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How on earth could a grandpa ever think it was socially acceptable to leer at a young woman like that?As I spent more time in the continent, I quickly came to learn that this wasn’t an isolated incident. The machismo element of Latino culture seems to practically demand that men make these types of comment, and I received them so often that I almost stopped noticing.The one and only facet of Latino culture I have still not changed my opinions about, because it tapped straight into a core part of my belief system.Being treated differently, simply because I was female.He was sweet; his suit looked a bit too big for him, and I immediately thought of the quintessential photos you see of male Latino pensioners. “Mi princesssa…” he hissed with a wide grin, turning his wrinkled and liver-spotted neck to keep his gaze on me as I picked up my pace.My head was swimming as I marched along the street, thinking disgustedly about how many grandchildren he probably had.Despite meeting numerous men who’ve gone out of their way to treat me with kindness, I’ve also encountered stares and shouts, lusting eyes and flexed hands from car windows and unwelcome heavy steps echoing behind me.Depending on the country, I’ve averted my eyes and refrained from ‘upsetting’ the perpetrator, or I’ve stared back sternly, raised my voice and made sure the surrounding people are aware of my discomfort.
Walking through the narrow streets of Cuba’s capital of Havana one day, I found myself behind a Cuban woman and slowed my pace.Well, I was either alone or with other women, for starters.Any time I walked with a man the behaviour either disappeared, or shrank to such a minimum that I didn’t register it – although when I was with a man, he sometimes noticed instead. One of the factors that often arises in sexual harassment cases is also often referenced in terms of a traveller, because there are so many cultural boundaries you might be overstepping with your dress sense. There, women of all ages are dressed in much less ‘modest’ clothing – particularly in the hotter, more humid countries – and I wasn’t about to sweat in jeans and jumpers for the sake of not getting catcalled.But it wasn’t just related to me: I often saw men gawping at other women in the same way – even if the women themselves didn’t seem to register it.In the Colombian coastal city of Santa Marta, I walked back to my hostel with a group of female friends through what can only be described as a gauntlet; men lounging on either side of a narrow street, hands in their pockets while staring, whistling, hissing, and making lewd comments in Spanish at every foreign girl who walked the last few metres to the hostel’s front door.
But a female traveller will also face prejudice around the world, in the form of sexism and discrimination, misogyny and objectification.