I am no stranger to sexual harassment. I have had men catcall me in Honduras, yell vulgar statements in Spain and one Moroccan man even offered me 200 camels for my hand in marriage, which I don’t see as sexual harassment more as a great business opportunity that I foolishly rejected. (I’m not quite sure what one does after obtaining 200 camels, but I regret never being able to find out.)
This latest instance of sexual harassment that I encountered living here in Bogotá, Colombia sticks with me not because it was particularly vulgar or heinous, but because I couldn’t stop thinking about what was running through the man’s head before and after our encounter.
First, let me set the scene for you. I was walking alone at night on a well-traveled path from my apartment to the nearby mall where my gym is located. I hesitate to disclose what I was wearing because the type of clothes on a woman’s body should have nothing to do with how she is treated by a man. But I also need you to know how unflattering my clothes were that night, so here’s what I was wearing: Black workout pants, a big black jacket that masked any evidence of breasts or hips, tennis shoes and I was holding an umbrella that covered half of my face.
So as I was walking to the gym, negotiating with myself just how much time I had to spend working out before I could leave and stuff my face with food, two guys on a bike rode up next to me. Let’s be clear about something, when I say “bike” I don’t mean one of the many motorcycles that recklessly weave through Bogotá. No, I’m referring to a regular bicycle and it was definitely was not built for two people.
The guy pedaling the bike, we’ll call him Captain, steered the contraption a little too close to me on the sidewalk. The guy perched precariously on the handle bars, we’ll call him Skipper, leaned even closer to me, made a kissy noise, and then they both hooted and laughed as Captain pedaled away. Like I said before, this was by no means the worst example of sexual harassment I have experienced. Was it vulgar? No. Should they have left me alone? Yes.
I can only imagine the conversation the two had before actually getting up close to me.
Skipper: Look at that girl over there. We should go over there and bother her because…well, because she’s a woman walking alone.
Captain: How can you even tell that’s a woman? It’s dark and she’s all covered.
Skipper: I’m not 100 percent sure, but we should go over there anyway, just in case she’s hot.
Captain: Yeah, you’re right. And if she turns out to be a dude, we can just pedal away really fast.
Skipper: Good plan.
This is how I imagine the conversation going after they pedaled away:
Skipper: Did you see me blow kisses at her? I definitely made her feel uncomfortable.
Captain: And maybe even a little scared because she had no idea what we were going to do next.
Skipper: Yeah! I love having a penis!
Captain: Me too, let’s go bother more women minding their own business.
The ladies of the 90s hip-hop group TLC continuously sang about their repulsion of a guy “hanging out the passenger side of his best friend’s ride, trying to holla at me.” And they made a good point. Guys, if we’re not impressed with you trying to holla at us while you’re riding shotgun, we’re definitely not impressed when you’re trying not to fall off handlebars while your buddy’s knees are practically hitting his chest every time he pedals because the bike was made for a 10-year-old.
Moreover, what were these guys trying to accomplish by bothering me? Were they hoping I was going to be so turned on by their air kisses that I would immediately want to go back to their place? (But probably their mom’s place.) “Forget the gym, fellas. Is there room for three on that bike?”
I hope this doesn’t come off as man-bashing. I am well-aware that there are many men who never bother women on the street.
But really, is it too much to ask to be left alone? All I want is to be able to walk to the gym in peace, then be free to stare at the men who pass my treadmill as I sexually harass them in my head. After all, I am a lady and I would never want those smoking-hot Colombian beefcakes to feel uncomfortable.