Tag Archives: sexual harassment

Street Harassment and Traveling Advice for Women

Everyone has a lot to say about women travelers, especially if they’re solo, especially if they go somewhere in the Global South.  And really, everyone has a lot to say about women.  Some of the advice is good, like researching backup plans ahead of time so you don’t get stuck staying somewhere that makes you uncomfortable.  It’s pretty obvious and rather good advice for everyone, but at least it’s not bad.  There’s also a lot fo bad advice out there, ranging from racist to victim-blaming, restrictive to non-sensical.  Some people just can’t seem to stop themselves from sharing this advice, even if I don’t ask.  Even if they’ve never been where I’m going.  All of the advice essentially boils down to one premise: as a woman, you are vulnerable and it is therefore your responsibility to alter your behavior in every way imaginable in order to prevent other people from harming you.  If you fail in this, you will be judged for your poor safety efforts and it will be used as an excuse to make blanket statements about what women travelers should or should not do.  Its for your own good, honey.

Thankfully, there was very little street harassment directed my way on my trip to Kerala, India, contrary to the typical American view of the country.  Some of us were discussing possible reasons for this, with the most obvious being that we spent very little time on actual streets.  We were generally in our bus, and when we walked we tended to be on the grounds of a hotel or other attraction where the only people we see are staff.  Not that staffers never harass customers, but it is in their best interest to treat us right, even more so considering we are travel bloggers.  I was very rarely alone, and the group had gender parity (for the bloggers.  On the staff side, Rutavi was holding it down for team XX by herself) so it was rare for me to walk somewhere without someone who presents as a man nearby.  And of course, I do not speak Malayalam or Hindi, so it’s possible I missed some things.

I did enjoy one little insight into the minds of my male compatriots.  One night, 7 or 8 of us went out to buy alcohol.  There were only two women, myself and another blogger.  To buy alcohol in Kerala, a person needs to stand in a line at a small storefront and ask the clerk for what they want, then pay.  All of these stores seem to perpetually have a line, and line culture in India involves a bit more jockeying for position and a lot less personal space than an American is used to.  I took one look at the situation and knew that we didn’t all need to wait in line and that I was definitely not going to be one of the people who did.  It didn’t look scary, and if I needed to I could have, but it just seemed obvious to me that if I could avoid being the only woman in close quarters with a lot of men trying to buy alcohol (and some who had clearly already had their fill), than I should avoid it.  One of the guys must have had the same thought because right away he said that the two women would wait here.  Another guy was confused by this, which is how most guys I have traveled with would react.  It simply doesn’t occur to them–they have never had to think that way.  The idea of a man considering a woman’s safety without being told to (or assuming it’s either exaggeration or an excuse to completely restrict her behavior) is a rare quality indeed, and it immediately raised my positive opinion of him.  Of course, for every helpful precaution there is an annoying bit of paternalism, and one of the men came walking back to us instead of toward the store.  He was nominated on the sly to babysit us women.  I called him on it immediately, and he begrudgingly admitted it.  I didn’t mind the company of course, and the sentiment was frustrating but understandable.  It was just weird that it seemed somewhat covert.

In that story we were in one of the few populated areas where we were able to wander off.  We spent a lot of our walking around time in more rural areas, which offer fewer opportunities for harassment from a purely numeric perspective, though harassment in all forms occurs everywhere.   We are also foreigners, and while that attracts a different sort of attention, it also can cause people in the service industry to be overly deferential and more careful how they behave around us.  Sometimes that extends to average people in the country, out of a sense of hospitality or awareness of the importance of the tourism industry, or a mix of the two.

It’s imperative to remember that my experience here is not universal, and that Kerala is not all of India.  Those with different perceived gender identities and sexual orientations, skin tones, ethnic groups, socioeconomic status, castes, and physical and mental ability levels could all be treated much differently than I. There is the biggest difference that is often overlooked by travelers: those who are local likely experience their own communities in a completely different way than I do.  All this is to say that just because I have barely been harassed doesn’t mean other travelers or Indians won’t be.  Moreover, the State of Kerala is very different from other parts of India, which have their own, often more intense, histories with gender-based violence.  This is not to say Kerala doesn’t also have a problem with gender-based violence (it does; everywhere does) but it does not tend to make the headlines the way Delhi has.

