Paraguay is, by definition, a macho society. Men fill the roles set out for them for their fathers and their fathers’ fathers and their fathers’ fathers’ fathers, never looking to take a step back and wonder if their actions as MEN are in any way wrong. They are the breadwinners of the family, they are often the overweight, beer drinking members of society who have earned the right to make themselves as unattractive as possible and to impose themselves on the women of the country.
Paraguayan men are infamously machisto and feel they deserve the freedom to talk to any woman, of any age, however they please. I’ve been walking by a construction site on my way to catch the bus every morning for the last 5 months, and the incessant catcalling and piropos – as they are called in Spanish, have assured me that it will never be a pleasant walk. I even decided to change my route today to another street to try and avoid the situation, but ultimately ended up in the heart of another construction zone. The only thing I’ve successfully been able to do to abate the anger associated with endless catcalls is to wear my headphones anywhere I go, from the minute I step out my front door. Even then I’m on high alert, but at least I don’t have to hear what they feel the inexplicable need to say.
The most sickening part of this machismo that infuriates me even further, is the complete lack of recognition when children are around. It doesn’t matter if a woman is walking with her 5 year old daughter, or if one of the creepy men has his 7 year old son by his side, he’ll holler just the same, thus teaching another generation of Paraguayans that it is okay to objectify women and that they have to put up with it.
Faced with similar circumstances in the U.S., there has recently been a lot of talk about women who are continuously harassed on the streets of New York, (and other major cities in the U.S.) and who are fed up with dealing with it and feeling uncomfortable or afraid. It seems you can’t walk anywhere in any of the five burroughs as a woman without the uncomfortable advances and shouts of strangers watching you walk past. After three years living in the city, I know this to be true – I couldn’t even walk to work at 8 AM without catcalls, and don’t even get me started on construction sites!
The good news is that people are starting to take action against these creeps who have nothing better to do. I recently found an article in the NYTimes regarding the potential establishment of “No Harassment Zones” in the city. A group known as Hollaback, which was started about 5 years ago, is taking actions to make women feel safer in their environments and put an end to harassment. They have even recently developed a mobile phone App where women can report harassment as it happens and others can tune in to see where the ‘hot zones’ are. “The more people use the application, the more valuable the database becomes,” said executive director of Hollaback, Emily May in a recent interview with the NYTimes. Hollaback wants to be able to use this information in the future to share with law enforcement authorities in order to catch the offenders ad identify high-occurrence zones.
Running along the same theme, I recently saw a facebook post on a friend’s wall about a group of high school teenagers from Bushwick in Brooklyn who started an organization, (and the inspiration for this post’s title,) “Real Men Don’t Holla”. This is a group of 15 and 16 year old girls who say they have been harassed for years walking on the streets to and from their schools and they don’t want to put up with it anymore. While I wish their focus would open up to a more general audience, it’s still pretty great that such a young group of girls is already looking to take action against these older men who are essentially hitting on children. It shows hope for the future of these girls and hopefully is a sign of change to come within cities around the U.S. and abroad, and with any luck, eventually to Paraguay.