Caution: The following includes some liberal use of four-letter words. Be aware, read with care.
When I woke up this morning, I planned for this to be a pleasant post about how nice it is to go to a familiar church when living abroad.
Not so much, now.
I don’t go to church when I’m away from home. I usually try to go when I’m back in Calgary, mainly because I’ve known the congregation there since I was five and I like to catch up with everyone when I’m in town. But through the magic of Google, I found that there’s a church of my denomination here in KL, and three weeks ago I decided to see what the service was like.
I had a lovely time, met some nice people, and decided I would try to go back soon.
Cue this morning. I got up, went to church, enjoyed an interesting service with lovely music, and was planning to meet some new people over tea afterwards before heading out to do some souvenir shopping.
No exaggeration - as soon as I walked out of the sanctuary, I had four different guys try to pick me up in the space of ten minutes. One didn’t even bother telling me his name before asking for my number. After dealing with that one, I was so flustered that I gave away my actual email address to two guys because I was too thrown to figure out how to get them to leave me alone.
Particularly noteworthy was this conversation:
Guy: So we should talk again some time.
Me: Oh, um, I guess.
Guy: What’s your number?
Me: I lost my phone when I was out last night. [NB: not true.]
Guy: Okay, what’s your email?
Me: Um. I guess I could write it down for you.
Guy: So did you come here alone?
Me: Uh, I’m living with some friends.
Guy: But did you come to Malaysia alone?
Me: … Yeah, I guess.
Guy: You’re my kind of person.
Trust me, there is a lot of subtext to be read when a strange man asks a young woman, “So did you come to this country alone?” In this circumstance most of that subtext was not pleasant.
Look, this isn’t me complaining about people in Malaysia, or churchgoers, or even this church in particular. I had a really nice time the first time I went; there are clearly lots of nice people at this church. I also happen to love plenty of churchgoers generally, and most of the people I’ve met in Malaysia have been truly wonderful people.
No, this is me complaining about the kind of men who think that it’s a good idea to treat women like pieces of meat after sitting through an hour-and-a-half long sermon about how we’re all heritors of Christ’s goodness because we are all equals as children of God. Are you kidding me? So long as I can walk out of a service and immediately get accosted by a guy whose first words to me are “You’re so beautiful, I really enjoyed sitting beside you,” we are not freaking equals.
I am so sick of men (and yes, it is only ever men) acting like they have the right to get in my space, ask for my personal information like it’s on offer, and make me feel unsafe. And believe me, this is not just about Malaysia. Let me tell you about the time in Ottawa that a guy followed me all ten blocks from a friend’s place back to my apartment at 2 am. Or the other time in Ottawa that a drunk guy came up behind me on the sidewalk and just grabbed my ass while I was walking home. (When asked “Did you actually just grab my ass, you fucker?” his response was “Hell yeah!”) Oh, or the time in Edmonton I was crossing the street on my way to a party and some dude in a pick-up truck took it upon himself to lean out the window and yell “FAGS!” loudly and repeatedly at me and my friends. The uncountable number of times men have decided they get to comment on my appearance just because I have the audacity to be a woman out in public.
I will say this as clearly as I can: if you comment on the appearance of women you don’t know in public, you’re a jerk. If you ask women for their phone number before you ask for their name, you’re a jerk. If you make women feel like they have to giggle uncomfortably and keep talking to you while looking around carefully for an exit, you’re a jerk. If you know anyone who does these things and you don’t tell them to stop, you’re a jerk, too.
Seriously. Stop it.
The worst thing about these incidents is that the way they happen leaves you with a vanishingly small amount of space to respond. Sometimes it happens so fast that by the time you’ve processed what’s happened, the guy is gone. Sometimes you feel so scared to do or say anything that you just pull your jacket tighter and keep walking. Sometimes you try to call the fucker on it and his response is “Hell yeah!”. It makes you feel powerless, and it makes you feel weak.
I can’t do much about these incidents, but I can do something so I don’t feel so useless whenever I’m not able to directly respond. From here on out, any time I get harassed on the street, I’m donating $5 for each gross jerk to Hollaback, a non-profit dedicated to ending street harassment. Maybe it will help us end this crap sooner rather than later.