Sexual Harassment – it doesn’t have to be this way…

I want to take a second from my usual food-related ramblings to talk about something more serious: harassment on the streets of Paris.

The wave of women posting #MeToo statuses has meant that journalists are getting the green light to publish articles which state the bleeding obvious.

The Local, for example, recently published a piece detailing the experiences of women in Paris. It’s a sad state of affairs that the only woman they could find who hadn’t experienced any kind of harassment was a 19 year old student who only moved to Paris “a few weeks ago.”

My experience is much the same. On a daily basis, I was made to feel uncomfortable, being subjected to looks, calls, whistles… all of which were supposed to be taken as compliments.

I tried to change my habits. I would wear jeans rather than a skirt. That didn’t stop the harassment.

I chose to Vélib rather than take the métro. That didn’t always work because on several occasions, a car would follow/keep pace with my bike just to check out my ass or proposition me. On another occasion, the man also took a Vélib bike himself and chased me down the street to my house.

I took a taxi a short distance to go home late at night… and that got me nothing but a black eye when the driver assaulted me.

I got cat-called and mocked by the vigileat Monoprix. They are supposed to be the ones who help and keep you safe and yet they failed desperately. Their head office subsequently received a strongly-worded letter.

Women should not be told: “you live in a big city, you should expect this.” 

Let’s hope that the next generation of boys will grow up knowing that this behaviour is unacceptable and the next generation of girls will no longer be afraid of speaking out.

In the meantime, we’re in this transitional period in which we know it’s wrong, we’ve had enough but we need to speak up and take back control of our streets.

That’s the key word: control. What’s most hurtful and traumatic in these harassment situations is your sudden lack of control. That someone else has the upper hand, that you are being objectified.

False. False. False! Legally, you CANNOT do this.

Number 1: please, take a self-defense class. I cannot recommend highly enough Ladies System Defense in Paris but there must be others too.

If you are physically attacked – like the British woman in the supermarket in the Local article – kick the fucking man in the balls. Men have never been particularly good at listening… but they do remember acute pain. Put your two hands on his left shoulder and drive your right knee up where it hurts. (The same movement can also be used on women too… if need be.) Incidentally, this technique worked wonderfully on that aforementioned taxi driver (read my piece on Medium below.)

That said, if the initial attack is verbal, you must remain verbal. If the attack is physical, you can get physical as long as your reaction is APPROPRIATE, TIMELY and ALLOWS YOU TO GET AWAY.

If you slap someone for having said something, according to French law, you are in the wrong. Please, please read this (written by the same French police officers who take time off work to teach self-defence) to know your rights.

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Number 2: Speak out or step in when you see it happening to another person. Always consider your personal safety but if you can intervene or take a photo – or better still, a video – it may well become the most valuable piece of evidence to take to the police and result in a conviction.

The points at the end of this Guardian article are worth remembering.

Number 3: If you have evidence, or you’re worried for your safety, go to the police station. I will most likely write something about the inner workings of the French justice system, of the differences between a main courante and a plainte but that’s for later.

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Finally, I want to end on a positive note.

I moved to Italy – a country with a reputation for dark-haired Lotharios calling out ciao bellissimaaaa – but I’ve been here for over a year now and I have had just two such experiences:

I’m sitting outside a café, writing the address on an envelope that I’m about to send. Suddenly, breaking my concentration, a car pulls up, with the window down and the man calls out: “hey girl, come stai?” … I give him a filthy look… He continues “how’s Alessandro?” Oh shit, I realise: this is Alessandro’s cousin, a guy I’d met once before and he’s just being friendly.

Secondly, walking along the pavement with my dog… and a guy on a bike cycles past and calls out, “ciao bello” to which I realise (because he’s used the masculine) that he is actually addressing my dog!! Yes, my dog got cat-called! He gives me a courteous nod and says “buona giornata / have a good day” before cycling on.

Ok, I’m in a small town in the north of Italy where people generally mind their own business. But street harassment does not have to be part of your daily life and nor should you accept it as such.

13 thoughts on “Sexual Harassment – it doesn’t have to be this way…

  1. Great article. Your personal story was very inspiring given how you handled yourself so well.
    You’re so right about going for the balls too. My mum taught me this as a teenager in a pretty spectacular fashion when an ex-boyfriend tried to force himself on me while we were in my house. My mum heard me scream so ran into the room and grabbed him by the hair so she could pull him off me. She then kicked him really hard in the balls which completely dropped him to the floor. She probably could’ve been charged with assault but luckily he was too embarassed to report it. I don’t think he wanted it known that someone’s mum had beaten him so easily. She did have some martial arts experience so it wasn’t entirely just motherly instinct.

    1. Good on your mum!!! But I’m sorry she needed to do that in the first place. It shouldn’t have happened and let’s hope he has learnt and hasn’t tried that with anyone else. Well done for screaming too. That’s something I have no natural instinct to do but I know it’s a vital way of alerting others.
      It’s a pity that we have to even have this conversation (I mean we really shouldn’t have to be taking martial arts classes to defend ourselves from men in the 21st century) but thank you for speaking up and sharing 🙂

      1. Yeah it’s an annoying problem. I’m fairly realistic about it though. Given that it’s not just gonna disappear, we should make sure as many girls as possible learn self-defense. I do think that’ll help act as a deterrent over the long term which could bring down the rates.
        I hope at some point there’ll be some changes to the laws regarding self-defense for women as well. I feel like they don’t take into account sex differences enough (though I guess it depends on where you are). Like in that situation with my mum, we had to genuinely worry whether she could get charged with assault. Yet pretty much 90% of women I’ve spoken to agree that what she did was acceptable in those conditions.

