What I Should Have Said

You know those encounters that leave you thinking for days of what you should have said or done but didn’t?

Well, I recently reconnected with some childhood friends and met some of their new friends. Not the good kind, but the kind that is so feeble-minded and detached from reality that makes you wonder whether you even exist in the same dimension. I was shocked at the amount of overtly sexist comments thrown at me, not by old men solely faithful to their regressive cultural traditions, but by young men my age with university degrees, expensive clothes, and rich parents: the future businessmen and politicians who will hold the power positions that reshape our society. I want to address some of the alarming comments that were made as a way to vent and get closure by writing down what I should have said but was unable to. 

The “You Women Only Read Self-Help Books ” card

As I was talking about an interesting fact I read in a book, some guy laughed at me hysterically, convinced I was a phony. “You women only read self-help books” he affirmed with a big condescending grin on his face. My jaw dropped wide open, but I tried to keep my rational and non-threatening posture, trying not to make any sudden movements to avoid the risk of him pulling out the “you women are too sensitive” card. I responded: “that’s not true”. And he immediately tested me, demanding I name the last book I had read. I answered: “l’Étranger, d’Albert Camus“. He was instantly impressed by my French accent as well as the renowned title I spoke of, certainly not the pink-covered-how-to-be-a-better-person shit book he expected. He started to talk to me in French, once again testing my integrity or competence or quality or my je-ne-sais-quoi to measure my honesty and worth, with the same assertive and patronizing attitude, only this time, he pulled that self-confidence out of nowhere. Poor guy must have had an A1.1 French level – on a good day. 

The truth is that l’Étranger was not the last book I had read – I had read at least three books ever since, the last one being Mujeres del Alma mía: a feminist memoir by Isabel Allende. I am not sure why I lied to the guy. Maybe I didn’t want to scare him away with my feminist literature, fearing to be called a feminazi once again. Maybe, my internalized machismo pushed me to name a classic novel with a celebrated male author of whom everyone speaks wonders so that I could feel proud and respected. A foreign yet universal book that would allow me to prove my intellectual capacity and let me utter some French words to attest my fluidity in the third language I mastered. A casual testimony to my worth. Proof that I am worth more than what he thinks. I am more than just a pretty face who reads self-help books. WE are more. We are not just pretty faces with empty brains and disposable bodies. We have opinions. We have a voice. We are complex. We are all different.

But I – I am not going to let the stereotype of a submissive brainless pretty woman prevail in the collective mind of this so-called-progressive generation. 

The “Pretty Girls don’t Have a Brain” card

My frustrating conversation with this unfortunate human being did not last very long since I promised myself I wouldn’t get angry. After all, I was there to have fun, not to debate. I had to turn around and dance with the happy people, reminding myself that it was just a “party”: or as much of a party as it can be within the legal framework during times of pandemic. I danced for a little, but either incredibly absurd or enriching conversations kept pulling me in. I was unable to ignore the topics that were being thrown around within my hearing range: abortion, religion, the right to vote. I will not revisit these drunk conversations in-depth, but I will say that these young men were in absolute awe every time I spouted my strong yet rational opinions, or as I like to call it, my thought vomit. 

I hated to see the boys on one side, ranting about crucial matters with their terrifying opinions, and on the other side, the girls carelessly dancing and ignoring the atrocities that were being said. Why can’t we all just go to the men’s table instead of staying on the sidelines looking good? And why is it that so many men believe that pretty women are dumb? Thirsty men frequently approach us trying to teach something and show off like a peacock in distress. It is too often that we stay quiet to avoid scaring them away. But I’m trying to make sure they realize I am not one to passively sit there, swallowing their monologue like it were some kind of divine truth. I will, confidently, slap that bible closed and call it as it is: fiction

The “Women are too Sensitive” card

The most absurd comment of the night was, by far, “women should not be able to vote because they are too sensitive”. I am pretty sure I started yelling at that point, which, in their perspective, was evidence to support their statement. The obvious truth is that all people are different: I’ve had boyfriends who were much more emotional than I was, boyfriends who were not capable of expressing their feelings, girlfriends who are as cold as ice, and girlfriends who cry every goddamn time the dog dies in the movie, such as myself. However, if we do accept the “it’s human nature” line of thinking, stating that most men are rational and most women are sensitive, then I would say that it is all the more important that women get to vote and get involved in politics. 

According to the Cambridge dictionary, sensitivity is the ability to understand what other people need and be helpful and kind to them. In my humble opinion, if women controlled the political sphere, there would be fewer wars, fewer deaths, and less inequality. Funds would be redirected from guns and bombs, weapons and wars, big trades and buildings, and other manly men stuff – to children, universal education, healthy and affordable food, human dignity, culture, and community. 

As a relevant example, I’ll share an interesting anecdote from when I lived in New Caledonia: Low-income families were receiving government credits, and the person in charge of handling the money was the designated head of the household, being in most cases the man of the house. The issue they found was that an overwhelming majority of men were spending all the money on booze and lottery games instead of their children’s education, food, and a proper roof to sleep under. The solution? Easy. They gave the money to the woman of the household, and it worked. Women started making savings and spending the money on their children’s education, books, clothes, improving their homes, diets, and overall quality of life. 

