La Terrorista

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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.

1 COMMENT

  1. Wow Adry you are on fire. I have been known to retort back a lot calling them losers and pointing the fact that jeering is the only thing they can do because they obviously will never land a woman worth her salt. But once I totally lost it, I don’t think the piropo was the worst I’ve heard but somehow I found myself hitting the guy repeteadly with my handbag and making him run inside the refrigerated cabin and hide behind the crates of chicken he was delivering to a famous pollera in Los Palos Grandes. A police car stopped by and askes if I was OK and I told them. I was just giving a lesson in respect. They chastised him and he apologized.

    But I have to confess to a certain sense of uneasiness when I moved to a country where people would never even acknowledge my presence, let alone comment on my appearance. I realized that even though I hated the insulting and crass remarks, I basked in the really poetic comments the opposite sex could deliver with grace and flair. It’s part of the experience too, and you don’t have to be miss venezuela type to be appreciated, I certainly wasn’t.

    So that made me wish that we evolve as a society and we don’t harass women masquerading as admiration, but that we don’t do it under the horrible umbrella of political correctness and that we don’t become a society where any mention of your physical attributes can be take to court under harassment laws.

    • Good for you Moraima for standing up for yourself.

      I don’t know where you live but it sounds like it might be the US or Canada.Men here will NEVER comment on your appearance in public, and I personally like it that way.I have a husband for that one.But your point is interesting, because it reflects on the deep- seated reasons behind things and touches on the fact that some women might enjoy the ‘piropos’ a bit more than they think.

      I am reminded of a friend of mine from Texas ( a male) who was living in Caracas and who actually prefers to live in Latin countries precisely because he says women will look at him on a bus.Women in the US will totally ignore him and he hates that. haha!

      My first impression of Venezuelan o women was that they were very flirtatious, and it took me awhile to adapt to that, but I guess it ‘s different strokes for different folks.The women who were throwing themselves at my husband didn’t get him.

      I once had a Swedish teacher live in my home in Caracas for several months who called Venezuelan women ” she- animals”. I must say I was shocked by his description….and found it offensive.

      But think about this: if most women really didn’t like the custom , how long do you think it could survive ?

      At the very least there is a passive, or tacit acceptance.

      And on this note we go back to Audrey’s video.

      • There is harassment here in Canada obviously. But for the people that don’t “get it”, there potentially awaits a world of pain without unemployment benefits.

      • In Canada this is not entirely true. I’ve got several compliments from men that I don’t know or I’m just being introduced to, and many from friends, male and female, all the time. I agree that it’s quite rare to be told something rude-type on the streets, but compliments are not rare.
        They will never be sexual, but they’ll say “looking good”, “looking sharp”, “nice dress”, type of thing.

        • Carolina,

          Sexual harassment in the work place does occur in the US .I was talking about ‘groserias’ on the street. Compliments coming from men on one’s appearance occur very little here in the US , unless you are unmarried at which point they could occur.Of course we might be talking about different generations here.

          On the street I have never seen this behavior but sexual harassment in the workplace is a different thing…and very much worse I think.Most of the stupidity you see on the street in Venezuela is harmless, just irritating and demeaning.And if women don’t fight back it can eat at the self esteem I think.

          But in my opinion workplace harassment is another ball game and very much worse.It never happened to me, but if it did, the player would have hell to pay….No loss of job would ever intimidate me.My anger would prevent fear from taking over, but I know many women who are quite fearful and men who take advantage of that.
          Some women grow up thinking that being angry is wrong.

          • I think it certainly depends where you are from. I am from El Paso, Texas. We’re all a bunch of latinos there. You better believe men cat call and they do it a lot. I lived in Portland, Oregon for undergrad and I was shocked at the utter lack of attention I would receive while walking down the street looking fine. I had a six hour layover in Atlanta recently and wandered around downtown by myself for a while and I definitely got a LOT of attention there. More than I do here in Caracas… It’s everywhere. And I think it’s partially culture, but also an economic and education thing.

    • At least now you are less likely a victim of sexual harassment as in Venezuela…or quite other countries, actually, as you can see on this video.
      (OK, a short film, but there is some true to that in Spain and Italy)

      As a man, I haven’t gone through this kind of things (well, once a group of girls who shouted at me “que mango tan rrrico” when I was a teenager in Venezuela, I was quite shocked).