When we discuss street harassment abroad, we must remember that this is not a foreign behavior, or one unique to a certain climate, region, language, religion, or culture.  It looks different from one place to the next, but street harassment happens all over the world so it should be combated all over the world.  Relegating terrible behavior to certain places or types of people lets those who harass but do not fit our mold off the hook.  It can also leave people feeling singled out instead of supported, as evidenced by some of the backlash from the story of a white American study abroad student in India this past year.

At the same time, I feel it is important for those who experience street harassment to find ways of bringing the behavior into the light no matter where they live or who perpetrates harassment.  Many women who travel downplay street harassment abroad in order to keep from worrying loved ones, to minimize racist responses from listeners, to distance themselves from upsetting memories, or because they’re so used to others minimizing their experiences.  However, when we stay silent it can feel like being victimized again.  Personally, my best tool for dealing with street harassment isn’t fighting back or preventative measures.  It’s discussing my experiences with fellow female travelers.  I have mostly given up talking about it with male travelers because their responses range from neutral to disappointing to extremely upsetting, but when they do get it, as in the story above, it brings a feeling of relief.  On the other side of things, I love it when I am able to discuss street harassment with local women in order to learn more about their experience.  Sharing these stories reminds me that this behavior is real, it is not okay, it is not my fault, and I am not alone in experiencing it.  It can also minimize the level of daily stress that street harassment piles on.

LGBTQ and women travelers receive a lot of advice from all directions, all of whom are completely confident that they know what is best.  It is a complicated mix of contradicting and often insulting or victim-blaming information.  I’m a big believer in the Hollaback! model for dealing with mistreatment of women and LGBTQ folks worldwide, which is that local communities are experts on their own experiences, and that however a person feels most safe and empowered is the right choice for them.  Translated to international travel, this means it can be the best decision for one person to travel solo, while for another it is better to arrange to travel with companions.  Or, more realistically, the same traveler could arrive at varying conclusions depending on many factors, including their comfort level with independent travel, their assessment of their own safety, and their preference.  I am equally sick of hearing women being shamed and blamed for solo travel as when they are bullied as less-than for opting to go a safer, more comfortable route such as traveling with a package tour, a touring group, friends, family, or a partner.  We really don’t need more people telling women what to do.  However you manage to feel safe and comfortable while traveling is what you should do, because I firmly believe we need to make travel more accessible, not less.

What’s your experience of street harassment, at home or abroad?  Does it match what others who live or travel to there experience?  How do you feel about all the advice people constantly give women?

Do as I Say, Not as I Do

Since moving from a study abroad participant to a leader of trips abroad, I have had some recalibrating to do.  There is a difference between the risks I’m willing to take myself and those I’m willing to allow my students to take.

This came rushing to the fore last summer when I was walking at night in Havana with the majority of our students, and at least one of the Cubans with us was stopped by the police for walking with white women while black.  It is important to note that this is a significantly worse offense than walking while black, although that’s an issue in Cuba as well.  The reason is not only due to racism and history, but also tourism, industry, and hegemony.  While I find the term “tourism apartheid” a bit strident, there is more than a nugget of truth to it, and the way it plays out in Cuba is that it’s somewhat acceptable if the white woman is visibly into it, but otherwise all young black men are assumed to be harassing your tourist dollars away.  Of course, not once has the policia ever showed up to stop genuine harassment (to my knowledge).  And the component of hegemony: when it comes down to it, some lives are deemed more worthy than others, and white skin and our little blue books protect us.  Somewhere in the 20th century, it became unacceptable for an American to lose their life abroad.  It’s cool at home, especially if they lost their life to a legally purchased gun, or if they are not white and middle class.  But that’s a whole other thing.

