Walking down the streets of Santiago (or anywhere else in Chile or Argentina) female Stanford students can expect to receive acknowledgement that they are attractice. The person acknowledging their beauty can be a taxi driver, a man walking down the street, construction workers, or anyone else.
The acknowledgement can range from slightly funny but still tasteful (my favorites are the man in Mendoza, Argentina that told a friend and I “you two, you are very pretty,” and the clerk in the Santiago shoe store that told me I had very beautiful eyes); to the still amusing but slightly annoying- whistles, claps, loud kissy noises; and then the worst- the men who just stare at you on the subway and do not look away, or the college aged boys who lean into your personal bubble space when you walk by to say “linda” or beautiful.
We’ve discussed this in our Spanish classes here at the Stanford in Santiago center, and my Spanish teacher strongly defends it as a cultural practice, insisting that it is a compliment to our looks. Yet in our discussions most of the (US) girls in the room indicated that it made them uncomfortable, that it made them feel like they were only a sexual object. I know from my personal experience I’ve avoided walking past certain groups of guys because I don’t want to feel uncomfortable. And yet even listening to all of us describe our feelings of uncomfortableness, and thinking that we’re just sexual objects, my Spanish teacher still maintains that it’s a compliment, and we should take it as such.
The fact that she had to repeat compliment multiple times, and she didn’t convince any of us, made me start thinking about sexual harassment- because when it occurs in the US, the classic initial response by the perpetrator is “it was only a compliment, I didn’t mean anything else by it.” But the litmus test is how it makes the girl feel- if she feels uncomfortable or like she’s being made into a sexual object, then its harassment- no one else but her can make that judgment.
In conversation with my parents about this, I learned that this type of action was very common in the United States until 40 years ago, when the feminist movement started in earnest, and US women decided that it was demeaning to have these things said to them as they went about their own business on the streets. I wonder if a similar feminist movement will occur sometime down here in Chile/Argentina.
Let me know your thoughts- sexual harassment, cultural differences, compliments?