Ask The Globe Trotter
Dear Globe Trotter,
I am of Mediterranean origin (olive skin, black curly hair) and I live in a very multicultural environment in the UK. I have had several instances where complete strangers, particularly South Asia men, stopped me on the street or approached me on a bus or in a restaurant and enthusiastically proposed marriage. It is quite befuddling – one of them managed to explain that my skin tone (relative fairness?) Made me desirable. I vaguely understood that this has some links to the caste system. In all three cases it proved very difficult to extricate myself from the situation gracefully. The men were very insistent.
Anyway, since – incredibly enough! – mine seems to be a recurring problem, I need advice. First, please explain the phenomenon if you can – I don’t think I am more than average looking so the gentlemen must be attracted to some
specific concept I seem to embody. Second, how do I turn them down politely, but effectively? My previous experiences resulted in major scenes and I don’t want to be insensitive and offensive.
The Runaway Bride
Dear Runaway Bride,
While some may take it as a compliment when men fall at their feet, unwanted attention and street harassment is easy. Most of us don’t quite know how to react to such audacious exclamations of interest. Especially when you want to go on with your daily life and productivity. –So in these cases, we either remain tongue tied, defensive, or run really fast.
So first the reasoning behind it: Part media influence, part repression and part culturally relative notions of romantic love. It sounds like your appearance can allow you to pass between cultures with ease. This is wonderful on the one hand, but on the other it might make those hit-and-run proposers feel more confident to approach you, especially if they are out of their comfort zone and can be more bold. Note that a lot of movies and films from this region focus on the courage it takes for main characters to go abroad. This courage may also translate to being bold in the hitting on ladies department. It can also translate too their efforts totally getting lost in translation–rather than have you run through the fields with said individual and burst into a dance number, just stunning you into silence may be considered a sign of approval. It’s a tough one.
As far as strategies to cope, without losing your cool, here are a few suggestions. First, and this could work wonders, I would say “Excuse me Uncle, What did you say?” By using the familial respectful term of Uncle, the proposer may not feel so bold anymore in thinking of family duties, and that you are calling him as an elder. He’ll be taken off guard and back off. You can also use “brother” which adds a whole layer of creepy to it, and hopefully serve as a deterrent. Next, if you choose to engage them further, you should say “Sorry Uncle, I’m Married.” and walk away quickly. You could also say the classic “I’m waiting for my husband.”
If you’re feeling extremely bold, you could try saying “Yes” and make some impossible demand, such as “Only if you pay off my 200,000 dollars worth of student loans” or “Only if you by me a flying car to the moon.” It many cases these proposers don’t often think that far ahead–it’s worth a shot to understand and contextualize different reactions and figure out what works best.
On a much more serious note, however, what you write here is a big challenge for the most savvy feminist, expat. or traveler.
For a traveler outside of their comfort zone, eve-teasing can be all too common. But for local women, its often an everyday occurrence. And they wont often get the justice they deserve when the teasing turns to blatant sexual harassment. First of all, make sure you are safe, you know in your gut when a situation is rising out of control. If it gets really bad, get out of there and call the nearest authorities.
If you’ve gauged that it’s a safe-zone then you can get creative. You can take a cell phone camera, and take a picture of the perp (if he or she is a real creep) on Hollaback a website that gives you the power to end street harassment and gain support. Hollaback! is in 45 cities, 16 countries, and in 9 different languages around the world–and works to create a movement of powerful women and men.
Also for more tips on how to deal with street harassment you can check out this Daily Muse article about handling harassment abroad by one of our contributors.
Stay positive, and remember to stay cool.
Keep up the Good Fight,
The Globe Trotter