But back to the story, and the risks involved.  This was probably during what most people would call my time off, but it was nonetheless immediately obvious to me that I was in charge and it was my job to keep my students safe.  This is because regardless of what time of day or night, my state of mind, whether I’m with friends, coworkers, clients or students, or how undesirable the task may be, when something needs to get done, I see it as just doing my job.  This is because I have a pretty broad definition of my job, which goes beyond the things for which I am paid, things done in a cubicle, or times when I am expected to watch how I dress, speak, or act.  In my mind, my job is to keep everyone safe, and increase justice and knowledge whenever possible.  Literally all of the time, for the entire time I’m alive.  I’m off the hook if I’m sleeping, but if someone wakes me up I’m right back in it.

So this leaves me with some dueling priorities.  Number 1, I need to make sure nothing happens to my students, who are likely best served by calmly walking away from the cops questioning their friend across the street.  Number 2, I know why the cops are talking to their friend, and I know it’s bullshit.  I know we have more pull than they do in this scenario, but I also know that if I (or my students) screw up, we will not face the consequences.  The Cubans will.  And then there’s the guilt.  If these guys had been doing their own thing, without a giant pack of white women to whom they were nothing but polite and friendly, no one would be talking to the cops right now.  Oh and number 3, none of my students have any clue that the cops are questioning him for no good reason, or that they have played any role in all of this, or that they could do serious damage by trying to help.  Or rather, I thought this had occurred to none of them.

I get the high sign from one of the Cubans, and a couple of people (who I didn’t realize were intoxicated) translate my message of “keep walking, wait for me at the end of the street, and don’t cause a fuss,”  into something loosely resembling, “holy shit we got that guy arrested!  and now no one can have fun and everyone should scream!”  Somehow everyone instantly became belligerent and less logical in that moment, but eventually they reluctantly followed instructions.  I’ve written before about this, and about how strange it was the next morning to hear 22 different versions of the same night.  But after they left was the real trouble.

After they left was the real trouble because that’s when those students from before, the ones I didn’t count on understanding precisely what was happening, remained.  And they did what I would have done.  They asked the other Cubans what would fix it, and they did their best to follow through.  It didn’t work, but they’re good people for trying.  Meanwhile, I got to be someone I never imagined being: the callous authority figure, giving them instructions that would protect them but not their friends.  Normally, I would have been the one going over to talk to the cops.  Instead, I was the one with a plan for how to get their US passports here before they could potentially be taken to jail.

Luckily, my students were fine, although those who remained till the end were certainly hurt in an irreparable way, the way that only powerlessly watching complete injustice from a place of informed privilege can make you feel.  The guy who the police brought away in cuffs had to pay an unimaginably high fine for a Cuban salary, but he was a free man the next day.  I was of course fine too, as my students and I never wore cuffs and didn’t have to pay a dime, but I was left wrestling with the idea of choosing the safety of one group of people over justice (and potentially safety) for another.  When it comes down to it, I am responsible for my students.  And I don’t know them as well as I know myself, so there is a greater unpredictability to their risks than mine.  But finally, when I take my risks, I can really only take them when I travel on my own, when I am not endangering anyone but myself.  And therein lies the downside of being in a group: a risk for one becomes a risk for all, whether we mean it to be or not.

So yes, I tell them not to swim  off the malecon, but I also don’t say a word when I know they’re doing it.  I told my kids in Greece they better not go to protests, but I was pissed I missed them myself, and Sarah knew without my asking that the first thing I wanted to see in Cairo, other than her gorgeous face, was Tahrir Square.  I count their heads and make them promise me that they’ll use the buddy system, and I tell them they’re not allowed to scare me like that when they get back to the bus late or have too much to drink.

But sometimes it gets trickier, if you can believe it.