      What I do see very clearly and I find it shocking no national figure seems to be discussing this is:
      1) the amount of women victims of gender violence. Piropos are also a form of gender violence but here I am talking more about the amount of women murdered by their (ex) partners. Once I read about 520 women were murdered by their partners in Venezuela in one year. In Spain, with over 16 million people more and an awful reputation in Europe for sexual violence, it was 51 in the same year.
      2) the amount of young single mothers who do not get any support from the guys who made them pregnant.

    • Moraima,

      Thanks for pointing out the flip side of the coin. In the U.S. now, people have to pretend that everyone is completely asexual. A man cannot complement a woman for being dressed nicely for fear of being charged with sexual harassment. Of course, the sucking/inhaling noise is just appalling and disgusting. The first time I saw/heard this, I was astounded.

      Please let us look for the respectful middle ground here.

    • What I find strange are the polar differences between harassment and simple acknowledgement here and there. Here, they go all in with the obscenities and take the piropos too far, but there, it’s as if they overdo the harassment and completely forego the playful banter. My sisters and girlfriend here all received the same piropo treatment but they only ever went through that. Hell, even the guys who hit on them at nightclubs would leave them alone after the first “No”… Not so with the northeners: Both of my sisters have had some encounters with random men on the street in New York who came on to them so strongly that they ended up running away. While my girlfriend was in Canada, she once had a man grab her arm on the street and insisted that she tell him her name, her friends had to help her shake him off. Sometimes, she had to leave bars, parties or nightclubs early, or else chain herself to her friends because there would always be that one guy who wouldn’t stop his advances. A few female friends who have moved north have similar remarks.
      That’s not to say harassment like that doesn’t happen here, though, it’s just that it seems to jump out more often over there.

  2. Audrey, I very much enjoyed reading your article. It is terrible to live in a society that treats some of it members this way. I use to think that Venezuela was a great country because it never experienced the gender, race or religious issues that other did. After living abroad I gained some perspective and learn how racist, misogynist, homophobic and antisemitic Venezuelans can be. These are issues that should be discussed more deeply and one has to see inside to see to what extent one is an accomplice in all this.

    • I think you might be meando fuera del perol here.
      I know of people in North America that were constantly teased, mocked and sometimes beaten at school just because they had a jewish name/oblique eyes/a turbant/or dark skin.
      I never saw that in Venezuela. We might have called them turco/chino/arabe/negro, but at school at least I never saw or knew of people being beaten or mocked to no end because they were a different religion or origin.

      Homophobia exist everywhere. Unfortunate, but true.

      I’m sure that there are exceptions to the rule, but saying all venezuelans are all that you said..I do not buy it.

      Going back to the piropo, in my view, even in North America you can go a long way with a piropo if it isn’t vulgar.

      But the one about the salchicha is hillarious!

      • “Venezuelans can be”. I never implied that all of them and if I had done so would have to include myself and many others in those categories since I am also Venezuelan.

        I agree with what you said but…We saw a very harsh antisemitic backslash not long ago. I know of people that think that blacks are actually inferior and wouldn’t accept that their daughter or son would date a black person. The attitude in Venezuela towards asians is terrible and they are treated with a huge degree of contempt.

        Like you, I saw Venezuela as a place where this things didn’t happen and I do see them now. People may not get beaten, so racism may be milder, but it still exists.

        • I thought you did, since you did not say “some Venezuelans can be”.
          In any case, the antisemitic backslash was spearheaded by Hugo.
          I’ve never lived Hugo’s Venezuela, so my recollection of what we were might be idyllic.
          Nevertheless, all those isms are nothing compared to what happens in other nations.

          I also believe that extrapolating what is a culture of ‘too much’ politically correctness from places with a history of hatred to a place that quite frankly has experienced very little hatred, does not always make sense.

    • Agree with Jack.

      Also, i think you mix things up a little bit. Outright bullying due to skin tone, religion is not a big deal here. Some countries, while trying to make gender and race equality policies, end doing the exact opposite: reverse discrimination.

