Thursday, July 24, 2008

Just say no

As the bus went bumpety-bump over the cobblestone streets, I saw something that is all too familiar here in Rome but rather disturbing to me nonetheless: a sleazy 70 year old man intensely staring at a scantily clad girl whose body parts were also going bumpety-bump. He then went on to ogle every single female that walked by him, shamelessly staring at tops and bottoms as if it were his God given right to do so.

The male gaze in Italy is something I've never made peace with. And you know what I mean by the male gaze in this context- I'm not talking about glancing at someone briefly or doing a double-take, I'm talking about vulgar, invasive staring, usually accompanied by unsolicited comments and or sounds.

Now, I know this happens all over the world- I've traveled the globe, thank you, and I have seen it in many places. But I must say it's pretty rampant here in Italy and disturbingly enough, most females don't seem bothered by it... or worse, some actually seem to enjoy it! I find it neither charming nor flattering when a male stares or makes comments/sounds. Au contraire, it completely offends me and annoys me. What makes you (man) think that you have the right to visually penetrate a complete stranger who happens to be female? What makes you (man) think that a female is actually interested in your comments about her appearance? What makes you (man) think that you are free to treat a female as if she were an object for sale? Not cool with me. I've seen too many foreign females and even local females being "coaxed" by such tactics and I always find it so immensely difficult to comprehend. What's the kick? What about dignity- why allow a man to reduce you to a mere figure, a facade, a one-dimensional being? You're being judged for nothing but your external shell and instead of contesting you find it flattering?!? The objectification of women in this country is overwhelming: from TV, to ads, to cinema, to the streets- there's no escaping it. I'm not saying pick a fight every time some dude stares or makes a comment (although me and my scrappy self have such tendencies), I'm just saying have some dignity and don't allow yourself to be disrespected.

I had a visitor for the past few days and while strolling around with her, I realized she was one of those females who plays into the whole male gaze game. Picture this: she's blonde, blue eyed, and has ginormous boobs. Needless to say she, or rather "the girls" were being stared at by men of all ages and she actually seemed to enjoy it as if it were a self-esteem booster. Obviously it's not her fault she's well-endowed but she was exchanging glances with the starers and smiling at them. While haggling at the market stands, she would purposely get very close to the vendor (male), smile, and bat her eyelashes. I was aghast! I found it so demeaning and humiliating that a person could reduce herself to tactics like that for a 2 euro discount. If I want a discount I can just ask for it in a nice, simpatico way like any human being would- why flaunt and flash to get favors or to make people take you more seriously, IF anything it has the opposite effect. Why do women feel compelled to do shit like this? Why do women need men's approval in order to feel worthy? Come on ladies, we've come this far, let's not regress!


Delina said...

Staring is commonplace in Italy by both men and women. You're right that men's staring is different though. The market seller who gives a discount to someone who bats her eye lashes isn't the best business man in town :)

Anonymous said...

I have mixed feellings about your post. I do agree with alot of your points but on the other hand, I like being noticed by men!
I live in Canada and never felt appreciated by members of the opposite sex. Yet, when I stayed in Italy - I had this sense of sensuality and playful flirtation that was like a dance.
I certainly did not feel harrassed but admired.
I don't know...I'm kissing 40 and its kind of nice to have men look at me with lustful glances rather than pass me by.

Romerican said...

Delina-Hahaha, true! His bancarella is gonna go broke soon!

ms. violetta- I always love a good discussion! When you say you enjoy being noticed are you referring to innocent glances, head-turning, etc? I mean, I can definitely feel the difference between an innocent glance/stare and a stare that is inappropriate. I don't really care for or need either BUT the innocent attempts don't offend me.
I don't consider it harassment (unless there's groping which HAS happened in the past and that is flat out sickening), I just think it's offensive and demeaning, which is different.
I suppose I just don't get the concept of wanting to be appreciated or admired by strangers. It would probably flatter me more to be admired by friends or people I know rather than some random guy in the streets.
But, il mondo è bello perché è vario, right?

Monika said...

This is an interesting topic! I too laugh at the tourists (usually young Americans or Aussies) who are so flattered by the Italians yelling out to them and really encourage them. I really wonder if they realise they are doing it to anyone that has two legs and two arms! Then again, I too remember coming to Italy at 21 years old and thinking it was great. Now, not so much.

Just a question though. Here when a young man (or i should say boy as real men are not quite so brash) yells out and I ignore them, they start hissing afterwards. I've had this a few times now. What in the world is the hissing about??

Romerican said...

Monika- Yeah, I can't help but chuckle when I see the foreign girls swooning over the Italian "approach"!
I suppose if you're young and new to the place it might seem charming (or new to you) but if you've lived here for a decent amount of time, the novelty of it wears off quickly!
The hissing is ridiculous. I've actually stopped and asked hissers- "What exactly do you think you'll accomplish with me by hissing?" That stumps them every time ;)

Emmina said...

