My friend Monica and I were trying to make the most of her last night in Antigua. It was a short trip and we’d tried to pack in as much as humanly possible. I wanted her to know the city that I know, the adoptive hometown in Guatemala that I love so very much. I wanted her to see its quirks and love it anyway. Unfortunately, on her last night, she and I were confronted by an Antiguan reality that I hoped she’d never see.
We were on our way to one of my favorite local bars when we received a Snapchat from a friend back home. We paused on the street, laughed at the picture, snapped a selfie and sent it back, when, out of nowhere, I felt someone’s hands inside my clothes. Before I knew what was happening, my underwear was around my knees and someone’s hands were searching underneath my skirt. Dread sank from my heart to my feet. I screamed bloody murder, instinctively making as much noise as possible. I had no idea how many men there were, nor if the same thing was happening to Monica. Fears raced through my mind faster than I could order them.
Do they have a weapon? Is anyone around to help?
I swung around to protect myself and to confront my attacker. He ran and as I pulled my underwear back up to chase him, he was gaining distance down the road. Anger pushed me to run after him, but he was already almost a block away. There was no point. The asshole got away and I knew immediately that there would be no justice for the man who had just violated me and made me fear for my life on a public street in the city I love.
Suddenly, I was pulled from my frustration when I heard Monica yell, in confusion and panic, “What the fuck is going on?”
Luckily, there were no weapons, it was only one guy, and Monica was left untouched.
My heart was beating a mile a minute and adrenaline was shooting through my veins. I felt as though I was covered in spiders — my skin crawling when I replayed the incident, over and over again, in my head.
I shook my hands and I jumped up and down to release the negative energy. Most importantly, I refused to let myself cry. That guy, I thought, does not deserve my tears. I will not give him that victory. Still, the pent-up emotion needed to be released, so less than five minutes after my assault, I found myself bursting into delirious laughter. I laughed so that I could feel strong. I laughed to prove that he is laughable. I laughed to show that he has no power over me. I couldn’t stop laughing. My body trembled and I laughed until it hurt, swearing and making light of the situation.
Monica stared at me with concern in her eyes. She wished that she could have done something, that she would have clocked into what was happening sooner. She grabbed my arm and tried to talk to me about what had just happened, but, physically, I could not speak to her seriously about it. Eventually, the laughter died away and turned to a few small chuckles. When I’d gotten it under control I looked at her and said, “Welcome to Antigua.”
That’s not entirely fair. Street harassment is everywhere. To women, that is technically known as a “duh” statement. But let’s face it, in Guatemala it is bad. Really bad. Monica and I were lucky that night. It is dangerous to be a woman here. We could have gotten really hurt. Incidents like the one that happened to us a few weeks ago are a constant that reminds us, all of us, that we are not able to guarantee our own safety. We never know if this walk down the street will be the one where we are assaulted, but we do know it can always happen. We never know if we will be next or if we will have to opportunity to laugh nervously afterward. The streets at night are not ours to wander. Nor are they during the day for that matter.
I know plenty of men who think this isn’t really a pervasive problem, men who would prefer women to stop lecturing them about “rape culture,” but, fellas, there’s something you fail to understand: Just because you don’t participate in — or see — the harassment of women on the streets, doesn’t mean this is a made-up problem. It is real and it is pervasive. The daily, hourly, minute-to-minute objectification of women runs from the “low-level” offense of cat-calling up through physical assault to rape and murders as brutal as what happened recently to sixteen-year-old Lucía Pérez in Argentina, a case so graphically horrible that I will not recount the details here, but that every woman you know is intimately aware of. That entire spectrum of dehumanization is the issue, and it is, explicitly, a male problem. To fix it, to end it, YOU are going to have to help. Not harassing women on the streets and not raping them is not enough. You must be active in this fight. Please, be active in that fight. We need you.
Before we get there, though, I think I’m going to have to convince some of my male readers that the problem is as bad as we women know it to be. Difficult as this is to believe from my side of the gender divide, I have come to accept that many men just do not see women being objectified and put in danger everywhere around them, and so I’m going to try to break this down in a way that is, hopefully, both entertaining and nonthreatening to the guys out there. We desperately need you all to get the picture, so I’m going to put this into terms that, I’m pretty sure, will be clear to you what we are dealing with.
Imagine that men are not men, but zombies. Now, imagine that these zombies want women instead of brains. Using this lens, hopefully you’ll be able to understand that women are living through a full-force zombie apocalypse every fucking day.
Think about that next time you walk outdoors.
