Oh “La venganza de la Obrera” How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love the faces of the men aghast with the piropos that you say. I love those that stammer and look at you with a bright red face. I love the ones that smile meekly and then quicken the pace.
But what I love most of all is imagining the lesson they take home.
Women are sexually harassed every day on the streets of this country, and we brush it off like nothing. We as women have been taught by our mothers to ignore it, just walk on by. I have crossed streets ahead of time when seeing a group of men ahead. I have pretended not to hear the piropos, or to even acknowledge the men’s leering presence around me, while walking by. I have worn my earphones and iPod on full blast to drown out their voice. Hell, I have been worn my earphones when my iPod’s battery is dead in the hopes that it will dissuade them from “gracing” me with their “prose.” I’m ashamed to say I have only once stood up for myself. I backtracked and yelled at a security guard who had been harassing me. He just stood there, with a happy little grin on his face, and asked me to come closer.
This video flips the role of the agressor. It plays on the same theme as this one from Argentina, but obviously as Venezuelans, we just had to make a joke of it (although, to be fair, the Argentinian video is described as a comedy short and the Venezuelan was made by CanillaPan).
Bear in mind, I have mostly heard only mellow piropos, your usual, Mami and Mamita, followed by that awful inhaling/sucking noise (just ask any Venezuelan woman to reproduce it for you). But other women fare worse. I Recently read Carla Margarita González’s “Si así eres en rayas cómo serás en Pelotas – Piropos y Antipiropos caraqueños”.
In the book, she makes a difference between piropos and antipiropos from a linguistic point of view. And although some piropos might seem “positive” they still pose a threat to the women who hear them. Now, antipiropos are a type of insult. Let me give you a taste:
¡Si fueras mango te chuparía hasta la pepa! (“If you were a mango, I’d suck you ’til all you had left was the pit”)
¿Esos cocos tienen agua? (“Do those coconuts have water in them?”)
¡Estás como pan de perro caliente, buena para meterte la salchicha! (“You’re like a hot dog bun, all you need is a weiner”)
And my all time “favorite”: ¿Quieres tomar chicha en pitillo de cuero? (“Wanna drink chicha using a leather straw?”)
González’s study reported that the common behavior for women is to stay quiet, in fear of backlash from the piropero. In this type of interaction, women are being used so men can reaffirm their masculinity. Women feel assaulted, mad and humiliated in some of these events.
This is not a purely Venezuelan problem, and women everywhere are taking action. For example, the Everyday Sexism Project lets women speak on how they are harrased daily on the streets, at work, at school, with “friends”, everywhere. The Halloback project is a great initiative that seeks to empower women to fight back, or hallo-back to their agressor and to end street harrasment.
In our country, the Organic Law for Women’s Rights gave birth to a plethora of institutions and Misiones specifically targeting women. These include the Women’s Ministry, Inamujer, Mision Madres del Barrio, Banmujer, Efosig, Casas de la Mujer, Defensoría Nacional de los Derechos de la Mujer, and others.
In spite of this, every 15 minutes a Venezuelan woman suffers from some sort of assault. Women are still being harassed, beaten, raped and killed on a daily basis. Ask any Venezuelan woman and she can attest to how little things have changed.
Still, it’s a battle worth fighting.