Women can encounter sexual harassment anywhere, but the need to be safe should never diminish the desire for international travel.
The semester I studied abroad in Morocco began in the most anticlimactic fashion, with an orientation.
I was jetlagged and worried about my missing luggage, but one thing the study abroad coordinator said stuck with me.
She was referring to sexual harassment. Specifically, men sexually harassing women. (As oppose to the very common sight of a group of women catcalling a man as he shuffles down the street, avoiding their leering gazes.)
I hate how my mentality on dealing with sexual harassment changes when I travel. It’s as if I forgot to pack my feminism.
I have no qualms about standing up for myself if a guy is sexually harassing me in the United States. Whether it’s a well-crafted comeback that insults both his manhood and his mother, a flip of the bird or an actual conversation, I will let a guy know what he’s doing is not okay.
That’s not the case in other counties.
I constantly appraise my appearance while in a foreign country, hoping my clothes, hair or makeup don’t attract too much unwanted male attention. And if a guy catcalls or touches me, all I do is throw shade and silently pick up my pace.
Even though I agree with my study abroad coordinator that culture isn’t an excuse for bad behavior, it doesn’t mean I feel comfortable dealing with sexual harassment the same way I would in the United States.
No one ever deserves to be harassed, but as a woman traveling in a foreign country alone, I’m more focused on avoiding trouble than sticking up for myself.
I also recognize foreigners coming into a country and attempting to adjust social dynamics isn’t always the best route to inspire change.
So while I will not flip-off a guy who is catcalling me in a market in Morocco or the streets of Peru, I will cheer on the local women who combat sexual harassment whichever way they deem most appropriate.