Let’s make some general points. First, zombie-contagion doesn’t come from consuming brains or being bitten by one of the infected. It’s both easier and more subtle than that. Our “zombies” become dangerous by observing other zombies in their natural habitat. Young-boy zombies in particular watch how grown-up zombies behave, and through constant exposure to assholes they become greater and greater threats. Second, though more prevalent at night, zombies can attack at any time. As such, women must be on a constant alert, watching one another’s backs and taking precautions to avoid danger. We, just like those lovable, plucky survivalists in your favorite zombie-infested entertainment vehicles, would love to let our guard down and relax, but it’s just not possible when dealing with hordes of the undead.
Now, I know this metaphor is imperfect, but it is how many women feel, both around the world and on the streets of the town where you live. It is how many of us feel here in Antigua, Guatemala. We manage to have full lives in spite of the threats and dangers, but there is a level of tension that many men simply do not appreciate.
We also know that not all males are “infected,” yet that is also why it is so frightening — we don’t always know who is “a zombie” and who isn’t, and exposure is also not always fatal to the morality of the victim. There is still hope for humanity even in the middle of this nightmare, and I am confident that through the combined efforts of heroic men and women that we can wipe out the pervasive disease of harassment that infects societies across the globe. To do so, however, we’ve gotta start clearing streets and holding territory. The zombies are waiting on every block. They are not to be taken lightly. Threats lurk everywhere and, like in the video game Left 4 Dead, there are different categories of the undead in our midst.
We turn now to investigate the three main subdivisions. They are the Groper, The Wanker and the Howler.
Just one last point, before we push ahead with this instructional bit of writing. I’m dead serious when I talk about this stuff. Maybe particularly when I am so upset I either have to laugh or make it into some kind of joke, but what we’re talking about is really no laughing matter. If you are an individual, man or woman, who has been subject to an assault — verbal, manual or genital — and feel that you need to speak to someone, we urge you to reach to those who might help. If you don’t have someone in your life that you can trust and who can be with you through a crisis, please look to www.sosmujeres.com. There are links to resources, skilled professionals and volunteer advocates available to help you. If none of that works, drop us a line at La Cuadra Magazine, and we’ll do our best to help you navigate your way to a safer place.
We laugh when we need, but we understand this is no joke. Still, men need to understand what we’re dealing with here, and so, like a band of survivors in a devastated world, we push forward with a joke on our lips, some pain in our hearts, and resolve in our will to change this world.
Onward to the Zombies!
This malicious species of undead is the kind who attacked me when my friend Monica was in town. The Groper takes street harassment to an intimately dangerous level, physically violating women and disrespecting them through touching or grabbing. This is a traumatic experience that leaves women feeling dirty, alone, and exposed. It is by far the most feared zombie, and cannot be taken lightly.
Walking that night with Monica was not the first time I’d been attacked by a Groper while living in Antigua. Once, in broad daylight, while walking to work, I noticed that a set of footsteps behind me hadn’t wavered since I hopped off the camioneta in San Lorenzo el Cubo. Something felt off, but we could have just been headed in the same direction, so I tried to not pay it much mind. By so doing, I let down my guard and as I turned the corner to head up the hill to the school where I volunteer, I heard the footsteps behind me quicken. I hastened my pace and hoped to God I was wrong about the stranger behind me. To my increasing fear, he picked up his pace and I heard him draw nearer. His heavy breathing became panting, and I knew he was closing in. I glanced back in real fear and there was a teenaged boy, in full zombie mode, now running at me. I started to run and he chased me. I sprinted up the hill and banged on the school door, but before I could get open the lock, he reached out and helped himself to a handful of my butt.
“I like your ass,” he giggled in English, and waltzed away, smirking in satisfaction. He had no fear of what I might do to him. No sense of the absurd wrongness of his action. That may have been what angered me the most. He had an absolute sense of entitlement to my body.
“Fuck you, you fucking asshole! You disgusting piece of shit! How DARE you touch me?!” I screamed.
Pure, unruly outrage poured out of my eyes in tears. I was utterly helpless to defend myself or to prevent what had occurred. What if I had struck him? He might have killed me or worse. My hands trembled as the door opened from the inside, and my day was ruined.
Groper zombies, like this teenage boy and the man who attacked my friend and me last month, are on a quest for power. They feel compelled to “prove their manhood,” by showing themselves and the world that they are stronger than women, that they, in their minds, are better than us. The Groper is, clearly, a pathetic creature, but so very dangerous. Like other species of dangerous zombies, this one blends in with the crowd of other men. That teenaged boy who attacked me, might well have been a student at another school in the community where I work and his teachers might never know he’d done such a terrible thing on his way to school in the morning. Gropers are stealthy. They single out women, most times attacking singly or in pairs and apparently — as so few of my male friends seem to ever see this behavior — their weakness is being around other men whose motives they do not know. They rarely attack if an unknown human penis is nearby.