      Reverse discrimination allows “everything” to be taken into account as “harassment”.

      Now, if you think things like “epa mi negro” are some form of discrimination, welcome to the R.D bandwagon.

      • The thing is, there isn’t a real statistic of bullying to say that, just because you didn’t experience it or see it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Furthermore, since Venezuelans are convinced that there is NO discrimination here the problem does not get discussed. I for one, have family members who where endlessly bullyed in school just because of their hair (just ONE example).

  3. I’m going to go a bit against the grain in this one. I DO think that women are disproportionaly victimized in Venezuela (specially in their home or by their romantic partner), but my attitude towards the Women’s right to a Life free from Violence Act isn’t neutral nor nonchalant (“It’s just dead ink”…), I’m in strong disagreement with it.

    I realize you didn’t make a case supporting said legislation, but since you bring up both the subject and the law, I decided to jump in.

    It’s one thing to call for more female cops, female prosecutors, female judges to end the “old boys club” attitude, or campaigning to repeal the sexual discrimination in our Criminal Code (where, on adultery, men enjoy lighter punishment and a greater burden of proof for conviction), campaigning to end machismo, etc. This definitely needs to be done.

    But creating gender crimes where only men can be perpetrators and only women can be victims is NOT a step in the right direction.

    – Because it creates room for abuse, as in every time a woman feels wronged by a man (the law includes verbal violence), disproportionate penalties are on the table. Even if the dispute isn’t gender specific.

    – Because the law ceases to be blind, and varies according to perpetrator or victim’s genders. A man who molests little girls is just as monstrous as a man that molests little boys, yet the man who molests little girls gets double the sentence on account of said law.

    – Because it’s a missed opportunity to help more victims. I would be completely in favor of a gender neutral law that asserted a Right to A Home free from Violence, which provided protections from marital abuse regardless of gender and sexual orientation, since men and LGBT couples should also have the right to protection from violent partners; also provided protections from parental abuse regardless of the gender of the parent and the child; and could even include protections of elderly parents from their adult children or their children’s spouses regardless of gender; made men eligible for refuge from violent partners and rape counseling.

    It can be said that the law “made sense” because women are the demographic being victimized the most in domestic violence cases. But in that case, providing help to the other demographics (women victimized by women or male victims regardless of their tormentor), wouldn’t have added much burden on the state. Meanwhile male and LGBT abuse victims remain as invisible as they’ve ever been.

    The right approach is creating gender neutral legislation, making sure women are proportionally represented in judicial system and ending impunity.

      • Is there any information on how many people have been prosecuted for adultery the last 20 years ? somehow I suspect that not many , lots of laws are there as totems to some vanishing moral concern which in practice no longer matters. Not that people applaud adultery , but that people are indifferent to many things they see as inmoral but not enough to think that they deserve legal punishment or suppression. The separation between private morality and legally permissible standards of conduct has grown in the last decades. Today you can judge many conducts as inmmoral and yet allow those conducts as legally permissible . Only the strongest of moral rules make people demand that they be turned into legally sanctioned crimes . Its a mistake to think that you can easily legislate away deeply rooted social attitudes o prejudices by dint of legal coercion . look at Prohibition . It is only after historical processes have changed long standing social customs or attitudes that you can ennact effective laws that reflect those changes.

  4. In the old days Piropos were supposed to be ingeniously flattering , never offensive , a polite tribute to a womans good looks . then they started to get vulgar and inconsiderate , as if women were parading sex objects , lacking in any dignity . A women in the old day might feel delighted with the piropos addressed at her, but now you see some piropos which are so offensive that they bring embarrasment and humiliation to the women which receive them In foreign parts one notices that the art of the refined piropo is absolutely missing , thats kind of sad because men are right to celebrate womens delicate feminity but they have no right to do it in a manner which offends their dignity , which discomfits the women they address those piropos to. I have close friends who are always ready to compliment the beauty of a lady but in a way which is flattering but in no way offensive. No none in my circle is the least bit vulgar in their piropos . I myself am a total failure at giving clever piropos , in any event my wife doenst allow me to say any piropos except to her !!

