It’s Sunday night and I have both a 12-15 page paper (1.5 spaced – who knew there was a requirement besides double spaced) and a take-home exam due Tuesday. My time is minimal and there are a dozen other blog posts that I wish to share with you in the future. Yet, I had an experience today that, for cathartic reasons, needs to be documented and shared with you all.
It was around 5:50pm and I had gotten off the colectivo in Palermo to meet Laura at a café a few blocks away to work on our take-home exam. Of course, I decided to get off at the stop after the one I usually do because I thought it would bring me closer to my destination. I was distracted on the bus (the usual: people watching and my own imagination) and got off one stop later than planned. No big deal, I snagged my handy dandy Guia T and figured out how to turn around and get back on the right streets. Unfortunately I was a few more blocks farther than I would have liked, but today was a beautiful spring day so I didn’t mind.
Quickly enough I found the intersection where I hit Malabia and I took a right, beginning my straight 5-6 block trek to Voulez Vous Café. At one street crossing, I noticed a man standing on the corner across from me. He was fairly young, perhaps in his late twenties. He was wearing a nice light pink button-up and a dark vest, as if he were coming from a business meeting or a wedding, but took off his jacket because the sun was so bright and warm this late afternoon. Perhaps I shouldn’t have glanced at him for so long, but he was more attractive than most Argentine men I pass by on the sidewalk and I was genuinely curious by his confident stature, standing so content on the curb without appearing to be preparing to cross any time soon. I thought maybe he was lost.
Well, I was wrong. Less than a block later I casually glanced behind me and saw him a few yards away walking up the same sidewalk. The roads of Palermo were still fairly busy so there were people in between us and in front of me as well. I didn’t think much of it, though I have a habit of glancing back and making myself aware of any solo men walking behind me, particularly at night or if they’re singing/whistling to themselves. It’s a safety precaution as I prefer to recognize my environment and potential bad scenarios.
I cannot recall how many blocks I walked with him still behind me, but I know I was only two blocks away from my destination when I suddenly felt him picking up his pace and getting closer and closer to me. There were people that I dived around in front of me, hoping to trip him up and avoid being seriously followed. But there weren’t enough crowds to hide inside and I was too afraid to stop moving and cross to the right side of the road at this point.
Then, he came right up beside me. I was walking at a very quick pace, yet he kept right up with me. I looked away from him and tried to ignore the fact that he was walking closer and more in step with me than I do with my friends. I glanced halfway towards him through my peripherals and realized he was not going to budge. What was I to do? Moreover, what in the world did he want and what was he going to try to do? Especially when I made my way to Laura in Voulez Vous Café?
It was only me against him, yet I felt outnumbered. With each step I felt as though my power, my confidence, and my independent nature were dripping off of me like the sweat that accumulated on my forehead. He was gaining strength as I began to feel smaller and weaker. My mind was a jungle gym of random Spanish words that I might yell at him or things to do in the case that he tried to touch or grab me.
All of a sudden, something clicked. I veered at an angle to the left while crossing the next side road and walked between two cars, planning to cut him off by the outdoor tables at the corner restaurant. All of a sudden, I heard the words, “Por favor, salí!” roll off my tongue as rapidly and ferocious as my host mother does in her strong Argentine accent to our dog, Enzo when he tries to beg at the dinner table for food.
For whatever amazing reason, this disgusting animal left me alone too. I never slowed my pace, but I watched him immediately turn left down the road as I continued up Malabia one more block. After half a block I turned around to double-check that he hadn’t returned.
I’m sincerely shocked that my words did the trick. I’m hoping my quick banter made me appear more Argentine than he realized? I’ll never know the answer to that.
I don’t want this to appear too dramatic, because I wasn’t traumatized by the experience. But it definitely shook me. Hours later, I’m still a little shaken by what happened today. It made me fearful of walking back down those six blocks and to wait in the dark at the bus stop. This was the second time I had been followed down the streets of Palermo. And this time it was in broad daylight.
This is why I need feminism.
This is why feminism matters.
The discrimination, though small and trite in comparison to some women’s, that I have experienced in Argentina has truly opened my eyes to the way the majority of women live in this world. They live in fear. No one has told them that they deserve to hold up half the sky, that their voice is important and meaningful.
No woman should feel less worthy than what they deserve.
No woman should be afraid to walk down a street alone.