This happens much more often than men might think. In preparation for this article, I spoke to many women around town and heard their experiences. One of those women recalled running into a Groper recently and she agreed to allow me to quote her anonymously for this report. The attack occurred at dusk when the streets were filled with people and the city was very much buzzing with life. She was less than a block from the Parque Central when this brief but disturbing attack took place:
“I was walking down by the Cathedral. It was nearly seven o’clock. I was wearing these same shorts and I was walking, and I heard somebody running, so I went to my right, thinking he was coming up on my left. I turned to my left as I stepped right so I could see him when he passed, and he was right on top of me. At first, I thought he was going to steal from me. I had this bag and I was like ‘Fuck!, He’s going to steal it.’
“Then I realized that he wasn’t doing that. Instead, he put his hand on my ass and, like, he reached in between my cheeks and put his finger on my [anus]. I always thought I would punch someone if something like that happened, but I couldn’t react. So I just stayed there. Then I told him to fuck off and he said to me, ‘It’s your own fault for dressing like a whore.’”
The Groper has no concept of respect, and what’s worse, in the moment of the encounter, it’s often inadvisable for women to fight back against their behavior. There’s no way to know if The Groper is armed, or if he can overpower us. We cannot predict his anger if we fight back, so we feel forced to bite our tongues and pretend that nothing happened. We ignore them as best we can, both in an attempt to preserve the shreds of our dignity, and out of concern for our immediate safety. After all, there is the potential threat that The Groper could take his actions even further, resulting in rape or death — and in a country where the impunity rate for rape is above ninety-eight percent, we just never know which one of you it might be.
Sorry, but it’s true.
I wonder how many women reading this story right now are nodding their heads and remembering when something like that happened to them. I’m guessing it is most of us. Remember that, guys.
The next zombie is much less dangerous, but no less disturbing. If male readers of a more respectful bent have a hard time imagining a city crawling with Gropers, you’re going to find some real surprise with our next contestant who is known colloquially as The Wanker.
According to the women I interviewed for this story, most have observed more penises (both flaccid and erect) on the streets of Antigua than they would care to see consensually in their lifetimes. This reality is caused by the remarkable proliferation of the Wanker Zombie throughout the population. While many zombies travel in hordes, The Wanker is always alone. As evidenced by the name, Wankers are zombies who choose to expose or play with their genitalia in the presence of random women. That this behavior is repulsive on virtually every level does not prevent it from being a part of many women’s lives.
In a recent interview, a young woman in town reported that she was walking home from the market, groceries dangling from both forearms, and saw a man approach from the opposite direction. He smirked as he watched her walk, and made a quick motion for his pants. He then swiftly unzipped, grabbed his penis, and whipped it around like a (very) tiny helicopter.
She was appalled.
“What the hell is he doing?!” she recalled thinking.
She shook her head and sped off quickly. As she did, she could hear him laughing, apparently both proud of — and amused by — his act. As she recalled to me the story, she then imagined that he tucked himself back into his pants and went on with his day, either searching out his next victim or going to meet with the other women in his life with whom he must interact daily in an entirely different manner.
Men might find this difficult to believe, but ask around. This happens all the time. On many occasions, I’ve averted my eyes as men masturbated to women’s hips swaying down the road. I have seen it around La Merced, in Parque Central, on 1st Ave. Seemingly, it doesn’t matter where. These guys are by churches, bars, schools. They’re creeping everywhere women (and girls) might congregate, awaiting an opportunity to have a wank. They are, seemingly, always ready, hand on their side, waiting for a moment to whip it out and give it a little tug. They moan and their beady eyes hungrily roam, forcing their victims to cover themselves and speed away. It is mind boggling, and leaves one in sheer disgust. At least it does so to me. If you’re a woman in town who hasn’t seen this particular display of revolting weirdness, consider yourself lucky . . . or just wait! It’s bound to happen to you too, eventually.
The Wankers are not only on the sidewalk or recessed doorways; they also appear in parked or moving vehicles. They may drive by, give a shout out the window, and before we realize what’s happening, we are watching in horror as the Wanker zombie begins to masturbate while driving down the cobblestone streets. They appear on chicken buses, sitting quietly, gawking at prepubescent girls, fondling themselves.
It’s a nightmare.
Guys, if you ever do chance to catch a zombie Wanker, please, please, please publicly humiliate them — loudly (albeit, nonviolently). We would appreciate not having to bear witness to these disgusting acts. Moreover, while the Wanker generally only touches himself, his public displays of sexual aggression are designed, consciously, to frighten women. They do this for the reaction it will cause. It is a violent act and women are forced to consider what this zombie might be capable of. We must worry if they will go further and harm us. These thoughts race through our astounded brains, making us fully aware of the crazy post-apocalyptic and dangerous weirdness we are forced to live through on a daily basis.
Please, God, make it stop.
