"Oi Linda!" "Linda, Viu?"These are comments that my girl friends noticed from the night we stepped foot out of the orienation hotel and into the streets.
Our first experience:
So we were 3 women looking for a place to have dinner and we were walking by a near-by park and there were lots of people out chilling, selling street food like popcorn etc. And when we passed by guys almost all of them would make some sort of comment and my friend Allegria said “well, then I’m glad that at least I don’t understand what they’re saying” and right after she said that a guy we passed goes: “beeeautiful”. It was just amazingly good timing. So anyway this was fairly representative of our experience on the streets of Salvador as women from that day forward. It happens every day especially if you’re alone; it happens far less if you’re with a guy and especially if they think the guy is Brazilian.
But yeah it is very uncomfortable, to quote one of my friends who is constantly hit on almost everywhere, that she “feels like a deer in the woods ready to be hunted" or with comments like “gostosa” [delicious] "literally like a slab of meat at a delicatessen." Although I/we don’t condone this, my friends and I agreed that at least they’re just comments like “Beautiful” and not more vulgar commens about our bodies or anything like that, which we have experienced before in the States. Allegria, from San Francisco said one time when she was walking to a job interview and felt she looked really cute, a guy passing her says “nice tits” and that is… yeah so we’re thankful that usually it’s something less vulgar.
But of course this kind of thing does seem to be limited to experiences with strangers and usually on the street [some have experienced a lot of machismo in their capoeira classroom but it’s a different sort of thing]. Because I am not treated like this by all guys/men on the street. Especially if they’re working. I’ve noticed that wearing the uniform really means something; sometimes the minute some guys are off work--like our tour guide at Morro-- it’s a totally different story. But yeah I am not harassed by my sisters’ friends or other friends we make here at some concerts etc. Of course even less by the males in our host families. I also think that anonymity and social class have something to do with it usually.
- How do I cope with it?
My friends and I satirize it all the time. “oooh, do my half-shaven, pasty, mosquito-bitten legs turn you on?” Because it really doesn’t matter as my housekeeper, Fernanda has said, whether you’re all dressed up/ showing cleavage and in a mini skirt or “toda desarrumada ” and all covered up and sloppy.
But this one time that it got to be more than just “oi linda”. I was at a bustop with 4 other friends and this man who was homeless, came up to us and started talking to us, asking where we were going and such, and my friend responded “praia do flamengo” and he was okay at first but then he started saying stuff like “oh I bet you’d look good on the beach with those long legs” and from there we demonstrated disapproval and tried to ignored him. Then he went away and came back "where are you from?" And I answered “Sou Brasileira” thinking he might leave us alone now if he’s only doing this because he thinks we’re all tourists who don’t know how to deal with this stuff, but nope that didn’t help--and I guess we didn't really know how to deal with this stuff. Cause he grabs my arm and kisses it ..out of patriotism? I don’t know but that’s when we moved away because touching or any physical contact is waaaay beyond crossing the boundaries. So we moved away and then it seemed like he was gone so we came back, (the bus still hadn’t come) and we sat down on the benches and then in like 3 minutes he comes over and sits next to me and wants to keep talking and I’m like “I have to go”. But he gets up and follows me and he’s like “no wait let me give you another kiss” me: “nao!”
So I recommend that if something is going beyond (because you can spend your whole day just saying something back to every person that sexually harasses you and it seems like a waste of energy because it'll happen the next day again and again and again) and is persistent that you just leave the area, or it will escalate. You can also say “me deixa em paz” = “leave me alone” and then go. Sometimes, like in this case it doesn't seem like reason will really help because this guy seemed to have a mild mental disorder and I don't know I just know that being homeless his behavior is reflecting his life experience and what he’s probably been seeing on the streets all the time. And I was thinking also that since I don't experience this sexual harassment with my family or my sister's friends well they are all from a middle-upper middle class so may be that's a factor. However it's not so say that it doesn't exist in that social class because....
This other time, God, also at a bus stop --by myself this time, I was waiting for the Praca da Se bus and it was taking for EVER! I had already waited like 30/40 minutes and in the last 10 minutes there was a guy who was in a suit, suitcase, tie, and reading the newspaper apparently just got off work or something, and I noticed he kept staring at me and smiling creepily just watching me. And I moved a little and he followed, I moved back and so did he. It was getting weird so I just decided to get on the next bus even though it was the executivo (executive), more expensive one because I wanted to go already. And he gets on the bus with me! But I kind of made the seat next to me unavailable so he sat more towards the front
And I wasn’t sure where to get off because this bus might have different points than the other normal bus. So I asked this other guy who was farther in the back with me. He was super nice he was explaining everything to me, very respectful and he told me he’d let me know when to get off. So then he says “it’s coming up” so I go back up to the front and the bus driver told me oh wait it’s a couple more blocks, but to my bad luck there was terrible traffic and I was standing almost right in front of the suitcase guy and I start hearing some noises. I thought it was my imagination at first, and then I told myself may be he’s just smacking his lips at what’s in the newspaper, but afterward "no it can’t be that repetitive". But I felt disgusting because I had my backside to him and now I realize he’s making kissing noises at me trying to do it only loud enough for ME to hear and oh man those minutes were eternal to me and I guess he did want some kind of reaction because he was getting louder and louder to make sure I heard, so I decided not to look because obviously that’s what he wanted if my reaction at the time--of not doing anything-- was not what he wanted. But I just got filled with such raiva that I just wanted to turn around and smack his dirty lips I just wanted to slap him. Like what the hell are you doing?! And then finally it was my stop, and he gets off too. I was determined to lose him in the crowd luckily avenida sete is always crowded. But I was still feeling really frustrated. And it was worse to me than when the homeless guy kissed my arm because it is definitely a different power dynamic. This guy had not only had the education to know that he is doing something wrong but I almost feel like he was doing it for that purpose. Because he “knows” he is in the position of power and probably wanted to intimidate me or something, and obviously it’s very unequal because I can’t do that back to him and make him feel the same way, he can’t feel sexually harassed by me and if I did what he did to be back, he’d probably like it.
Oh disgusting though. I
t was the WAY he was looking at me. a super sexual way of looking at me and it really did make me feel like being violent towards him. I don’t know if I dealt with that well, I still feel like I should have told him something in front of those people on the bus like “velho perverso, você não tem vergoinha de ser tão maleducado!” But again I’m not sure if he probably even would have wanted that, or any reaction. I think, well I wish I didn’t react the way I did internally because that only hurts me. I wish it hadn’t bothered me to that point, but it did all the more because he was a “White” man.
So, like I said it usually had to do with class but not always, and it was very interesting how different my reactions were to this. But after I told my friends they were totally more disgusted regardless of all the kisses blown at them before, but it did make a difference that it was a White man from an higher class. It just is a different power dynamic in this instance and it changes the way we perceive it.
[the picture is from: