There’s an article in El Pais English Edition today (or here, since El Pais English doesn’t archive online) about flattering remarks on a woman’s appearance, piropos, being on the wane in Spain. (Wane in Spain: Jonathan Ross stars as Eliza Doolittle in a Pantomime My Fair Lady?)
The article doesn’t give examples so I looked up some piropos. Some were rather twee and sweet, others were pretty filthy. They’re effectively chat-up lines like our English ones, which I’m sure are only written to be passed around in emails. I find it hard to believe anyone actually uses them out loud.
The decline in harassment of any kind is certainly welcome news. However, the article (in case you hadn’t time to read it) mentions www.ihollaback.org which is well worth a visit. It’s the funniest website I’ve seen in weeks!
Hollaback! YOU HAVE THE POWER TO write about, but take no tangible action to END STREET HARASSMENT.
The website is, I assume, named after that dreadful Gwen Stafani song in which she admits she’s been, “a few times… around that track” and encourages ditsy, airhead, cheerleaders everywhere to, “put your pom-poms down.” Hardly The Female Eunuch is it.
Let’s take a look at the very first post (at time of writing) on the ihollaback.org home page. A letter from Shawna J.:
‘When I was 13, and a nerdy bookish 7th grader, I was picked on by the other kids from my neighborhood because I was a) overweight, b) smart than them (sic), and c) didn’t shave my legs yet. At one point, they called me “Congo” and told me to go shave my legs. This went on for about a year or so.
One day, a boy said, “You should shave your legs!”, and 14-year-old me looked him straight in the eye and, without missing a beat, said,
“Why are you looking at my legs?”
They never bothered me again.’
Thank you for your inspiring and empowering story Shawna, but I have a couple of questions;
1. You admit you were nerdy, bookish, overweight, smart than them (sic), and hirsute, and you expect not to encounter abuse from schoolboys? What planet do you live on?
2. You let them call you “Congo” (which shows that the little rascals paid attention in Geography at least) for an ENTIRE YEAR before answering back. How is that “without missing a beat”?
The temptation to post this reply, and incur the inarticulate wrath of feminist America, is overwhelming. But instead, I shall submit to ihollaback.org a harassment story of my own:
Few things arouse a chap like a lingering feminine touch. A soft palm placed against one’s lower latissimus dorsi, a delicately manicured hand squeezing the elbow, or a beguiling stroke of the shoulders and nape. The spark of contact, a suggestion of intimacy and the promise of seduction. If you can avoid making tasteless jokes, splitting her lip when enthusiastically diving in for the kiss, or clumsily swiping her drink off the table and into her open handbag (which, naturally, contains expensive gifts for a friend) then you’re probably in with a chance.
However, when the delicately manicured hands in question belong to a 50-something male colleague with a Roman nose and two tufts of white hair that sprout from either side of his shiny pate, like Asterix’s bewinged helmet, then the feeling is one of dreadful apprehension. (I say delicately manicured, I’m judging by his smoothness of touch. Its a trifle difficult to asses the assailant’s fingernails when you’re paralysed with fear, let me tell you.)
At first I took Isidoro’s stolen caresses to be nothing more than an enthusiastic friendly gesture. The Spanish are naturally touchy-feely, I told myself. And wouldn’t I be somewhat effeminate had I, like a good Catholic boy, lived with my mother until I was 35?
Nothing at all wrong with a hand on the shoulder between colleagues, but when its two hands and they’re slipping over the deltoids and down toward the elbows in the manner of a masseuse, then I find myself fighting the urge to leap to my feet with an exclamation of, “What ho old chap!” or a coarser equivalent of the same. Loathe as I am to disturb the tranquillity (some might say stifling tedium) that permeates our office, I did begin to wander if a curt Defining of Physical Boundaries conversation – a “Hollaback”, if you will – might be called for in the event of another fly-by stroking.
Isidoro’s penchant for noiseless cordovan loafers only added to the ice-cube-down-the-back shock of an intimately placed hand and a hushed, “¿Qué tal Aaron?” Recently however, and since I’ve been working with other colleagues, the incidental fondling has decreased, and I do believe at the time of writing that I haven’t been groped for a full two weeks. (I realise ‘grope’ is a strong word, but I pity the friendly Spaniard who touches the wrong girl in a London law firm in a similar manner).
I remain on something of a hair trigger in the office. Yesterday the tea lady approached from behind having left her trolley, with it’s forewarning squeaky wheel and clinking crockery, outside in the corridor. The slightest touch of her hand on the back of my chair had me propelling skyward in a flurry of papers like a startled Red Grouse.
What prompted me to write this was the perplexing yet peaceful spectacle of Isidoro and a Filipino colleague, Swamy, in equable conversation. Swamy seated and observing his monitor, Isidoro standing adjacent, his right hand gently stroking the back of the Filipino’s head.
Perhaps I just need to loosen up a little.