me, and more more likely to say “nice” things like “have a wonderful day” or “God bless you”, than men of other races, who seem to hold nothing back and think I am a total whore just because I am light brown. But of course I’d rather be left alone all together. So pick your poison lol. But in short, yes, I am more likely to ignore catcalls from Latinos, while from others, I am more likely to explode and get outwardly angry, and those reactions correspond to the level of disrespect I typically get from both groups.

    Therefore, if I was not Latina, I would probably not be as tolerant of Latin men harassing me, so I can’t relate to your non-Latina friend’s tolerance of this. I’ve heard Latin men say terrible things about the alleged sexuality and lack of morality of women of other non-Latin backgrounds, when none were around to hear, and trust me, it’s not at all chivalry and compliments. Sexism and racism often go hand-in-hand, and the more perceived “differences” between people, the more ammunition an abusive, power-hungry person has to use those differences to degrade the other.

  2. Inti says:

    Your friend is probably so infatuated with the culture that instead of doing her own research she is taking her boyfriend’s words for what it really is. Perhaps she ought to look up street harassment “Acoso Callejero” and see that it is a problem. In reality, it is like anywhere else – in Latin American cultures and countries, Latin American women and LGTB also suffer from the male privilege and entitlement. Show your friend the Hollaback sites in Latin American countries, like the one I lead in Buenos Aires – http://buenosaires.ihollaback.org – so that she can see that this plight is universal. Sure, some Latin American women may claim to like it – and may even defend it. Just like some US women, or some British women, or some French women may do too. But that doesn’t mean that it is defensible to street harass anywhere. It just means that a small number of women either like it or feel like they have to say they like it, or measure themselves by it because of societal pressures, but it doesn’t mean it is OK.

  3. Luz Blanca says:

    I’m a single Caucasian woman living in Latin America and I agree that it is offensive to be catcalled because I am a woman AND because I am foreign which translates to “easy, hippy tourist who will have sex with any guy she sees.” The things the men say are incredibly rude and demeaning. Women are people. Period. We are not objects and being objectified every time I leave my house and walk alone in a public space is infuriating. And I have heard many Latina women here defend the men or say, “Oh, that’s just men,” laughing it off. So, yes, it is cultural … it’s embedded in patriarchal societies that subjugate women and treat them as lesser than men. Catcalling is just another way of doing it and a subtle reminder that women belong to men or in the house and should not be walking the streets, even in broad daylight down a suburban street, by themselves. Frustrating!

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