Battling harassment on the streets of Buenos Aires

A letter to the catcallers of Buenos Aires:

Piropos (catcalls) are sexual harassment.

I do not need nor want your comments about how I am looking today or what I am wearing.

When you say something about my appearance, you choose to bypass appreciating me for so much more than what I look like, what goals I have accomplished, who I am as a person, my mind, thoughts, opinions and my feelings.

They make me feel vulnerable and like a piece of raw meat for sale at a butcher shop.

I am so much more than my body.

I do not need a disgusting comment from someone I do not know to make me feel good about myself.

I want to walk to the gym, grocery store, my university and to church without being treated like a sexual object by men around me.

I want to feel comfortable walking past construction workers, taxi lines, and the parrilla (BBQ restaurant) on the corner of my block without have to cross the street and listen to your catcalls from farther away.

Even if I am wearing a tight shirt or skirt, that does not give you permission to comment. It is not an invitation.  

Would you want someone to say something like what you said to me to your daughter? Your wife? Your mother?

                     – Elizabeth Rodewald

One of my Argentine friends once said ‘I could tell when I got old and ugly because the guys in the streets stopped looking at me and yelling things at me in the streets.’

Why would you ever base your beauty on something like that? Beauty is not only  on the outside. Beauty is what you decide it to be.

Every day, I take public transportation or walk through the streets of Buenos Aires and witness countless men staring at women’s bodies. Quite frankly, it makes me sick. When did men stop looking at a woman’s beautiful face and focus on her rear end? Would you want someone to look at your daughter, mother, and wife like that? I highly doubt it.

Just because I chat with you, I am not inviting you to ask for my number or to go on a date, especially when you wear a wedding ring, drive a taxi and are between 50-60 years old. I either have to unwillingly play along by giving a fake number or say that I have a boyfriend, which does not always  guarantee solace. The final option is tell him you are thinking but, if he is a taxi driver, he knows where I live and has me in his vehicle.

When it comes to a piropo, does the content matter?  Is “You are beautiful,” the same as “I can’t wait to see what you have under that outfit?”

“Piropos are more or less the same, regardless of the content, because they all encroach on a woman’s right to walk or even exist in a public space without being harassed or her looks being commented on,” said Dana Weinstein ’16 from Occidental College in California. “Obviously some piropos are more obscene than others, but at the end of the day, I think they bring about the same result -the objectification of women’s bodies and the valuation of looks over other characteristics.”

How am I supposed to react after I receive a piropo? Should I say thank you and smile? Should I ignore it and roll my eyes, or should I say something back to him so that he knows his comments are not appreciated here?

“I typically feel rather uncomfortable after I receive a piropo. I’m always tempted to look down at the ground, but I try my best to not show that it affects me. I usually continue walking and look straight ahead. For me, it’s largely an issue of consent — I never agreed to have my appearance commented on, nor does my mere existence as a women invite such comments,” Weinstein said.

It is a tough decision because you want to respond with a witty comeback but they don’t deserve a response after sexually harassing you. Chances are that if he catcalled, you he catcalled hundreds of others.  One response from a woman will not change his harassing habits.

We can thank machismo for the practice and acceptance of sexual harassment, in this South American city of three million people. Everyone is complacent upon hearing a woman objectified on a street corner or with her child passing a grocery store. They do not flinch when they hear something downright perverse or threatening.

“I think that in general it has to do more with a man asserting his masculinity in a public space, and less to do with a genuine desire to compliment someone or even attempt to pick them up,” Weinstein said.

Women are people too. We do not need comments in regard to what we are wearing to attain self-acceptance or to feel good about ourselves. Piropos are objectification. They are not wanted.

Please keep your comments, although you think they are nice, to yourself. We don’t want to hear them. We simply want to be able to walk down the sidewalk past a group of men without fearing that they will say something to us that causes us to choose yet another route home from school.

About Elizabeth Rodewald

Elizabeth is a senior International Relations and Spanish double major from Mendota Heights, MN. She recently returned home from a year-long study abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina. After graduation she plans on either going to graduate school in Washington, DC to later pursue a career in counterterrorism or taking a year off to teach English in a foreign country. In her spare time she enjoys reading in cafes, going to the gym, speaking Spanish, discussing politics and spending time with her family and her Bichon Frise, Henry. Elizabeth can be reached at earodewald@stkate.edu.

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