I take cabs and walk alone, I dress how I want to dress.  No, I will not tell my female students they can’t wear a mini-skirt to a club on a Friday night.  First of all, I wouldn’t believe in doing that even if it would help.  But second, I know for a fact it won’t do anything to keep away the cat calls and the groping.  Driving and walking alone is harder.  I think in general, everyone is safer with the buddy system.  But I also know it drove us to insanity in Cairo when for six weeks we were basically never alone.  It’s why I would hide in the lobbies between floors reading, or insist on wandering museums alone.  When I could have my independence, I took it.  There’s also something to the idea that if a guy doesn’t have a buddy, it’s not a huge deal.  If a girl doesn’t have one, whatever happens next is her fault.

I don’t want my students to be alarmist, and I sort of read one the riot act when she claimed last summer that her roommate was not only certain to be raped in Havana’s most crowded, safe, zero-violent-crime neighborhood, but that it would be the roommate’s fault, and how dare that roommate scare her like that.  I hate the pearl clutching and the victim blaming and those who would scare us into never leaving America or our hometowns or our kitchens, but I also count heads compulsively.  I always know where the exits and the cops are.  I waited behind because one of them ran off at night to get his fifteenth sandwich of the day, and everyone going home without telling him was unacceptable.

So I let them hate me for not “stopping” or “letting them stop” their friend from getting arrested.  And I do my best not to get into arguments about the futility and misogyny of dress codes as safety measures.  I want them to know street harassment, sexual assault, political violence, corruption, all of these injustices, they happen all the time.  But that shouldn’t keep them home or moving around in air-conditioned vehicles in knee-length baggy skirts in groups of ten or more.  The world is simultaneously more terrifying and more kind than they’ve ever imagined.  I just don’t know how to tell them that.

Walk for Change

UPDATE on 4/7/2014: This post was updated to reflect my 2014 donation page. I’m proud to share that quotes from this article have been featured on BARCC’s print ads, MBTA ads (share a picture if you see it on the red line!), and the back of the Walk t-shirts.

This April, I will be participating in Boston Area Rape Crisis Center’s Walk for Change.  I first learned of the organization last year, during my final semester at Northeastern, when I got involved in some related activism.  BARCC is a local organization serving the Greater Boston Area with counseling, a 24-hour hotline, medical advocates, and lobbying power.  They do good work for little pay, and their services are invaluable for the people who need them.  I will be joined by an amazing group of women who are strong, bold, smart and high-achieving.

I’m walking because I have heard so many stories that break my heart, stories of things that never should have happened.  But instead they happened again and again, often to the same people, and they will keep happening.

I am walking because I shouldn’t be afraid to name the organization I was with when I learned about BARCC, nor should I be afraid to name what we were protesting.  But I am.  I am afraid to write about it, to mention it to fellow Northeastern students and alumni, or to associate myself with it online.  Because when a group of young men and women and some of their teachers stood up and said we would not have our university associated with a group that treats this wretched violence so casually, that treats the safety and well-being and freedoms of young women so casually, members and fans of the organization set out to make us feel insane, overly sensitive, ugly, and unsafe.  They pursued us relentlessly online, insulted us in the comments and in person, wrote threats, posted addresses and personal details, and surrounded us at our protest.

I am walking because those people won a little bit, when those threats were so serious they were taken to the police, and some people were advised to stay home and stay offline.  And they won a little bit when they made us afraid, and when they made us feel small, and when they made me feel like a Super Bowl party or a sports bar was one less place where I could be safe and happy.

I am walking because I should have been able to think of at least one fellow student at Northeastern with whom I felt comfortable sharing our plans for the protest: a person I could trust not to invite the trolls, or tell me I was wrong or stupid, or downplay the importance of this issue.  But I couldn’t.

I am walking because there is no magic formula to keep ourselves safe, no right time of day or night to go out, no right type of person or situation to avoid, no dress code, no secret signal not to send, no magic way of saying no that will be honored by everyone everywhere in every situation no matter what, no appropriate number of drinks to have or companions to walk us home.

