My Year Abroad: Don’t Follow Me, Please (Part 2)

Whilst living in France over the past 9 months, it has astounded me how many times I’ve been leered at, catcalled or “accidentally” touched by people I’d rather not make acquaintance with. I’m so tired of walking home at night after work, or going out for a run and constantly looking over my shoulder to make sure I’m alone, or, at the very least, not being followed.

I remember there being a feed on the TAPIF assistants page a while back where a few people shared some things that had happened to them, so I realised I wasn’t alone. So I reached out and asked other assistants to share their stories. In less than 24 hours, nearly 30 people had commented and messaged me with their stories of harassment in France. It was overwhelming and, quite frankly, I’m so glad that my encounters with harassment have been so “tame”…

This week’s article, Part 2, is focused on terrifying instances of women being followed home. Read Part 1 here and Part 3 here.

I was fucking terrified

Being followed is one of the most petrifying things that can happen to a girl. Why should we need a man to walk us home? Or why should we move with our friends, walking around like a gaggle of geese? Why do men have the right to walk alone the 500m from the metro stop to their front doors without being harassed but girls don’t?

A lot of girls living in France on the TAPIF program are, admittedly, alone. We leave home and move to a new country for a year, often without knowing anyone. This often results in us having to move around our towns and cities alone. However, this shouldn’t automatically open the door for men to terrify us and demean us a women because we do…

The following are submissions from girls across France on the assistantship program:

 

Let’s start with the generic misogynistic/insulting/catcalling creeps: 

“a guy followed me around the grocery store whispering things in my ear.”

Okay, not too bad. Easy to brush off and ignore. How about this one:

Once walking to one of my lycées a truck slowed down and followed me. I moved to a path not close to the road and made sure the guy wasn’t near when I had to get back by the road to go to work… [I] felt worried/off for the rest of the day at lycée”

“There’s always the people who would follow me and my friends home, shouting shit in English (“shut up, please” “fuck me, please” etc.).”

Feeling uncomfortable yet? Not weird enough? Let’s move onto the touchy-feelies:

Tour de France? More like Tour de Ass

“…the most blatant and scary [instance I had] was when I was walking home alone at about 10 pm one evening and had a man on a bicycle ride quietly up behind me very close (didn’t even notice he was there until he was basically on top of me), then swerve around me while grabbing my ass and biking away very quickly without saying a word.”

This guy proving chivalry ain’t dead…yet…

“[a] middle-aged man kept asking me for my number in a restaurant and trying to walk me home while also holding my arm so I had to wriggle out of his grip and keep telling him to stop and I didn’t want to be walked home.”

 The man who believes intrusion of personal space and lack of  female respect deserves gratitude…

“[After being followed and harassed all year] …near the end [of the year] I started to wear my hair back and in a ball cap so I could hide my face better when walking around my neighbourhood. That just resulted in one guy lifting up the tip of hat, saying “très mignonne” and when I didn’t respond he yelled “DIS MERCI””

This gentleman on his way to Sunday (m)ass

“I was walking to mass at the cathedral in Tours. About three blocks before getting there, a man came from behind me and put his hands up my skirt. I turned around and screamed no and he ran to the street that was next to where I was. I was terrified as I didn’t think assault was something that would ever happen to me. After going home and locking myself up I ended up going to the police station to report what happened. They never found the guy but they said they’ve had other cases like that.”

And, finally, this papi who wants to discover Victoria’s secret…

“I was sitting on a bench in town FaceTiming my boyfriend when this old guy approached me in an electric wheelchair. He came super close and tried to speak to me but I didn’t understand so I stopped to listen to him but I couldn’t figure out what he was saying, so I explained that I wasn’t French etc etc and then he wheeled past me, I thought he was leaving so carried on talking on FaceTime and the next thing I know his hand is under my jacket and he’d tried to grope me under my shirt. I jumped up and shouted and he wheeled off very quickly.”

He failed.

Still not feeling uncomfortable enough? Let’s move onto the sex-obsessed, proving romance really is dead:

Like these guys, demonstrating French romance at its finest…

” I was walking down the main street in Avignon and a guy like grabbed my wrist (not forcefully), asked me to take my earphones out and then asked if I’d have sex with him in a nearby alley… he was also with two friends which kinda shows just how standard behaviour like this is hahah”

“Literally the moment I got off the train in September, a man came up to me outside the train station and talked me up, asking where I was from and if he could have my number, before asking if I would come to his apartment with him so we could “faire l’amour.”

Or this guy who’ll settle for a girlfriend…or a new Facebook friend…

“In Lyon I was waiting for a bus at night and some guy started speaking to me and he was telling me how he was looking for a serious relationship to settle down, so would I give him my number. I said no and insisted that I wasn’t looking for anything serious as I don’t have a stable lifestyle and I move around a lot but he still followed me on to my bus asking to at least let him add me on Facebook.”

Or the diet conscious…

“I was at a bar once…and I was eating something when one of the guys I didn’t know came up to me and was like, “you shouldn’t eat that… it’s not good.” And I was like, “I don’t care. I’m hungry.” And then he said, “You could eat me…” and started touching my hips and butt. I just said, nope, not hungry anymore.”

