I thought it was important that I write about Machismo before writing this post, in order to put it in context.
I would recommend to any woman feeling a bit rubbish about herself to walk down a Latin American high street. And I would defy her to not be bright red by the time she got to the end of it.
Growing up in Mauritius, I've gotten used to receiving male attention whilst walking about the town. It's not really that much of a compliment, as they aren't all that discerning, and to attract your attention they make noises as if calling a puppy. The two times I ever actually turned around and asked the gang of young Mauritian boys whistling and clucking at me whilst hanging out at La Gare** what they actually wanted, they were all stumped for words.I'm not a demanding person, but I would appreciate having some sort of follow-up to simply clucking at me. Most disappointing. Suffice it to say, I was left quite cold.
Living in London, cat calls are either obscene to the point where I feel like calling my mother or taking a shower after receiving one, or nothing more than a whistle and a disgusting, lustful look. I have learned to just keep walking and have cultivated a fairly horrific scowl that I would like to think works as a powerful deterrent.
And it is wearing this very same scowl that I find myself walking down the high streets of down town Santiago. Armed also with my ipod in my ears (and therefore supposedly immune to any attempt at attracting my attention) I charge forward, focusing solely on my destination and the various stray animals that wander the streets.
On the street corner near my apartment block there is construction going on. Mixed in with the constant hum of the concrete mixer and the machinery, one can hear wolf-whistles and cat calls emanating from this site from opening to closing time.
My strategy is usually not to let anyone have any level of false hope. I have to walk past this site twice a day, and usually armed with my Ipod am immune to whatever it is that they are saying. I feel dirty just remembering the filth that these particular construction workers have been heard to say. Walking past the site one afternoon, without my Ipod, but with my ubiquitous frown, I was treated to a "¡Tú eres la reina de mi vida, y haré cualquier cosa pa' hacerte feliz!"*. I, in turn, treated the gentleman to one of my most pronounced scowls, before charging off, reaching the end of the street and thinking to myself: "ooo... actually... that sounded quite nice to me!"
Cat calls aside, I was little prepared for the other Chilean strategy for grabbing female attention. Although two or three men have been polite and just approached me and began talking- a strategy I respect and feel comfortable politely rejecting, The majority, however, adopt a rather odd and quite startling method of dive-bombing me. I have never felt more flustered than when I was walking down the amply spaced high street, I experienced several men, one after the other, walking in the opposite direction as me, approaching me a great speed, as if to kiss me on the cheek, and scuttling off. "What on earth is going on?!" I asked myself. They were acting like cats who'd had half their whiskers cut off.
This dive-bombing kept occurring (and startling and confusing me) until I mentioned it to Chilean friend M, who explained that they were (or attempting to) whispering "sweet nothings" into my ear. He warned me not to try listen to what they were saying, as they were probably obscenities. So, "sweet obscenities", more like.
And then the day came when I left my Ipod at home and had to walk without any audio entertainment. Once again, sporting a scowl, no makeup and a quick march I charged out onto the high street determined to ignore any attention I received. And then it started.
"¡Eres el sol!"***
In soft, dulcet tones I was told that I was Rodrigo's princess, that I was Marcelo's sun, that Cristóbal had fallen in love with me, that Miguel thought I was beautiful. And so on. Granted, still by strange, dive-bombing Chilean men in the high street in the middle of the day. My thoughts? That Chile's idea of obscenities is far removed from what I'm used to taking offence to.
*You are the queen of my life, and I will do anything to make you happy!
*** "How beautiful!" "My Princess" "I'm falling in love" "So pretty!" "You are the sun!"