  5. Well i don’t see anything wrong in telling a stranger how good looking he/she is. It’s all about class and decency really,and there’s a very thin line between being flattering and being insulting. I remember a couple weeks ago i was walking to the university and there was this girl in front of me. A guy went really close to her in the opposite direction she was walking and said something really close to her ear and made this really ugly face, and when the guy looked at me i called him, loudly “Cerdo!”.

    This is a social issue that can not be legislated,no laws will fix this. It’s a matter of education and as i said earlier, DECENCY. Construction workers will always be pigs (no disrespect for pigs), and men will think of sex every 7 seconds forever. I am really disgusted by the attitude of the venezuelan male, and when i see them buceando and piropeando i always see a potential psycho rapist, it’s in the eyes. And sadly,women are not entirely innocent. How many girls less than 15 are pregnant and/or promiscuous?We’ve all seen girls of that age wearing mini skirts and slutty, very slutty clothing. I don’t see any official numbers but i’m pretty sure they’re very alarming.

    Our youth is doomed

    • How many of those “slutty” girls were launched head first into sexual activites by being molested by a parent/family member or “friend”. 1 in every 3 women will be subject to some sort of sexual or physical violence in her life. I’m not one to blame a child for being ignorant.

    • In defense of construction workers, there are stereotypes about those too. I’ve seen more of these issues with professionals than I have with construction workers, and I’ve worked with plenty of both. Its complicated…great post!

      • I agree with you fully. And those big doctors and lawyers and politicians usually get away with it because of their power and the threats they can deliver.

      • agree, Canuckles, on the complicated dynamics, both on the street and in more private venues. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced harassment from men on construction sites, whose work generally interests me. As a result, I tend to meet their eyes and say, Hi, which deflates any possible nonsense. And that brings me to passivity. When women have been trained, either overtly or through subliminal messages, to be passive from a very early age, well sh*t happens.

    • I have to disagree with this puritanism. This “very slutty” clothing is nothing but a social construct. What’s wrong with the girl wearing a mini-skirt? What if she wants to show her legs, her belly, her breasts or whatever? Why should that be associated with her worth? Any person should be free to choose any appearance they want without bing treated like dirt.

      How come there’s no such thing as “slutty clothing” for men? In fact, there’s no such thing as a slutty man. If a young boy appears to be promiscuous he’s not denigrated, but in fact applauded by his peers for being “todo un hombre”, but the same type of behaviour in a girl is reason enough to despise her?

      Until we grow out of these infantile and misogynistic views on sexuality, we’re not going to solve the problem of gender inequality. Any sexual harrassment a woman suffers is the harasser’s fault, not hers. Just like any car theft that happens is the thieve’s fault, not the car owner’s just because he has a nice car.

    • What the hell is a slutty clothing?
      Sounds like something taken from the Old Testament or from the Quran.
      On one side parents should be extremely careful with their children and warn them about clothing. On the other side, anyone messing around with children or anyone, for that matter, should bear the full punishment of the law. I can’t stand such positions as “she was teasing him”.

  6. Not that it even compares in terms of seriousness, but there’s a sort equivalent phenomenon in Venezuela for males: the homophobic double entendre, or “chalequeo”. I’ve seen this in the majority of all-male environments, like sports teams and industrial working. Whatever a man says in these places, especially if it’s a young man or someone new to the group, is twisted by the rest of the guys to mean the victim is really into men, wants to have a penis in his mouth, or whatever.

    Again, it’s nowhere as damaging as the harassment women have to deal with, but I do think it’s worth mentioning. I think they’re both parts of an all-encompassing disease in our gender dynamics.

  7. I appreciate what the video is trying to do, but it makes no sense. The sense of impotence and violation from being harassed by construction workers comes from the fact that they are physically powerful people who could rape you if they wanted to. If you want to make an equivalent video to show men how it feels, you need to get a group of physically powerful people — preferably men — and toss off sexual piropos to men on the street. As is, this video ignores power dynamics, as though the issue is the hardhat and not the muscles.