I am walking because people tell me that it cannot possibly be true that a woman is more likely to be attacked if she goes to college, because people tell me I must be lying, because people claim no one they know has ever been sexually assaulted or raped, even though we know that statistically, for a person my age, that is nigh impossible.

I am walking because I have sat in a car while men screamed out the window at women walking home alone in the middle of the night.  I said nothing while they yelled, “slut!” at women who had no way of knowing whether the car would slow down and someone would come to harm them or not.  I said nothing while they laughed about it, because I was tired of being their punching bag and I was afraid of what they would think of me if I kept standing up for the women they called sluts.

I am walking because the American legal system, the military, the lower house of congress, much of the media and far too many doctors have utterly failed the country and their humanity on this issue.

I am walking because of Delhi and Steubenville, and because those communities are not unique.  Because when an 11 year old was raped by 18 men and teenage boys, the New York Times saw fit to report only on those wondering where the girl’s mother was, and saying how grown up her clothing and makeup was.  Because a fake girlfriend received more attention than a rape victim who committed suicide.  Because so many at Penn State rioted to support its football team and its coach, instead of stopping to think about who the real victims are.  Because our collective first thoughts after an accusation are always to wonder what she was wearing or drinking, whether she flirted or was promiscuous, whether he is gay or weak, and to say what a horrible thing it is to ruin someone’s reputation, and to frantically repeat the words “Duke Lacrosse” like it’s an incantation.

I am walking because everyone’s right to a good time and their right to free speech and their right to make crappy jokes and comments is not more important than our right to feel safe or our obligation as human beings to treat one another with respect and a sense of compassion.

I am walking because there are too many bystanders, too many who see it as someone else’s problem, and too many people who call themselves “good” and “nice” while ignoring the jokes, the threats, the injustices, and the violence that happen in our own communities.

I am walking because it is a big deal, and it does happen in all kinds of places and to all kinds of people, and I’m sorry bringing up these issues bums people out but good lord, imagine what experiencing them firsthand must feel like.

I am walking because sometimes using your voice, showing your presence, and providing support for those fighting the good fight is the only thing any of us can do, and that is a very important thing.

I am walking because what they want is silence.  What they want is compliance.  What they want is fear, and what they want is power.

I am walking because no one can be silenced, no one should live in fear or shame, no one should ever be or feel powerless, and because we will not go quietly.

I am walking because I can, I am walking because I feel I must, and I am walking for those who cannot yet walk for themselves.

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If I Wrote for Thought Catalogue, this is what it would look like

Paris is like that first love that will always hold your heart. You two can fall easily back into each other’s arms, where everything comes quickly, lasts long, and feels right.

Canada is like that guy from your hometown that you paw around every once in a while just to feel alive, or to remember how it felt when you were sixteen and everything you did with him was new and dangerous. You may go back every once in a while, but honestly sometimes you get more out of not even bothering.

Egypt is like your first time: different for everyone. But no matter how you found it, it will always have a grip on you. It will always make your pulse quicken and give your stomach a jolt like an electric shock. You may wander back when you’re not sure what else to do, and while it may welcome you back, it could just as easily chew you up and spit you out. You will always wonder what if, and Egypt will always be there to remind you and tempt you.

Benin is like a bad fling: been there, done that, no regrets and no returning. Unless it was for a really good reason…

Greece was like finally getting with the most popular guy in school and not really getting it. What’s all the fuss about? I was too tired and busy from the pursuit to even enjoy it. And anyway, shouldn’t he come to me?  Maybe someday it will be time for a reunion…

Cuba is that guy your mother wanted you about. Some call it abuse; others are jealous. Sometimes, those people are one and the same. He’s frustrating, mean, fickle and generally beyond human comprehension. He may depress you, confuse you, and even cheat on you, but he makes you feel like a queen. With him, you are a woman no one else ever see or creates in you. With him you are wild, free, fun, and young forever. You are powerful, flirtatious and just a wee bit dangerous. Anyone who tells you they’d rather be alone than by his side is lying or they don’t know what they’re missing.

