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Street Harassment is a Thing in France

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 guy 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 looks even remotely shaggable. And to them, any woman between the ages of 16 and 55 fits the bill and is worthy 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 your 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, others think it’s just harmless seduction games between the two genders. I’d say it entirely 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 women 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

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