Many people have asked me if I felt threatened, harassed or in danger when I’m travelling, and the answer is usually no. I don’t generally go out at night alone, and I’m always conscious about my surroundings, like the guy who was following me in Rome despite many turns, shop visits, etc.
But with all the news of late about sexual harassment in all the insidious forms it takes, I’m going to tell you a little story about last week.
I was visiting a friend in Lille, an absolutely charming city, and we were having a great weekend. We’d walked the city, strolled the citadel, drank wine, ate good food, watched Bojack Horseman when we needed a rest, and just enjoyed our time. On Sunday we went down to a cafe down her street for a few glasses of wine. Turned out that Sundays was the night that a chess club meets- cool. We are chatting with the guys about all the things people usually ask me: politics, Trump, the lunacy of American gun laws… It was an interesting group- English, Thai, French, all’s well.
But most of the attention came from an older gent who described himself as Algerian/French. Parents born in Algeria, him in France. We talked about immigration, about the vilification of Muslims as the new cinema bad guy-
remember when it was dark skin, then the Russians or Nazis? We talked about a work injury he suffered which led to his early retirement. I’m enjoying getting to know a new person. He starts pushing for some personal info- articles I’ve written, how to find this blog, etc. It’s a little boundary intrusion, but not too much.
Then he starts asking about my sex life. ALL women know that when a guy starts with this, going back to politics and current events ain’t happening. How many lovers have I had? Who am I sleeping with tonight, do I prefer English to French? Have I slept with a Muslim man before? It’s okay, France is free like that. What kind of man do I like to have sex with? I like big black men, right? Now for a half hour I’m under sexual interrogation from a fucking stranger.
Keep in mind, that my answer to these questions has gone from demur upbeat deferrals: “none of your concern”, “nope, not answering that”, “I don’t care how cool France is, I’m not sleeping with any of you” to being backed into a corner in tears, begging him to “Please stop please stop please stop”
I ran from the cafe without my jacket just to get away.
To those who might ask where my friend was- don’t even. That’s not the point at all, and it’s not her job to defend/help me. It’s HIS job to stop the first time I ask.
It’s his job to never start this shit. For the record, though, she was outside having a smoke with some others. Which of course is part of the plan, to isolate me and tear me down. That’s how it works, that’s how it always works.
So at the time, I felt debased and humiliated. I was having a nice chat with an interesting person for over an hour, and it was all a set up. Now I’m mad as hell- how fucking dare he? How fucking dare he take an innocent conversation and turn it into something predatory and scary?
When men say that women are bitches because they rebuff the initial offers of conversation, this shit is why. Because I don’t want to spend an hour chatting with you to find out that you were a fucking creep to begin with. You may be a “nice guy”, but frankly, I’m exhausted trying to figure it out, because the minute you hear me assert my own privilege over my own body, you get nasty.