Walking While Female

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Self Portrait in Nantes

Self Portrait in Nantes

“Eh, madame! Madame…! MADAME!”

I keep on walking without looking back, even though I have the feeling that I am the “madame” and I was called after. Why would I? I know the line—scratch that, I know the lines.

Two blocks later, I hear another voice behind me: “putain, ce cul!” (“Fuck, look at this ass!”)

Is he talking about my ass? Probably. The street is empty, it’s past 8 p.m. and it’s a quiet Monday night. There are no other asses around.

My ass and I don’t slow down. I’m not even sure what the guys looks like, I barely registered him. I don’t feel threatened at all, I know guys like him, they are all talk. They just sit there and call after anyone who walks by and look even remotely shaggable. And to them, any woman between the ages of 16 and 55 fits the bill and is worth of a crude comment.

This is how it works. First, the guy calls after his target—at this stage, “madame” or “mademoiselle” will do. If she slows down or turns around, some kind of compliment will follow. It goes from the basic “t’es belle, toi!” (“aren’t you pretty!”) to corny lines such as “Is you name Google? Because when I look at you, I find everything I’m looking for!” Crude comments such as “nice piece of ass” or “I’d love to see my dick in your mouth” are also somehow uttered. This just blows my mind (no pun intended). How many women actually reply “oh, merci beaucoup! I’d love to give you a blowjob behind the petite Peugeot parked here, come here monsieur!”

If the woman ignores the comments—and most do once they understand they are dealing with a pick-up artist and not someone who needs directions to the nearest bakery—they suddenly become “une grosse salope” (a slut), “une connasse” (a stupid bitch) or a “thon” (ugly bitch).

And life goes on.

Some call it street harassment, other think it’s just harmless seduction games between the two genders. I’d say it completely depends on the situation. I don’t usually get offended for being called “pretty” (hell, some days it feels good). I feel differently if I’m treated as a piece of meat with a crude comment on my ass or my boobs. Oh, and by the way: if a woman ignores you, it means she is not interested. I know it’s hard to believe but you probably aren’t as irresistible as you think you are.

I learned to deal with guys hitting on woman as soon as I started to look like one, which was around thirteen years old. Like most young teens, at this age I was slowly morphing into the grownup version of myself, and I no longer looked like a child even though I still felt innocent. Hearing these comments was both annoying and unsettling—and also occasionally flattering because for the first time in my life, I was seen as a woman. Imagine being an awkward teen and hearing that you are pretty: you feel acknowledged, even though deep down you know that he probably wants something from you. It’s also hard to walk away and ignore such comments when you are younger, as you are generally not as quick witted and assertive as later in life.

I remember feeling very uncomfortable hearing pickup lines when I was pregnant with Mark. Granted, during the first semester, I wasn’t showing and they couldn’t have known. Yet, it felt wrong on many levels.

These days, I feel confident and assertive enough that these dragueurs don’t bother me. I see them like annoying mosquitoes buzzing around my head.

I’d still slap Mark if he acts like this when he turns old enough, though.

Self Portrait in Nantes

Self Portrait in Nantes


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Ce fléau est sans doute la seule chose qui me ferait quitter la France. Je n’en peux plus de ce harcèlement, de devoir faire des détours dans la rue, de me faire insulter, d’avoir peur de porter ce que je veux porter, à chaque fois que je sors.
    Si ça t’intéresse… http://projetcrocodiles.tumblr.com/

      • Dans toutes les villes de France et de Navarre. J’ai grandi à la campagne où je n’ai pas eu trop affaire à ça, et heureusement, car je crois qu’en tant que jeune ado puis ado, ça aurait tué mon âme.
        Je suis d’accord avec Martin ci dessous, ça n’a rien à voir avec de la drague, mais avec la volonté de bien montrer aux femmes qu’elles ne sont que des objets, que des corps, dont on peut disposer.
        Le projet crocodile (il y a une version anglophone aussi) est vraiment très touchant

        • Je suis un peu moins sévère, je peux concevoir que ce soit de la drague dans certains lieux ou les nénettes traînent aussi pour se faire draguer. Mais il y a drague et drague… et c’est pas toujours d’expliquer à quel point ça peut être lourd et dérangeant parfois. Après, je n’aime pas non plus la tendance à parler de harcèlement pour tout et n’importe quoi, car faut pas exagérer, les hommes n’ont pas que l’idée de sauter une femme en tête. Les lieux publics, c’est aussi là où on rencontre des gens… idem pour le travail.