    2. Yeesh, that’s a bit brutal. I get that you need to make sure you’re safe when someone’s assaulting you but once your mum had helped pull him off, surely the 2 of you could’ve handled the situation given that he’d have been outnumbered? Was kicking him really necessary? That shit hurts like hell.

      1. Sexual assault is quite brutal as well, Gary.
        Of course you’ll always be able to say with hindsight from the comfort of your computer screen that there might have been a more moderate solution but in the heat of the moment, you just have to go with what feels like the safest approach and where your instinct takes you.
        I should’ve also pointed out that the guy’s genitals were completely exposed at the point my mum pulled him off me. So she immediately saw that his most vulnerable body part was completely unprotected. She just went with the most obvious approach that almost any woman would’ve gone with in that situation. As for the fact that it hurts like hell: GOOD. When a woman kicks a guy as hard as my mum did, he sure as hell has done something to deserve it. No women are doing that on a vague whim.
        (Apologies for clogging up your comment section with random arguments Emma. I just feel compelled to respond to guys making bad arguments. Feel free to delete all of this if it’s annoying)

      2. No no, Jane, your comment fully deserves to stay!
        The other factor is that men are, for the most part, stronger than women. Were you to have wriggled your way out (a move in self-defence called the shrimp) there’s still no guarantee that he wouldn’t just push you back on the bed. In my opinion, a kick in the balls was the right way to go.

      3. Thanks Emma, I appreciate the support.

        I think men being stronger than women is maybe the route of some of the anxiety for some men. I remember when Susan Schorn published that piece in Jezebel that you linked to, there was a lot of negativity from various groups of men on the internet over the fact that she’d simply explained to women how to kick guys.

        I think they maybe saw it, as Gary is seeing it, as a situation where women could easily just abuse our power. So maybe my mum didn’t just choose the best way to solve the situation. Maybe she deliberately chose the way to humiliate and emasculate the guy as much as possible as a form of punishment. Which in our situation, I would’ve been completely fine with. That’s what he deserved. But that could be bad in other situations I guess.

      4. True… but that makes women out to be crazy, unhinged harpies who will pick fights with men for no reason.
        I believe that all behaviour should be timely and appropriate. (i.e. don’t physically attack someone for what they said and don’t get revenge a week or whatever later.)
        If you’ve said no, you’ve screamed, and they still go ahead and whip put their genitals, (IMO) you are definitely not in the wrong for asserting your right not to be raped.
        A few years ago, I used this video as a training tool and I think it’s still valid:

      5. I don’t think many women will pick fights with men for no reason, Emma.
        But I absolutely think some (emphasis on some) women are unhinged harpies who see themselves in competition with men and so will deliberately do whatever they think will humiliate men the most.
        All I meant in your situation Jane, was that once there were 2 of you against 1 of him, surely you had quite a few other options.
        It just sounds like your mum was deliberately trying to just get revenge on him, more than anything else. Which I don’t think is good.

      6. Oh so you’re admitting that your problem is just women potentially humiliating you, Gary?
        I’m sorry but I really don’t think that should be a factor in this issue at all. That’s men’s problem, not women’s.
        As Emma pointed out, there’s always the worry that you won’t permanently stop the guy. Unless you have like handcuffs or you’re capable of completely knocking him unconscious (both of those seem unlikely), he might be able to immediately try again. Even when there was both me and my mum, that’s still not an absolute guarantee when the man is bigger than you.
        So when you especially take into account the fact that the guy’s genitals were exposed (as will be necessarily true of all rapists), it’s always going to be the best and quickest way for a woman to remove his ability to continue.
        If you feel intimidated by the fact that a woman could so easily disable you like this (or maybe already has in the past), that sounds like a good thing to me. It means you’ll avoid doing anything that might cause us to.

  2. Thank you for sharing your experience. So sorry for what happened to you. Well done for successfully resisting though. I know a lot of women would just freeze in that situation and not know how to react.
    The thing I’ve never quite understood is the legal question of what lengths you’re allowed to go to in order to defend yourself. It usually says something like “necessary force”, or something like that. Which seems entirely subjective to me, from the point of view of the woman. Do they ever address such things in self-defense classes? I’ve never got round to going to one.

  3. During my first year at university a man dragged me into some bushes and tried to rape me. He was very strong and held me down with one hand around my neck, ripping off my knickers with the other hand. He undid his trousers, but as he struggled to pull them down I saw my chance and grabbed for his testicles. He saw what I was trying to do and jerked away, but I managed to get a grip on one ball and squeezed it as if my life depended on it, which it may well have done. Expecting him to punch me, I shielded my face with my free hand, but the punches never came. He actually seemed to be paralysed by the pain, able to do no more than paw at my hand and make a pitiful whimpering noise. As I kept squeezing, yanking and twisting his ball, hell fell sideways off of me and tried to curl up. I maintained my grip until I had got to my feet and ran off towards the dormitories. I hammered on the first door and three big guys appeared. When I explained what had happened they asked me to show them where I was attacked while someone called campus security. Incredibly, although several minutes had gone by, the man was still there on the ground, literally writhing in obvious agony!
    I never was told what damage I had caused him, but I know he went to prison for a long time.
    The thing is, I had taken a self defence course at high school, and nothing I had been taught would have helped me in this situation; it just happened too quickly for me to react. I only knew to do what I did because I grew up with two brothers!
    I just cannot understand why they don’t teach this to all girls at school. If all girls of age 11 or 12 were taught how to do this all over the world, it would surely practically put an end to rape and sexual assault.

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