Thursday, 30 July 2015

The creeps we shall encounter.

We have been staying in Paris for a week - my friend Anneli and I - and a day ago we had been walking along the Seine after having had lunch underneath the Eiffel Tower. It was a fantastic day. The type of day where everything is exciting and new and beautiful. And it continued to be such a day, for the most part, without counting this unfortunate encounter. The bank of the Seine on which we were walking has been painted with geometric shapes and board games and small, box type rooms act as libraries and caf├ęs and toilets along the way. Anneli had gone to use one of the toilets and I had gone to wait at a table where the top was decorated with the board of a game of Ludo. It was warm and I was calm and sleepy and happy.

When Anneli returned a man came to ask in French if we could take his picture for him. Of course I obliged, he was just a tourist like us. I followed him over to the edge of the water and he told me where to stand to take the photo. I then had to try my very best not to burst out laughing and look knowingly at Anneli whilst he posed like an amateur model and walked towards me as if on a catwalk. He looked ridiculous. "C'est bien?" I asked holding out the crappy camera knowing that really the photos could never be very good. He told me they were great and I was ready to walk away, the deed of being a kind stranger nearly over. But then he strangely asked me to be in the photo with him which, obviously, is not a thing a stranger would agree to. However, being slightly out of my depth for a moment and a little confused I stupidly agreed. The camera was so awful you wouldn't be able to tell it was me anyway. And then we stood to pose, awkwardly, and I felt a hand slide with an unwelcome familiarity around my waist. I think if you looked at the photo a short moment of distress would be painted on my face. I wanted to get away. But I didn't feel ready to make a fuss. I still don't know why. Anneli and I were now sharing frequent glances of worry and began to give his camera back and move away. He asked another question I couldn't quite understand but the gist I got was that he wanted to look into my eyes. I got that gist because he had tried to turn my face towards his. Please no. I remained polite, "non merci", and began to edge away. Any decent person would have noticed my friend and I were uncomfortable, and yet he still stood a little too close to us. I think now is a good time to point out that this man looked as if he could have been about 15 years older than me. Anneli and I more forcefully moved away still politely declining his perverted advances. He still persisted. He kissed me on my cheek before we made a more urgent move. I continued to say No, Thank You.

No, thank you? How about "Back off you perverted creep get away from me!"? Unfortunately, however,  I didn't say anything remotely close to that. I would have liked to have made it much cruder.

We walked a little while away before I began to feel a little bit disgusting. I didn't want to have been in that situation, and I am ashamed at the weakness I expressed in my inability to tell him to back off. I felt  a bit sick. I literally washed my face with hand sanitizer. I wanted to forget the entire debacle. Why did I let him do that to me? I feel such an awful idiot. For all my feminist rants and beliefs the moment I faced a violation of my personal space as a woman confronted by a man I stood in waiting without moving to defend myself. I let him get away with it. I didn't even shout at him afterwards. Why?

I kept asking Anneli if she'd seen him take something from my bag, perhaps that was his game. No, just a perverted photo for who knows what purpose that I let myself be in.

Had I been caught off guard? I guess so. Was I scared? A little, but I think I was too confused to really comprehend or analyse the situation first hand. I think I was naive. I had been having a nice day with a nice friend and with nice French people telling us where to go when we got a little lost. We hadn't planned to meet a creep in broad daylight by the river Seine. I suppose I remained polite as a defence mechanism. Really all I wanted was to get away. In such a bizarre experience I felt I had no opportunity to unleash an anger I know is normally within me for these exact situations. Because of course, despite their unexpected timings, these situations are to be anticipated for pretty much every single woman and girl in their life times. I don't exaggerate. I really didn't believe that I would go through my life without meeting a man who wanted to exploit me or violate me in some way. I would have to meet one or two at some point. One of them happened to be met the other day.

After it had happened Anneli and I discussed how much safer we'd feel if we had one of our male friends with us. We wished to be protected. We felt vulnerable. Suddenly thrown from a nice, sunny day in Paris to an existence in which we must be perpetually on edge looking for men who may wish to do things to us we do not desire to happen to ourselves.

We are young, strong minded, confident women in Paris and we feel a little wary, a little unsafe, of what next we may encounter.