          • Martin Penwald on

            Je dirais qu’on ne va pas au boulot pour draguer, et même si le courant passe entre 2 personnes, ça peut être difficile à gérer. Entre autre si il y a lien de subordination. Où s’arrête la drague et où commence la promotion canapé ?

          • Je sais… en même temps, passé un certain âge (genre la fac, si on y va), c’est quand même au taf qu’on passe ses journées, donc la probabilité est forte de rencontrer l’âme soeur.

            (j’ai vraiment écrit ça? Je ne suis pas sûre de croire à l’âme soeur, ni au taf de bureau… never mind…)

        • Martin Penwald on

          J’ai parcouru le projet crocodile, et c’est en effet un des points mentionnés au cours des sujets abordés. Ce qui me rassure, vu que j’ai parfois une vision un peu noire du modèle patriarcal que je trouve détestable, ce qui a tendance à biaiser mes opinions.

          Comme dirait l’autre, « Mort aux cons ! » , mais je ne voudrais pas passer pour suicidaire 🙂

          • Mais non! Tu reste “mon” routier intello et intéressant, rien que pour ça, défense de sauter du camion 🙂

          • Martin Penwald on

            Et encore, tu sais pas tout.

            « Le suicide, c’est un peu une vengeance personnelle, et personnellement, je ne m’en veux pas. » — Coluche.

          • Putain de camion… je ne sais pas comment aurait fini Coluche, mais il était souvent “right on spot”.

  2. Martin Penwald on

    It is not the kind of thing which can happen in Ottawa.


    (just kidding, here)

    I can’t understand in which world these harassment can work. But it is not about “scoring”, it is about expressing man’s superiority over women, who are supposed to submit to men in every way, even in apparently harmless chatter. These neanderthalians can’t naturally see it, so sure of their “manliness”. It is appaling.

    • It’s just such a thin line when you try to explain the difference between harassment and harmless flirting… Some guys just don’t seem to get it. Which doesn’t mean that all guy think with their dick.

      • Martin Penwald on

        I am so shy that it seems completely alien to me to start a conversation in the street with some random stranger, and if I really have to ask something, I probably won’t dare ask a woman.
        However, I am functional in case of standard commercial interaction in a store or whatever.

        • It’s funny because I’m not that social either but I find talking to strangers easy because we won’t meet again. No commitment needed, no expectations either.

  3. Your blog has been a revelation in so many ways. For instance, if I share this with any of my folks they will be shocked; “in France!” We tend to believe that this is majorly an Indian problem. I think I have shared this with you that India has this problem, it is a very complex problem. It’s not just guys being assholes, it’s quite bigger and quite more layered up; so much that right now, it is even difficult for me to pick a starting point.

    It is bad. Tres mauvais!

    P.S. Like always, you closed the post wonderfully.

    • And see, on the other hand I was surprised to hear that it was a problem in India. For some reason, I tend to associate catcalls with “Latin” countries like Italy, Spain, France, a few South American countries, etc. This kind of behaviour is unknown in China for instance and very much frown upon in North America (even if it does happen… not to me, though).

    • Martin Penwald on

      It is something I didn’t like in the treatment of some of India’s rape cases in French media, which was as if even street harassment was not an issue in France, and India was presented like a backward country.
      « Not that we are racists, but … »
      Pretty disgusting.

  4. Thank you for teaching ne that “thon” means something else now !!

    Ugh i hate this ! In Baltimore and Abidjan, it is so bad because sometimes they try to grab your arm, shoulder, or hand to get your attention. I always had to hold my car keys in a defensive manners (in between my fingers) in case i need to defend myself. One time, i got slapped on my butt and i nearly threw a bottle at his head ! I hope my son does not act like this or else this African woman is going to lose her mind !

      • Martin Penwald on

        « Thon » , for implying that a woman is ugly, is used in my region too, I think it is part of a country-wide slang.

  5. Wow… I tend to forget what it’s like to just walk into the street in any French city after living two years in Ottawa !
    I find you very open-minded. Most of the time, women could feel threatened and just hate these behaviors which could worsen very quickly.

    • I can’t remember feeling threatened by these comments as an adult and I don’t want to overreact either (no all guys are assholes and yes, men and women should meet and communicate freely, etc.) But as a teen… yes, it was harder to deal with unwanted comments.

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