  8. Funny how those piropos can be at the same time witty and humorous and abusively offensive ..
    For a man to make an overly exhuberant show of liking a womans sensual looks is a way of advertising his raw animal maleness, his machismo , something of which he is so proud , !. It works by transforming the woman into an exagerated sexual cartoon of herself. . Because the man is so proud of his animal like maleness , of his macho quality , he also makes a show of seeing the female primarily as delectable sexual prey , In the macho imagination there are no men and women , there are only machos and hembras . sexually animalized males and sexually animalized females .
    Machismo is also associated with the macho males penchant and taste for violence , because violence starkly projects the male animals savage native strenght and ferocity , his superior muscular might . Also though the proud challenge of any authority or social convention that attempts to submit the free untramelled expression of his personal will . thus the machos use of violence against the female .
    The original indians where steeped in the macho ethos, so were the conquering spaniards , their legacy of machista attitudes are still live in the psyche of todays venezuelans.
    Paradoxically many women also adopt many of these machista values. They see themselves not as true women but as sexually irresistible hembras , they dress the part , they act the part , they are slutty in dress and speech and demenour and want their men to be very macho , so they can feel proud of them and thus of themselves as their women . Machismo is not only a male phenomena , its also often a female phenomena.
    There are forms of feminism which inmitate the machismo of men by taking that machismo ethos and trasnforming it into a part of the female identity . Sometimes Radical Feminism appears to represent the machismo of women . . , .

  9. Some men are saying that they see nothing wrong in complimenting women on the street, but saying that in itself is preposterous….

    because when we decide to say something or not we have to take into consideration that many women might not like to be complimented by a stranger on the street.

    Is is more important to do what you feel like doing without being sensitive to women need, rights to individuality and privacy?

    When we don’t know someone, better not to take liberties.

    • I would guess that in the past ´, our culture allowed men to politely compliment good looking young women in the street ( with both wit and respect) and the women to enjoy the compliment unselfconsciously , at least to judge from the women of past generations Ive spoken to . In my daughters time however , the culture had changed and a good looking young woman had to be careful to avoid receiving vulgar and offensive piropos . She went for wearing no make up , and dressing very simply , almost boy like when going to certain places . That was no bother to her but of course it might be a put down for more coquetish women .
      I do think that some venezuelan women do sometimes tend to dress and deport themselves more provocately and seductively than in other countries Ive lived in or visited . As a general rule Caracas women are more uninhibited in the display of their feminity than women in other places ( remember some british colleagues who once visited Venezuela and gave me an enthusiastic account about how seductive looking women in caracas looked and…. moved) . but specially in the last 5 years too many of them have crossed the line which separates boldness from brazen vulgarity. Not saying this in any way justifies the offensive piropos that have become so common but our culture has evolved towards promoting an style of female dress and deportment which would have considered indecent only some years ago .

  10. Let’s not confuse “compliments” that are about sexual feelings or intentions without even initial eye contact, with the compliments that are about beauty appreciations. Also, let’s not confuse those who dress and behave with the intent of adding to the pleasant appearance of their context, versus those who dress and behave to turn others on, sexually.

    I’ve had people open the door for me, and I’ve opened the door for others. No problem. But I’ve seen a young lady upset that a young gentleman opened the door for her. She told him that she could open the door for herself, that she wasn’t weak. The young man, apologetic but clearly confused as to why he should be, explained that he simply gave those exiting through the door priority over his entering, as mere courtesy, as with elevator doors. Despite the explanation, she still waited for him to go through, and made a point of opening the door herself.

    So, let’s not get carried away with implying that people should not feel free to say anything nice to strangers. Quite the contrary, I suggest greeting pleasantly every person with whom one has eye contact. It’s a matter of consideration (i.e., politeness).

    • Ex Torres, what you say is illogical and biased.It is not consideration when it is unwanted, and when you don’t know someone you have no right to assume it will well taken.Respect strangers. and their right to personal space!

      • firepigette, your comment implies that you did not understand mine. I suggest eye contact as a social means of determining accessibility to something as simple as “Good day” or “What a cute baby”. I also emphasize consideration/politeness, and zero sexual connotations. Sorry, but it’s not a right to be treated like a ghost –in public!

    • haha, there goes the theory of Virginia Woolf down the drain :

      “As long as she thinks of a man, nobody objects to a woman thinking.”
      ― Virginia Woolf

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