On International Women’s Day 2017, Naya Koulocheri recounts a typical experience faced by women and explains why it’s useful to have a global day of reflection
DO we still need International Women’s Day or is it just an opportunity for women to go out, benefit from group discounts and get drunk?
Men, do you feel oppressed that the world doesn’t celebrate YOUR special day? Have women become empowered and ready to smash patriarchy, female objectification, the gender pay gap and capitalism itself, especially after the empowering message of Beyonce’s hit, All the Single Ladies?
In order to answer to these questions, I will tell you a recent story, which describes the experience of millions of women around the globe.
The guys in the pub continued their imaginary conversation, asking more questions about where we’re from, how nice and exotic Greece is, etc. When we ignored them and continued what we were doing, they became offensive.
Last Friday, after an amazing conference about the right to health, my friend and I went to the pub before we decided to head back. We were having a very interesting conversation when two guys decided to sit to the table next to us. They asked if the two chairs of our table were free and we replied that they could have them – we were about to leave, anyway.
At that point, they felt that it was okay to suggest that given that the chairs weren’t taken, “why don’t we sit all together and chat?”.
Yes, why not? Hhhmm, I don’t know. It’s probably because you decided to invite yourself into my personal space and interrupted an interesting discussion, without even being apologetic about it, solely because you wanted to. It could also be due to the fact that your intellect and inarticulate yelling could lead to complete destruction of our grey cells.
Anyway, we declined this very tempting offer and tried to continue where we left of. But, no, this wasn’t possible because evidently we just had to allocate our full attention to the guys that so generously laid their eyes on us.
First, they asked my friend: “Where does this pretty accent come from?” My friend, with a postgraduate degree in ecological economics from Edinburgh University and experience in writing and speaking English for years, speaks English fluently, with an almost non-existent Greek accent but, for the sake of the argument, let’s say that our accent was like Toula’s dad from My Big Fat Greek Wedding: 1) somebody must be really keen (i.e. biased and prejudiced) on spotting this in an elliptical three-word phrase and 2) who gave this random stranger the right/entitlement/authorisation to make such a comment?
One guy started saying that we came to the UK to make money and transfer it to our Greek bank account, raising their voices even higher, so that our reply couldn’t be heard.
Just to be clear about something, I truly believe in the rewarding joy of self-sarcasm; of making fun of yourself and letting your friends make fun of you. But this needs to be done within the boundaries you have specifically decided for yourself and for the people you trust. Anyone else is kindly requested to refrain from making these types of comments. Thank you.
The guys in the pub continued their imaginary conversation, asking more questions about where we’re from, how nice and exotic Greece is, etc. When we ignored them and continued what we were doing, they became offensive. One guy started saying that we came to the UK to make money and transfer it to our Greek bank account, raising their voices even higher, so that our reply couldn’t be heard.
One of them touched my friend’s arm in order to prove that Greeks are strong (if you say so. I will tell the Greeks, they will be delighted!). When they understood that this wasn’t going to end well, one said to the other “it’s dead” and they left us alone.
So, we experienced plain and clear racism just because we ignored two guys’ attention.
This is a mere example of what can happen when a woman doesn’t respond to the unwanted advances by random strangers/colleagues/________(fill in as required) in the way they expect her to do.
So, we experienced plain and clear racism just because we ignored two guys’ attention. This is a mere example of what can happen when a woman doesn’t respond to unwanted advances in the way she is expected to.
In this scenario, the heterosexual, cisgender male has the right to adopt an offensive/abusive/racist behaviour that may lead to physical and mental harassment or even rape. And this is exactly the problem with the unwanted attention that many women receive in different contexts, every day – it’s a sort of attention that we’ve never asked for and it makes our lives more complicated.
Attraction is a great feeling. If it’s mutual, it’s even greater. If it isn’t mutual, well, get over it – emotionally enjoy it while it lasts and move on. However, imposing this – in any plausible way – to someone that isn’t interested, is not flattering or brave. It is stupid and unwanted.
Last but not least, and as a reward that you’ve read this article until the end, I will share with you a piece of Greek wisdom. I know that it’s very tempting to ask a person who looks like a typical Mediterranean/Latino_____(again, fill in as required) “where are you from” in order to successfully do the small talk thing. But, please don’t. This shouldn’t be the first question that comes in mind when you see/meet a person that may have higher levels in vitamin D than you.
I don’t say that it’s easy; we’ve all used this question as an ice breaker, but next time you can consider the following: one, you may seem (hopefully, you’re not) biased, drawing conclusions based on skin tone/hair colour; two, you might make the person next to you feel that the most important thing they can talk about is their ethnic background; three, you might end up being just boring.
Now, it’s extremely important to remember (write it down 100 times if you need to): I shall never use the word ‘exotic’ to describe a human being. You can tell that this person is intelligent, funny, dynamic (use your imagination or Google to find synonyms), but not exotic. Avocado is exotic. Mango is exotic. Pineapple chilli wok sauce is exotic. A human being is not exotic.
Keep these secrets well and use them wisely. Happy International Women’s Day!
Picture courtesy of Devon Buchanan
Check out what people are saying about how important CommonSpace is. Pledge your support today.