Want more? Here’s a bunch of people who should really just look on Craigslist for a new place to live instead of scaring the shit out of girls:

Like this guy who didn’t get the memo she’s already taken…

I have a lot of instances of men saying gross things to me on the street and just leering in general, but the scariest one would have to be a few months ago I was walking home from the metro (5 mins tops). I could hear a few guys but they were across the street or far enough away from me. I sprinted the last few steps because I was excited to see my husband…and after I shut the building door behind me one of the guys was yelling at me trying to get me to open it. He obviously didn’t live there. I was fucking terrified and took out my pepper spray.”

And this guy who proves that even men in suits can be aggressive creeps…

“One night I was heading home to my host parents’ place (they lived in a really nice and relatively quiet area of Paris) and this man (decently dressed, looked like he could be someone who lived in the area) come around the corner and ask for a lighter. I tell him I don’t smoke, and I wait for him to leave so I can punch in the code to the building’s outside doors. Then he tried to pull the “let me come up with you” line and trying to touch me and I just wanted to get inside. I punched the code in like I would at the ATM and ran inside. He tried pushing his way in so I forced the door on his hand, he yelled and called me a bitch and says I’ll pay for it one day. Luckily made it inside without him getting in.”

Or these thugs making me super glad I turned down the job offer to work in a hotel…

“I’m working in a hostel for my year abroad. I’ve had numerous occasions whilst cleaning up after waitressing where guests would trespass into the kitchen to corner me. I had one guy corner me at around 10pm to inform me that I “give him the sensations” and that I could “be free for one night” from my boyfriend. Locals that live nearby come in to use the vending machines and they usually surround reception and follow us around asking for names and numbers. I share a room with another female student here at the hostel and I had a guy figure out which room was ours and came at 4am and tried to force his way into our room because he wanted somewhere to sleep and he wanted to stay with us”

One girl’s final comment was “I’m so happy I’ve left France” and it’s not hard to understand why…

“[I’ve been] followed home multiple times by men on foot or by car. I’ve had to hide in a random girl’s house because a guy was circling around the block so he could talk with me. {I’ve had] people on bikes, cars, or foot yelling and getting angry at me when I don’t give them my number. [I’ve been] stalked around the neighbourhood, and then the 40+ yo man came to my house and knocked on my door and my male roommates had to shoo him away. [I’ve also been] constantly being cat called by the three men who lived above the laundro mat half a block from my house.”

 

It’s been made very clear that, normally, onlookers and passers-by often just stand there and do nothing. Whether this is to avoid being part of a confrontation, because they’re scared of repercussions or because they just don’t care is hard to tell. However it is shocking the number of times women, yes women, just let another woman become a victim to groping or stalking. Surely harassment shouldn’t be so normalised that we can’t look out for one-another. It’s 2017 for goodness’ sake!

However, there are some good Samaritans left amongst the crowd. There are still some people out there willing to sacrifice a few minutes of their time to make sure the creeps don’t always win:

“I was coming home one night after grocery shopping. On the bus a middle aged man (visibly drunk) started trying to force conversations with people on the bus. When the bus broke down, he came over to my seat and tried to talk to me. I ignored him and pretended to not speak French. Despite this, he continued to talk and ask where I was going and where I lived. He took the free seat next to mine, trapping me in the bus while everyone was exiting to walk to the next stop. I yelled at him very loudly in French to let me pass. He finally did but of course followed me as I went to switch to the tram. He stood in front of me on the platform, continually asking “Je te dérange pas, non?” [I’m not bothering you, huh?] while smirking. I tried yelling at him again, but he stayed beside me and started asking what tram I was going to take. Thankfully, a wonderful woman a few feet away came over and hooked arms with me. She pretended to know me and kept saying how cool it was to bump into me by chance. I was surprised for a second but caught on quickly enough to start playing along. The dude finally stepped away from me. I whispered a “merci” and asked the woman if we could take the tram together. She happily agreed and even offered to walk home with me despite my stop being several before hers. We even decided to let the creepy guy get on the first tram alone and we would take the next one together. Unfortunately we saw him at the very next stop, waiting on the platform and checking the cars. He got on our car just before the doors closed. Me and this super nice woman were preparing for confrontation but the guy never said anything. He sat across from us and glanced over a lot. We decided to get off one stop early before my usual stop and just walk together. Thankfully he didn’t try to follow us, if he had we were going to go to a nearby restaurant and call the police. I avoided that route home for a month afterwards.”

Guys, trust me when I say this (and I believe I’m speaking for every girl on the planet here): No girl wants to be followed. No girl wants to be touched without permission. No girl wants to feel as though they are unsafe in their own home because you know where they live now. No girls wants you to hunt her down and she definitely does not want to fuck you in an alley/garage/train station. No girl wants you to cruise alongside her, and she definitely doesn’t want you to bring your group of horny teenager “mates” either. To be honest, if I’m walking alone at night I’m either on the way to supermarket for chocolate, wine and tampons, or I’m walking home from work smelling of sweat and fried food. It’s really not that interesting where I’m heading and men sure as hell don’t need to know about it (unless they’re gonna offer to buy the tampons because damn those things are expensive).

The only thing men achieve through this kind of behaviour is fear. They aren’t being chivalrous, they aren’t being helpful and they most certainly aren’t going to make us run into their arms with gratitude. I don’t think we’ll ever understand the male desire to follow a woman.

Instilling fear into women in not fun, it’s not a game, it’s not a compliment and it most certainly isn’t going to make us give men our number. Just stop, please.

 

**All entries have been anonymised for the safety and protection of the girls who came  forward**

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