Wow, fantastically put Romerican!! I completely agree with you, 100%! However I also remember my first trips to Italy - Naples (!)- at the age of 16 / 17, when every comment and look made my head swell to twice its size... When you understand that most of the guys that harrass girls in the street are desperate losers, and that they do it to absolutely EVERY GIRL that passes, it loses its novelty for sure! My comeback line is "Ci conosciamo? No? Allora perchè cazzo mi stai parlando??"
It tends to catch them off-guard!!!

Romerican said...

Emmina- HAHHAHAH, love your comeback line, I may have to borrow that from you if you don't mind!

Kataroma said...

Oh God. I hate this about Italy. I've had those disgusting guys follow me, try to touch me and make gross comments. As you say 'what makes them think i have any interest in what some perve on the street thinks of my boobs? '(or 'insert body part here')

Anyway, during my pregnancy I was suddenly invisible to such men (guess pregnant women are 'gross' or 'fat' to them - or maybe we remind them of their mothers with whom they no doubt still live). But, now that I'm feeling well enough to venture out again...they're ba-ack. It's been so nice to walk around wearing whatever I feel like and not get commented upon and it's kind of awful having to deal with it again. If I have the baby with me though they don't bother me - I guess it's that whole whore/madonna thing.

Ms Violetta - we're not talking about flirtation or surreptitious glances here (which I enjoy too and don't mind indulging in occasionally if the guy is cute)- we're talking about wholesale sleazebucket behaviour here by losers on the street.

Romerican said...

Kataroma- good to see/read you again. I bet you get double the dose of sleazy come-ons since you're tall & blonde!
PS: Hope all is well in mommy-world!

Leanne in Italy said...

This happened about 2 years ago just just by Via del Corso. It was very late and I was going home alone and this group of boys-men were hissing and would not stop so I started to walk faster. I saw some police ahead and thought 'great!' that is until the police started hissing at me too!

I actually now avoid going into bars or shops when there is a single man working as I know he'll just bother me 'ciao bella...blah..blah...blah..' Just leave us alone! And I do not feel special and beautiful as they do it to everyone!

P.S for those not familiar with the hissing - it is the European version of a wolf whistle.

Romerican said...

leanne- Bingo! Can't a girl just go about her business without being bothered?! I was buying a toilet seat and the sales guy tried to hit on me- gimmmmmme a break! I politely said "Non e' proprio il caso" (rough translation: "Don't bother"). There's nothing special or charming about it.

red said...

The staring is definitely one thing I won't miss about Rome- I wrote about it a while ago too.
I completely agree with you as you can see.

Romerican said...

Red- just read your post. Staring is indeed a national pastime in this country.

Frankie said...

Just found your blog, and I LOVE this post. I am right with you! These girls are the ones that make these idiot men think it's ok to hassle and pursue the rest of us. Have you noticed it's a phenomenon without age limits too? When I see a nonno ogling a 20-year-old I have to turn away to stop myself being sick in my mouth!
Ok, rant over...I like your blog :)

Romerican said...

Welcome Frankie!
I couldn't agree with you more, if nobody paid attention to these ass-clowns I think they'd eventually stop doing what they do.
And those pervy grandpas should really be ashamed of themselves!

Alex said...

While the male population of Italy delights in looking women up and down, as you say, Italian women live with it. Indeed, they exploit it. All those good lookin' gals on Italian TV realise that looks are a ticket to success in Italy.

Just about every 'showgirl' here has done a topless calendar, or three.

For non-Italian women, the attention can be too much, and even offensive. However, Italians are much more down to earth about what us men are.

Generally, the attention is harmless, but there is still the attitude, especially down in the south, that scantily clad women, when on their own, are not much short of prostitutes. This means that some attention can become overwhelming.

Rape, luckily, does not appear to be a common crime here in Italy, and you very, very rarely here of foreign women being attacked.

Italian men like to think that Italy is a male dominated society, but it's not as male dominated as they think. Clever Italian women are excellent at manipulating Italian men.

As for dirty old men on buses, well, they are everywhere, only in Italy they are less subtle.

All in all, I think Italy is quite a safe country for women, and probably far safer than the UK or the US.

Good common sense should prevail, IMHO. Laugh the attention off, or it will get you down, but try not to wander into unfamiliar places in the dead of night.

Feel free to disagree.

ATB - Alex

Romerican said...

Hello Alex-
Humm, not so sure I'd say rape isn't common in Italy. Women are much less likely to report it here because there's quite a stigma attached to being the victim of that kind of crime, especially in the south... hence it might "appear" to be less common but it's not.

Nervinfranti said...

Mi aggancio ad un altro tuo post: la televisione volgare, con donne nude, è stata portata in Italia da alcuni anni a questa parte. Dagli anni '80 in poi è andata peggiorando e non riusciamo più a fermarla. Ci sono molti, tra cui la sottoscritta, che cercano di lottare contro di essa.
Non dite che le donne italiane lo apprezzano, perchè non è così.

Che poi ci sia tutta questa sensualità in Italia....a me, scusate, ma sembra il mito del "latin lover" che viene fuori. Chi si mette a guardare ragazze, a fare complimenti volgari (o peggio) sono a volte vecchietti, matti o violenti: persone con problemi, insomma.