I love traveling. I really do. I love seeing new places. Tasting new foods. Learning bits and pieces of new languages. I love watching how people interact and finding out what is taboo and what is normal.
I think, initially, my wanderlust was born from a deep desire to escape all the messed up feelings from when I was much younger. I wanted to move, move out, move away, move afar, move anywhere. Now I see I was the same person away as I was at home. But it’s human to think that a new place is a new chance. The only problem is that you inevitably bring yourself whenever and wherever you move. (Understanding this piece of navel-gazing revelation is probably why I really resonate with Alain de Botton’s ‘The Art of Travel.’)
The only thing I just cannot cope with wherever I am, but particularly in places where my appearance makes me stick out, is the unwanted attention from men. Now, don’t hear me wrong. I’m not fooled into believing that men will fall at my feet in every country I visit, and honestly, they don’t. But I have received my fair share on uncomfortably stares, full body leers (I mean the ones where the imbecilic man looks at me from head to toe and then back up again), wolf-whistles, really gross sexual comments, being cornered in between strange men on a street, and even a boob grab.
Please, please hear me out. Every Australian has in inbuilt sense of recognising when someone has tickets on themselves, so talking like this and raising this particular issue with me as the example, makes me self-conscious. But really, c’mon. Men are really feral sometimes. And I hate it. And it gets complicated when you’re in a cross-cultural situation.
I have a pretty high level of cross-cultural tolerance. I’ll cope with a lot of strange, new, even uncomfortable situations quite happily self-placating my rising terror because I know ‘we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.’ Weather, food, dress, language, body language, physical and societal status. Nearly everything.
Except a guy with his hands down his pants leering at me.
Ok, ok. That only happened once. But I really have a very, very low tolerance for gross men. I find it hard to shake off sexual comments and stares. Some people have told me I’m just way too sensitive and probably mis-read signals. Others have told me that gut feelings in this particular area need to be heeded. But I doubt anyone thinks that my reactions are godly, appropriate or helpful.
Because I’m not above giving a guy ‘the finger’, glaring, yelling, swearing, making smart-alec comments or all of the above, all at the same time. I could just shrug my shoulders and say, ‘Meh, I’m human. I make mistakes’ but I’ve already had at least one person tell me that even if I thought that, it wasn’t appropriate to put it on the internet. That piece of advice obviously hasn’t changed my perspective but I will qualify the ‘meh’ statement.
I know that my over-reactions are over-reactions for a Christian. I’ve never been a victim of a serious sexual assault that would warrant an all out verbal and physical reaction. So I agree with all the voices in my head (well, the Holy Spirit really) who pricks my conscience about these actions.
But how does one react in a culturally appropriate way? I’ve been told in some situations it’s perfectly acceptable to yell and shout and berate the man for mistreating his ‘sister’ and how dare he shame her in public. To not react this way would be to welcome the man’s advances, and actually would be indicating that you were a bit ‘easy’ and keen for more attention.
Glaring at a man in some other situations could get very dangerous, very quickly.
Is ignoring their bad behaviour the better option in most situations? Ignoring it makes me so angry sometimes. Chalking up their behaviour to cross-cultural differences makes me slightly less angry sometimes and even more furious other times. I guess I react so strongly sometimes because to sweep their actions under the cross-cultural carpet avoids the fact that their behaviour is sin. To disrespect and mistreat a woman because she is a woman is sin, no matter the cultural expectations.
But what avenues are there to address their inappropriate actions in a way that is culturally understood?