By Melina Marks
Catcalling is known by women all over the world, but what is it like here in Cuenca?
From my experiences, catcalling here is much more aggressive than in the States. In the States, typical comments simply consist of “hey girl” or just “damn.” When it comes to actions, Cuenca and the States have whistling and honking in common.
Here in South America, being the young gringa that I am, lingering stares have become normal to me, and provocative language is thrown in my face every time I leave the house. Local young women and foreigners alike, experience this ridiculous display of “manhood,” and every once and a while the scenario can stand the hairs up on the back of your neck. Usually the remarks are harmless, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stay on our toes.
Some women see catcalling as a compliment, most see it as offensive, and I can imagine that there are women out there who have mixed emotions about the matter. Is it nice to know that you look pretty good? Sure. On the other hand, it’s not a stranger’s place to tell another stranger how they look. We don’t live in a world where women yell at men on the street for their appearance, so when did it become okay for men to yell at women?
When out and about, the common “compliments” I have received and watched others receive are ‘hermosa’ or ‘guapa.’ Comments like these are usually in passing and I truly don’t think these guys are trying to offend anyone or cause trouble. Taunting young women is more for the friends of the speaker rather than the girl they are catcalling. It has only been on a few occasions when the situation has gotten uncomfortable.
In one incident, a group of drunk men by the Tomebamba River started yelling things at me while I passed. Since I didn’t turn my head or say anything to acknowledge them, they got angry and started following me. With the combination of my quickened pace and their intoxicated state they eventually stopped following and calling out disgusting things. This was the only time that I ever felt scared due to random men yelling at me because they had the audacity to follow me.
The thing that I couldn’t wrap my head around, and frankly still can’t, is the idea that they became angry with me for not acknowledging their presence when they were the ones harassing me. I was the one who should have been angry at them for trying to provoke a response out of me, but all I felt was fear.
Catcalling is not a welcomed action for many women, nor should it ever be. The reason for catcalling, in my opinion, is simply to impress the other guys in whatever group the caller is a part of and nothing more. No matter where we go in the world, women are constantly being given attention by men that is unwelcomed.
In Norfolk, Virginia or Cuenca, Ecuador, catcalling exists everywhere. I for one, as a 17-year-old foreigner living in South America, do not enjoy being harassed by strange men no matter where I am in the world.
Editor’s note: Melina is not the only woman in Latin America offended by the attention of strange men. Women in Peru, Chile, and Venezuela are fighting back and turning the tables on their harassers. To read more, click here.
Melina Marks is a 17-year-old high school student working at her mother’s and stepfather’s café and pasteleria, Popacuchu, located at Edificio Cuatro Rios, Primero de Mayo y Ave. de las Americas in Cuenca, Ecuador.