For reference, this is Thought Catalogue.

Cover Up

Say it’s for respect, say it’s because of religion, say it’s just a rule and don’t ask questions, say it’s arbitrary and sexist.  Just don’t say we need to wear high necklines and low hems so that we are not sexually harassed.  Don’t do it.  Don’t victim blame, don’t lie.  In harassment-heavy countries like Cuba and Egypt, I have seen anecdotally that the amount of clothing is irrelevant.  Cuban guys say piropos to all women, regardless of clothing and almost regardless of age.  White women get slightly more commentary, but no amount of clothing will make me less of a gringa.

In Egypt, it has been found that women believe they get harassed less when they cover up more (more being even more than we do in the West, since it includes the abaya, the hijab and the niqab.)  However, these same women actually self-report higher levels of harassment when they are more covered.  It’s just an instance of intense cognitive dissonance, egged on by years of messaging from men, women, harassers and victims alike claiming, as if in some desperate plea for relief, that if only we could wear the right amount and combination of clothing, they would just leave us the hell alone.  But they don’t.  Women in full abaya and hijab get raped in public.  Women in jeans and modest shirts are assaulted all the time.

To say that I can stop (or even stem) harassment by changing my clothes is an indictment of women and men alike.  It says men cannot control themselves and thus need to be prevented from seeing that which entices them so.  It says women who get harassed must not have dressed properly, it must be their fault somehow.

It still boggles me that otherwise-progressive people fall into this trap.

10 Things People Say About My Travels

  1. Have you read Eat, Pray, Love?
    Good lord, no!  But might I interest you in some Ayn Rand, Ayun Halliday or Malcolm Gladwell?
  2. Have you been to___________?
    Probably not.  I’ve only been to a few places.  They just all happen to be a little scary to the average bear, and one trip right after another.
  3. Why don’t you just go where they speak English?
    I speak other languages and I want to learn more.  Also, my travel is an integral part of my education.  It is not based on areas of high booze, sex or beaches, but rather areas I want to study.  England and Australia appeal to me as a traveler, but not as a student.  It would be counter-productive and perhaps a bit unethical for me to take money from NU, the government, and my parents to go abroad for non-educational purposes.
  4. Wasn’t it scary?  And don’t they just treat women like crap? And aren’t they awful?  (you get the picture…)
    No!  I promise!  I really have enjoyed everywhere I have gone, and I have never felt truly unsafe.  I research where I go pretty heavily, and I have turned down opportunities because I deemed them unsafe.  And if you come away from reading this blog thinking the people were awful and mistreated women everywhere I went, then I’ve failed.  I tell it like it is, and that means mentioning the harassment.  But I also get an alarming number of doors opened for me, and strangers who make sure I’m not lost, and people giving me presents at random.  It’s a mixed bag, like anywhere else.
  5. I wish I could do that!
    You can!  And please do!  If you’re in college, travel is super-easy.  If you go to Northeastern, absolutely no complaints out of you!  Leave a comment or shoot me an email if you want help figuring out how you can go abroad.
  6. But did you go sky-diving/bungee jumping?
    Absolutely not.  I think I would vomit profusely if I ever tried.  It doesn’t really appeal to me, and that’s a lot of money for something I don’t have any interest in.  We don’t all have the same tastes or the exact same experience on study abroad, even if it sometimes seems that way.  I prefer wandering around a city solo, meeting little kids, going to lectures and impromptu fun over the dare-devil type stuff.  I guess I’m just not that brave.
  7. Stop going to scary places!
    Again I say: absolutely not.  Also, as the person who actually went, they’re not so scary.  My old apartment in Roxbury was scarier than anywhere I’ve been abroad.
  8. Is that from place x/y/z?
    While I do LOVE to buy jewelry, clothing, decorations and accessories from abroad, lots of it is just Made in China and sold at H&M.  Sorry, I’m just not that exotic.  And suitcases are small.
  9. …But I bet it cost a ton of money
    It didn’t!  I swear!  Look for a dedicated post on this soon, but Financial Aid and my NU scholarships applied, so that certainly helped.  Also, I would be going to school anyway and nothing cost much over tuition.  Finally, I go to developing countries where my dollar goes farther, and I’m a pretty frugal person in general.  So I live happily average at home, and abroad I can often stretch that to average with many nights of excess if I feel like it–but I usually just save it for my next trip!
  10. You went to…Turkey (or Lebanon or Costa Rica or South Africa or wherever), right?
    Hehe no, but that’s fine.  I don’t expect everyone to remember everywhere I went and when and why, especially if you don’t see me that often.  Let’s make a deal: don’t get mad if I forget the names and schedules of your kids, and I won’t get mad when you forget all my countries.  Just don’t refer to them as “vacations”!

