People often ask me what is the biggest cultural hurdle I’ve had to jump to adjust to life in Chile. I usually pause, because honestly I can think of many, I’m just not sure I can say them out loud without offending someone. I try to pick one that is benign, like how no one takes their shoes off inside or goes barefoot anywhere. Ever. I love me a day with no shoes.
However, my go-to culture shock is the street harassment, or street “compliments” depending on whom you ask. And if you use local vernacular, the piropos. Sometimes they are poetic. Sometimes they are whispered and hushed–more of a hiss. Other times they are downright vulgar and disgusting. And I have to temper the impulsive side in me from shouting back, “Where do you get off? You think that just because you stand up to pee you have the right to objectify me? Go to hell. And on your way there, I hope you get a scorching case of herpes!”
I had thought that I was more or less immune to the advances of lecherous men since now I walk around with my nearly six-month-old baby strapped to my body. Even though she flashes her gums at everyone and they smile back, it had not been in a perverted way until…suddenly it was.
One day, I was walking and a doorman was out sweeping the step of his apartment building. “Beautiful baby,” he smiled as I walked by. Maybe it was my mistake, but I broke into a grin, too. I have the cutest baby in Santiago. Obviously. You would smile, too.(Santiago has taught me to never leave the bitch face far behind. Always leave it where I can reach it). “Tha-” I started. Then, he leaned in, “And you, too.”
It never fails that when I bring up this gripe with a Chilean, they will mention how it’s cultural and I just need to ignore it. And maybe a tiny, miniscule part of it is cultural. The culture that has yet to accept women as equals and as deserving of leer-free transit as the next. But mostly it’s machista, sexist and misogynistic. It trains men that they don’t have to respect women for the thoughtful, intelligent human beings they are. It tells them that women are objects for their viewing pleasure. It’s skewed, unfair and, in some cases, it’s dangerous.
And if it’s so cultural, why is it still an issue in the US? Albeit not as big of a problem as the ’60′s and the ’70′s, but I can remember jogging around campus and having trucks go by and honk or yell, “Shake it, baby!” Except, Chile never got the memo that that is now considered sexual harassment.
Ever since that day when the doorman exposed me to the Pandora’s box that is mother-daughter piropos, they haven’t let up. We get kissy noises blown at us. A delivery truck slowed down the other day so the driver could pantomime an enormous smooch.
I remember once when I was walking with my sister-in-law, who is conceivably young enough to be my daughter, and the attention we got. It scares me to think if she had been walking alone that day without an adult wearing a bitch face.
I want to say to Squeaker that she’s smart and beautiful no matter what anyone says. No man (or woman) has the right to objectify her based on what she’s wearing or how she does her hair. Her body is hers and hers alone. Period. The end. And there is nothing cultural about that.