I must preface my writing in two ways. First, what I am about to say is in no way in criticism of the European culture or European men. This just happened to be my circumstance, and I have used the cultural context for details based on my particular situation. Things like this can happen anywhere and everywhere, and can be instigated by people of any gender or age.
Additionally, I have serious boundaries, and that is very important to keep in mind throughout this entire story. I have high expectations for the treatment that I should receive, as well as additional conditions for that treatment because I am in a committed relationship. As a woman in a foreign place, I cannot expect all men to be aware of these boundaries, but I try very hard wherever I am to make people aware of them. I speak of my boyfriend and my relationship early on to inform others that I am only interested in pursuing further platonic friendships and conversations. I thought it was common sense that people would respect that, but I was wrong.
My sister spent a month in Sicily, including the one week that I was there, and so she made plenty of friends and was well-acquainted with the town of about only four-thousand people. She befriended three young men who are a couple years older than me. They shared plenty of positive energy and jovial laughter. I spent time with my sister and the group in a public place, spoke of my boyfriend who I missed greatly throughout my travels, and attempted to speak the Sicilian language all the while. Everything seemed overall normal to me, aside from a few uncomfortable moments when one of the boys uttered a dirty joke or shared some sort of sexual innuendo. I didn’t think much of it.
There were at least a couple of times when my sister wanted to stay and spend time with the boys as she had in the past, but I didn’t know them, so I left. After I had felt more comfortable with them once I had spent more time in the group, I decided to go with just my sister (instead of having my parents in the nearby vicinity) to spend time in the town square. I ate pizza and sang and texted my boyfriend and posted a picture to Instagram and felt fine. After at least an hour in the Piazza, my sister and her friend (one of the boys) were ready to leave, and so I naively entered the car with them. People in that town drive around to pass time because there isn’t a wide selection of activities locally, and I didn’t think anything of it. It was a beautiful night, I was with my sister, and everything felt fine.
Things went downhill after driving around town and stopping the car to allow the other two boys to enter the backseat, where I was sitting. The youngest of the three boys sat next to me. He began joking around and making suggestive faces. I laughed awkwardly as a coping mechanism. Soon after, he put his arm around me. At first I thought he was stretching his arm out because the car was crammed, but then he managed to get a bit closer. I leaned forward in pure discomfort, and told my sister that I was disturbed, which was evident in the way that I was responding to his advances.
He became more persistent. He grabbed my hand and tried to kiss it, and I pulled away. I repeatedly yelled NO, which I know for a fact he understood. I couldn’t leave because I was stuck in the backseat of a moving two-door Fiat. The drive was longer than expected, and his actions became more and more aggressive. He tried to kiss my shoulder, my cheek, and eventually tried to force his face into mine. I pushed him off and away, and continuously yelled NO. Eventually, he stopped trying. I was somewhat relieved, other than the fact that I was slightly traumatized by the awkwardness and discomfort, and on top of that, my phone was out of battery. I was in a foreign country and couldn’t call or text anyone, although I did use the last few percent to text my boyfriend and friend, informing them that something was happening and asking for support in the moment.
Plenty of meaningless conversation occurred in the interim, and eventually the context of things became sexual once again. I thought I would be spending a wholesome evening with my sister and her friends, but it felt like everything was spiraling downward. The boy who had attempted to force himself onto me all of a sudden became disgustingly condescending. He began talking about my female anatomy and called me derogatory and objectifying names. I didn’t know what to do. I was not only physically traumatized in that moment, but my entire femininity was violated… and I became infuriated.
My sister yelled at the boy to stop insulting me, and a few moments later, I said goodbye to him when we pulled into the driveway at 1 am and slapped him across the face. Then I yelled in Sicilian, “I want respect,” as I left the vehicle.
(**Just to clarify, I don’t recommend using any sort of physicality unless the situation truly merits it.)
I feel ashamed that all of this happened to me, but I shouldn’t. The only mistake I made was being naïve enough to trust people I didn’t know. I did not invite or encourage any of the objectifying behavior that I received, and in reality, situations like this are not uncommon. I’m sure that all of my female friends, as well as many of my male friends, have been the result of objectification at one point or another.
For me, things could have been much worse. I am blessed that I am okay, and that I left the situation unharmed.
Never put yourself in a situation if there’s even a slight chance of endangering yourself. Even if your friend or family member supposedly knows a person or group of people, analyze the situation and treat these people only according to your knowledge of who they are. Don’t be too trusting.
However, beyond the issue of safety and naivety is the issue of objectification. Humans are often treated as objects in general, and I happened to be treated as one in this situation. I was completely disrespected to the point of feeling enraged, and it takes a lot of disrespect to fill me with that amount of anger.
It’s time to set the bar higher. It’s time for everyone of all genders to fight against objectification and settle for nothing less than authentic respect.