Cuban Novio, Cuban Boyfriend

By far, the majority of my traffic centers around these search terms.  That worried me.  It says that there’s a need.  There are these women out there with Cuban boyfriends, or wanting them, and not knowing how to handle it.  What to buy them, how to get one, how to know if they’re cheating, what to feed them, when to believe them.  I didn’t just put those thoughts into people’s heads, they’re all very real search terms I see all the time.

Here’s the thing: I’ve never had a novio cubano, for a variety of reasons.

If you want to know what it’s like, read Whitney’s series Adventures with a Cuban Boy over at her blog On Love and Other Things.  She has great prose, genuine thoughts and enchanting pictures.  And more importantly, she has the experience.

I won’t talk about other people’s experience, but I cant talk about mine.  Here are a few posts I’ve written on the male/female dynamic in Cuba, from the perspective of a young, white American foreigner.

I had a hard time with the novio thing in Cuba.  I’m a girl who’s used to having close guy friends, and a few good circles of guys to spend time with.  I’m also used to people finding out I have a boyfriend and respecting that, rather than trying to make me forget or “live in the moment.”  I’ve taken a bit of crap from fellow travelers for disliking some of the attention I get when abroad, but I don’t think anyone should have to put up with harassment, and I think everyone has the capacity to understand boundaries, even if they are foreign to them.

I really hated that it was hard to have platonic friends in Cuba.  I felt I had to keep my guard up; any time I didn’t, I noticed not-so-subtle behavior changes, or I heard about my “blossoming relationship” later from other friends.  Many who travel short term to Cuba, or who don’t leave the resorts, never experience this.  I’m curious how other extended visitors found things to be.  Most Cuban guys, in their own words, told me that unless my novio was on the island, it didn’t matter.

This all probably sounds really stuck up.  And I’m sure people will claim that the guys had one reason or another for continually deciding to ignore my” just friends” mantra.  But I don’t think that sitting next to one of my guy friends for a couple innings at a baseball game and honestly calling him a childish idiot for blowing up condom balloons constitutes flirting.

I hate being told to” live in the moment.”  Especially when I know they don’t mean my moment, they mean theirs.  I hate being told to stop thinking, to stop being so serious.  This is not How Delia Got her Groove back.  I’m 21; I have groove.  I hate that for so many guys, their only interpretation of fun was getting drunk and flirting with white women, and having them buy dinner.  I hate that so many white women for decades before me had already set the precedent that this was true and okay.

Sometimes going to other countries, ones with even stricter gender roles than ours, reminds me just how little I fit my gender.  I stick out as ornery and a run for everyone’s money in the states–imagine how that comes across in a Muslim or machismo society (the two are more similar than you’d think).

I believe I have the right to dance however I want with my friends and not get touched by strangers.  And yes, I understand respecting customs and the importance of context.  It isn’t so big a deal if you’re somewhere for a week or a few days, or if you’re constantly surrounded by western backpackers.  But after a few months in a foreign country where you can’t let you guard down or go out with just women, it gets awfully lonely.  That’s all.