Keep your shoulders and knees covered. Don’t show cleavage. Pull your hair back. Look through people, not at them. Don’t smile. Don’t talk to men you don’t know. Pull away quickly if a strange man attempts to touch you. Never follow a shopkeeper to his “back room.” Ignore insults. Ignore winks, kissing noises, and the ubiquitous, “Hello, sweetheart”s. Try not to go out alone. Don’t encourage them.
I’ve heard various mash-ups of these snippets of wisdom several times over the course of my stay in the Middle East. After living in Eastern Europe, it wasn’t anything new for me. In Eastern Europe, however, it was quite easy for me to blend in. Here, however, I stick out like a sore thumb. My light brown hair that I leave uncovered and my pale skin act like neon signs blinking over me as I walk through a crowd, drawing stares and other forms of attention. You all probably know this, but Western, particularly American women are branded as “loose” and “easy” in some places, and therefore are sometimes seen to be sort of public property. Because of this stigma, I have been told, men feel emboldened to take liberties.
It’s strange–often, for long stretches of time in my day-to-day American life, I am able to forget that I’m a woman. I’m able to forget that there are differences in gender and sex and I can believe that everyone is equal and everyone is respectful and everyone loves everyone else in a totally platonic way.
This isn’t true everywhere, obviously. Last week in Istanbul, a close friend of mine was waiting for a bus in a well-populated, well-lit area when four men approached her, shouted insults at her, and then groped her. My friend, a rape victim, was afraid to leave her room for the next several days. Right outside of our dorm, groups of men would cruise by in the early evening, approaching the female students and attempting to coax them into their cars. A few days before I left, as I was sitting on the bus, I noticed a man standing across from my seat trying to take pictures up my skirt with his phone.
Here in Amman, I stick out even more than in Istanbul. As I walk down the street, the gazes of strangers burn holes into my back. Men don’t glance, they stare, plundering my face, hair, and figure for the mysteries of the universe. Shouts of, “Good morning, princess,” follow me down alleys. Cabbies ask, in broken English, if I have a boyfriend, and, if not, if I would like one.
And I have had more than one person tell me, “Oh, that’s how it is here. You’ll get used to it. How were you dressed? Did you make eye contact? You shouldn’t encourage them. Ignore it.”
…Really? This is my fault?
The prevailing sentiment in this part of the world…No, let’s be honest, in most of the world, is that, by being female, I am asking for these attentions. If I show a little skin, then I must want you to follow me home. If I have a drink at a bar, I must want you to join me and chat me up. If I am walking alone, I must want you to come put your arm around me. Men the world over seem to have this idea that women the world over are aching for their attention.
Maybe I seem jaded, but as I grow older, I encounter this behavior more and more often. I’ve seen it from men from across the cultural, religious, and socio-economic spectrum. I’m starting to think it must be hardwired somewhere in every man, and that eventually, they all show their true nature.
Not all men act on this nature. Certainly not. But enough do that it makes me question the future of the human race.
This is a bit of a random, rambling post, and I apologize, especially after not blogging for a long time…I’m just frustrated and halfway tempted to buy a burqa, though I doubt that will solve any of my problems. I’ll get to the non-complainy, interesting stuff eventually.