WARNING: This post is rated PG-13 for frank discussions of sexuality and brief language (probably).
This entry is going to be different from the rest. It’s the story of my recent interaction with a young Italian guy (nicknamed the Chianti because I’m nice, but not that nice) and his complete bafflement at hearing the word “No.” I want this to be a discussion of social norms and expectations, and a warning to American women traveling abroad. I do want to clarify one thing before I begin: nothing damaging happened to me. I know a lot of people who care about me read this blog, and I just want everyone to know that I’m totally fine.
The story began a few weeks ago when the Chianti came in to the gallery where I work. He was kinda cute in a wan hipster way, but I cared more about his obvious passion for the artist’s work than his looks. While we were discussing the art in depth he snuck a few glances down at my chest, but I didn’t really mind; in fact, it was a pleasant surprise when he invited me out for drinks after work. We ended up going to his apartment because a lot of the bars outside the tourist areas close early during the summer. I agreed to this because I felt comfortable with him, and because I had my daddy’s knife in my back pocket. I was right to take his interest in the paintings seriously, because he lived in a penthouse apartment with a view of the Duomo. I’ll admit, the Chianti brought his A-game to this whole courting thing: I’m talking red wine, playing guitar for me, discussing our travels, the works. So when he asked if he could kiss me, I said yes. It was sort of like kissing a hungry vacuum cleaner, but what can I say? It was nice to feel wanted.
I’ll spare you the details. We talked for a while, we kissed some more, and eventually he wanted to get more serious. I shut him down immediately, telling him in no uncertain terms that all of my clothes would be staying on. At first he respected that, but eventually he tried to convince me to change my mind. After a couple of hours I left, promising to call him the next night when I was off work, but when it rolled around I was exhausted and had no interest in walking half an hour to his place. I messaged him and explained how tired I was, and that my roommate would be gone until late if he wanted to come by. His counter-offer? He would come over if I would show him my tits.
I just laughed and laughed. At one point I stopped long enough to explain to him that that’s not how it works, and we spent the next hour discussing the things he wanted to do with me and why it wasn’t going to happen. This is really the issue that I wanted to broach when I decided to write this post: the Chianti was honestly baffled by my refusal. Didn’t I like him? Didn’t I want to feel pleasure? Why? Why not?
At first I answered him: Yes, I liked him, but I didn’t know him and it wouldn’t give me pleasure to have sex with a stranger. And as for “why”—it was absolutely none of his business. I didn’t know him and I certainly didn’t trust him, but I didn’t owe him those explanations. All he needed to know was that my answer was no, and it wouldn’t change before he left on his month-long trip to Spain. Then he said something that really stuck with me: Some American girls do it.
Ladies, this is not a condemnation. It’s not a judgement. What you do with your body is your business, and you don’t owe anybody anything. This is purely a warning that a lot of foreign men see American women as easy, and they might try to take advantage of that. My roommate during this experience (let’s call her Amanda) was also seeing a guy during her short stay, and she had a similar discussion with him every time they spent time together. Over the past few months I’ve been verbally harassed on more than one occassion, and last week I was physically harassed by an old man. We’re talking a man easily in his sixties who brings newspapers by the gallery. Two days ago, while I was on my way home from a club, a guy completely changed directions so he could walk with me, even going so far as to put his arm around my shoulders even though I was clearly not interested. It wasn’t until I removed the offending arm that he took the hint and bailed. After all of this, I can’t even imagine what it’s like for women who are traditionally good-looking.
Amanda and I were lucky in that our respective boys were only persistent and not outright aggressive, but we should not have to fucking consider ourselves lucky for that. The Chianti’s problem was his arrogance; maybe it was a combination of cultural norms and his obvious wealth, but he was not used to hearing the word “no.” Our brief fling ended when he told me that if I wouldn’t do anything “serious” with him, then he couldn’t see me. Maybe he expected me to cave when given such a drastic ultimatum. I mean, my answer should have been obvious, right? What else could I possibly say to that other than an enthusiastic “YES”?
Ha. I told him to get lost.
I’ll admit that the physical contact was nice, as was the attention before it went sour, but I am my mother’s daughter and I don’t respond well to manipulation attempts. This philosophy applies no matter where you are in the world: no one has the right to guilt or coerce you into doing something you don’t want to do. With few exceptions, Americans talk about the treatment of women in America or they discuss extreme examples from the rest of the world like genital mutilation or the complete absence of women’s rights, but I think we’ve neglected that middle ground: how women are treated in other developed countries. In some ways it’s an improvement (paid maternity leave, for example), but the day-to-day treatment doesn’t seem to be that different. If anything, it’s worse.
Here’s a hint that bears repeating, boys: my body is mine to do with as I please. It’s not your toy, it’s not your property, it’s not your entertainment. You do not have the right to put your arm around me, or walk so close to me that I’m tripping over you, or discuss in detail what you’d like to do to me. You have no right to me, no matter what I wear or how I act. Until the word “Yes” leaves my mouth, you treat me like the goddamn Arc of the Covenant.
If you stuck it out to this point, thank you. I know this post is unusual given the rest of my blog, but it’s an issue that I wanted to discuss in the hope that female travelers will feel better prepared if they fly solo.
Until next time,