If women held the highest decision-making power positions, maybe we wouldn’t be wasting our tax-payer money on the harmful policies and deals that are destroying our planet. Call it sensitivity if you may, but in my opinion, if we cry for injustice and feel pain and empathy more than men do, then our mentalities are more adequate for voting than the “rational” way of thinking that leads us to bomb other countries with our penis-looking machines. 

I Was 18 When a Man on the Street Punched me in the Face

What were you wearing?

What time was it?

Were you walking alone?

Where in the world was this?

These are some of the questions you might be asking yourself. And I will answer them right away. Yes, it was late at night. Yes, I was walking alone. Yes, I was wearing a skirt. Yes, I was in a foreign country. But no, none of this justifies an 18-year-old girl getting punched in the face by a stranger. 

It must have been my sixth week living in Lyon, France, where I chose to take a year off to learn French. I was at the bar with some people I had met in French class but I was frankly tired, not in the mood to party. I remember I had been talking to a French guy at the bar who was clearly interested in more than just talking. He insisted that he walk me home so that I wouldn’t have to walk alone. After all, it was 2 am and I was a young, clueless girl in a foreign country far away from my comfort zone. I kindly declined. You see, I didn’t want to have the responsibility of rejecting him after performing the chivalrous and dashing act of dropping me off. I didn’t want him to kiss me. I was tired. I just wanted to be home alone.

I left the bar tipsy, tired, and alone in my mini-skirt, at 2 am. As I got further from that one bright street at the heart of the city, the streets started getting darker. And emptier. And quieter. I thought I was walking alone until I heard a man shout from behind. I didn’t understand what he was saying since my capacity to speak French at this point was insignificant if not mythical, but the tone of his voice suggested he was screaming at someone. Possibly… Me? 

His voice became louder as his steps felt closer. I could feel him getting angrier. The sloppy-drunk-kind-of-angry that lacks in common sense and rationality. I started walking faster. I didn’t look back. I didn’t run. I just fastened my pace and looked straight ahead. He starts catching up, and a few seconds later, I feel him smack the back of my neck as he shouts again. Only this time, I understood one word: pute. My blood starts boiling as I become enraged and so I turn around, I look him straight in the eyes for the very first time, and insult him in Spanish, as I automatically do when I lose my temper. He screams back at me and, once again, I understood « pute », just before he proceeds to punch me in the face. Full fist. No remorse. 

I lose my sense of alertness as my body falls on the floor, from shock rather than force. I looked up at him from the ground. I was confused. Traumatized. I didn’t understand what had just happened and I certainly hadn’t expected it. After all, it was the very first time in my life getting punched in the face. So I started crying like a baby. The man yelled at me one last time in his unfamiliar language, uttering the word he very much loved, and the only one I understood in his vocabulary: pute. He spat on my face and walked away, leaving me there on the floor, crying alone in the dark. 

When people ask me for a short answer to why I got punched in the face, I give them the simple version: I ignored my harasser and attempted to run away.

It’s been seven years now, and to this day, I am still mad at myself. I am furious because I didn’t try to defend myself. Why didn’t I try to punch back? Why didn’t I scream from the top of my lungs? Why didn’t I just let the guy from the bar walk me home? Why did I walk home alone at that time of the night? Why did I wear that mini skirt? Why wasn’t I more careful? 

But I am awfully tired of having to justify that I got punched in the face – not because of all the things I did wrong or all the things I could have avoided – but because a drunk, angry, sexist man, a stalker, a harasser, felt like he had the right to insult me and punch me. Me, a girl who was just trying to get home. 

Did he want to punch me in the face because of the way I was dressed and thought I deserved to be treated like trash? Maybe. Did he want to punch me in the face because I ignored him and tried running away, making him feel rejected? Maybe. Did he want to punch me in the face because he had all this anger bottled up inside of him that he wanted to take out on someone smaller and weaker than him? Also maybe. Who knows? The only thing I know now is that no matter the decisions I made that night, no matter what I was wearing, the time I went home, deciding to walk alone, no matter what, getting punched in the face was certainly not what I deserved.  

This is a very small and ordinary story in comparison to all the heinous acts of gender violence around the world, from child marriage to sexual violence to psychological abuse to genital mutilation. This is merely my personal, first-hand experience (pun intended) of sexist aggression.  

The saddest part of it all is that within the following week, I started emptying my closet of all potentially considered sexy clothing I owned. I decided I would, from there on, wear more modest clothes and that maybe, there wouldn’t be a reason left for me to get harassed. I was completely wrong. But the positive outcome of this experience was that I immersed myself in feminist polemics, literature and started asking myself basic questions such as: why should we modify our behavior to avoid aggression? Walk fast, but don’t run. Be nice, but don’t smile. Dress well, but don’t show. Be wary, but don’t look.

I strive to live in a world where I can smile and sing on the street on the happiest of days, without having a guy telling me I’m charming. A world where I can drink from my Aquarius bottle without having a guy making phallocentric jokes about it. I strive to live in a world where I can safely walk home at night without getting harassed. A world in which we’re all on the same side, against violence, oppression and for freedom for all people.