Ask the majority of women in Antigua, or any Western city, what it is really like to walk down the road at any time of day, and I guarantee they will eventually mention the sheer abhorrence and disgrace that is the catcall. For many women, not a day goes by without a degrading “chh chh chh,” sexual remark, or undressing look. These comments to women transverse race and class, time of day, and wardrobe. All women, at some point, have been subject to The Howler’s gaze and degrading comments.
I spoke to over twenty women in Antigua about how street harassment makes them feel, and their answers carried anger, frustration, and helplessness. Others expressed defeat. One friend said, “For me it’s a daily thing. I know I’m going to walk out of my house and someone is either going to look at me or do the ‘Chh chh chh.’”
When I asked her how this makes her feel, she told me, “I just have to walk through it and know it’s part of my routine.”
It becomes ingrained into daily life, an inconvenience like taking out the garbage or going to the bank. It’s just something we have to put up with.
However, putting up with a teenager yelling, “I want your pussy” in the middle of the afternoon is not how we want to spend our Sundays. We did not wear a dress for middle-aged men to declare “qué rico” as we walk by. Sometimes, they don’t need to say anything: their piercing gaze and the licking of their lips are enough to put our hair on end. We are left to brood on our own, taking in the violation of our dignity while The Howler continues on his way.
Howlers come in all shapes, sizes, ages and races. They range from laborers, to students, to professional men in suits and ties. They travel individually or in hordes. They often congregate in pick-up trucks, or in cologne-scented packs on their way to the club. They see a woman cross their paths and it’s game on. Some of the most ridiculous catcalls start with an over the top “hoolaaaa,” followed by a dramatic pause as they eagerly await a response. When one isn’t given, their pride suffers and they follow up with one of two options. One, they give a “fuck you, bitch,” or other unnecessarily rude remarks; or two, they decide to amp the volume on their “mamacita ricas” as you walk away —either because they think you didn’t hear them the first time, or it is used as a punishment for not acknowledging their presence.
Howlers, like all breeds of zombies, are dangerous, as one can never know for sure what they’re capable of. Particularly so because these ones often do congregate together and operate in packs. Individually, they may be more bark than bite, but it is not wise to take the risk to find out, particularly when they have numbers.
One of the participants in my survey described walking to work each morning and passing men constructing a hotel. Without fail, every time she walked past the building a group of ten or more men yelled at her at the same time. She began her day with frustration and fear until she finally had to change her route to work. She was forced to take the long way to escape the demeaning and irritating comments thrown her way every single morning.
The Howler may not cause physical harm, but the emotional damage it causes is profound. It invokes fear, and is a constant reminder that we need to be alert and diligent. We are not safe, and we’re reminded of that every day when we’re objectified and made to feel uncomfortable simply walking down the road. We know that our wardrobes are no excuse for this harassment. Our bodies don’t exist for men to gawk at, and our person is not to be disrespected. However, The Howler believes differently.
This entitlement to our bodies is a disgrace and an infection of the mind that continues to spread into boys, men, and even supposed leaders around the world. Quite frankly, we are tired of feeling disgraced. We are tired of ignoring men to make them go away. We demand respect because we are living in a world that is fatal for women. Women like Lucía Pérez are dying. It is a world where there is femicide and where 13-year-old girls are being impregnated by their fathers. Rape and murder and abuse are real, and it all starts with a “mamacita rica.” Most men reading this are not gropers or wankers, but I am going to go out on a limb here and say that at some point in their lives, they made a woman feel objectified. Most of those men, if they’ve continued reading this essay, have probably changed their ways and are willing to ally themselves to the cause of human dignity. That is fortunate, for as much as it feels like a zombie apocalypse out on the streets, we are dealing with human beings, and all human beings are capable of change.
Men have the ability to help us make these behaviors stop. They can tell other men not to touch women unless it is a consensual decision. They can enforce the rules with other men. They can model behavior and treat women as human beings. They can let other men know that chh chh chh-ing is morally and ethically wrong. Men can tell other men not to stare like a creep in the corner. If fellow men have something they want to say, tell them to think before they speak and to be respectful to all of the fellow homo sapiens. In short, men can model better behavior and call out other men who say or do wrong. They can be allies. This is important because, if we come together in mindful counter-action, speaking out against the atrocious behaviors we see and hear, young minds will not continue to fall into this sickness. The zombie infection will cease.
Rachel Wright is a young professional from Ohio trying to wriggle her way into the writing world. She is currently living in Antigua and working at a local NGO where she attempts to benefit the greater good of humanity, or something along those lines. She enjoys the smell of Home Depot, stuffing her face with shrimp burritos, and dismantling the patriarchy.
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One thought on “Street Harassment in the Land of Femicide”
Bravely and clearly written, you have taken the bull by the horns! Thank you, this needed to be exposed. Thank you La Cuadra for publishing this article.