Travelling alone and sexual harassment

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.

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5 Responses to Travelling alone and sexual harassment

  1. Excellent post, Saxon. This is why “but I don’t do that” self-appointed Nice Guys better step up their game and police their male ranks. Not that women need to be protected by cowboys in white hats (you kicked ass, by the way), but because nice guys are getting shit on by these predators, too. The nasty ones are creating a world where women are suspicious of the nice ones. That should piss nice guys off and they should work to undo that culture that perpetuates it. I can’t understand why they aren’t. Women have worked hard to undo the culture that perpetuates a bad deal for us – we vote, work, control when/if we have children, are removing objectification from advertising, and are pushing for equal reorientation in government and business. Their turn. Men: start with how you raise your boys and how you speak to your friends and co-workers. Educate yourself on the issues. Give a shit, not because you are doing us a favor, but because you are doing yourself a favor.

  2. saxonbrown says:

    Exactly Kristi- I thought about adding that, but you’ve said it so well. The “nice guys” (and yeah, I’m keeping in quotes for now) all know creeps, and aid and abet them. Then they wonder why they are painted with the same brush. I didn’t feel I handled it well at the time, because, tears.

    But I do know this- the minute the conversation starts to go in *that* direction, I’ll bail before letting it get worse, since that’s the only direction it’ll go. And Fuck that guy. (he has the blog address, I hope he reads it and appreciates how much I hate him).

    • Yep. That’s why I knew my physics professor wanted to trade an A for sex when he started talking about his penis size when I stopped in to his office for help. That’s how I knew my law professor would have traded an A for sex when he started talking about what I thought about IUDs when I reported to his office at his request to discuss becoming his research assistant. Yep. “Research Assistant.” So I found his previous “Research Assistant” and she looked like she could be my sister. She had already reported him for harassment (showing up at her house drunk and shouting in the window that he wanted to f—her.) He stayed at the university for 15 more years.

      • saxonbrown says:

        And my philosophy professor that told me he knew when I would take my next vacation (where he had a cabin), and the hansy chef that always insisted on a hug that always ended with a boob grope on the exit. We could do this for days and days and still there will be dudes that won’t get it. Or even try.

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