Street Harassment in Paris

StreetHarassmentElysse AndrewsAge 20 Paris, France

When you move to Paris, you think that you’ve hit the jackpot. You’re in one of the most loved cities in the world, where thousands of people fantasize about falling in love under the haussmanian dotted skyline. So you can imagine my surprise after I was here a month and was ready to leave. Why would I want to leave this city you ask? Street Harassment. It’s EVERYWHERE.

The Parisians are known for being flirty and outgoing when it comes to hitting on the opposite gender, but the harassment I’ve experienced has escalated immediately from flirty, to dirty. Cultural or not, it’s definitely not okay.

No matter what I’m wearing or where I am, it happens. From men looking at me and nodding like they thought I would be happy with their approval to men actually stopping me on the street and commenting on my body: I am so fed up with this city.

Is it really that bad you ask? Let’s explore some examples

The second day I arrived, I was waiting for a friend outside a subway stop wearing sunglasses and headphones. A charming French man decided he needed to talk to me so badly that when I refused to acknowledge him, he took out my headphones from my ears. He then went on to tell me multiple times that whatever I was doing, I should stop and go with him because I’d definitely have a better time.

Another time, I was simply walking smoking a cigarette, and was asked for a light by a man on a motorcycle. Not one to deny a person their nicotine, I agreed and was about to continue on my merry way when this man started telling me how beautiful I am and that I should “ride with him”, double entendre intended.

My favorite example though, didn’t even happen on the street. I was sitting at a bar, playing on my phone and drinking a glass of wine by myself when a man, who I’d previously ignored after he actually YELLED at me requesting I cheers with him, paid a visit to my table. After politely denying him and sneakily switching my ring to my ring finger, I tried to lie and tell him I was engaged. This idea was apparently not so good since he pointed to his wedding ring and told me that a little metal and a signature doesn’t really matter. Then, he took fries off my plate. Other than the fact that you should never take anyone’s fries, this man disrespected my personal space so much that he actually felt comfortable taking something from it. It took me three more requests to make him leave and a good slap of his arm for trying to steal more of my fries.

Any of these sound familiar? Then I’m sorry. Street harassment feels so icky. It comes from men being taught that they are entitled to access to your body. To some men, women are there to be looked at, they are literally objects walking around on display looking for approval.

What can you do? Even as a strong, educated woman, it’s scary to stand up to these men. I was taught to fear men’s anger just as most other women raised in western culture. People kept telling me to just, ignore it and even to “take it as a compliment”, but neither of those options were working. Staying quiet while you’re being abused (because it’s literally abuse) is one of the worst things you can do, and until you stand up for yourself – you won’t be able to stand up for other women.

Is there a solution? Yes. You can join in their movement to call out harassers. They suggest talking back to your harassers and encourage you to take their pictures and record the harasser and add it to their website. While I love this organization, for me there happens to be language barrier, so talking back to the harasser is not always an option.

Since talking back wasn’t an option and neither was staying quiet, I decided to slave over my French books and design some cards that could do the hollaback-ing for me. The cards are in French and it’s a minimal confrontation approach that makes me feel safe enough to fight back.

My goal is to remind French men, one card at a time, of exactly what the card says: that they’re opinion was not asked for or appreciated and that no, it’s not a compliment.

Your StoriesErin Bagwell