The first thing I look for when I enter a restaurant, cafe, store or bar is the Wi-Fi password. This is especially true when studying abroad, as I am this semester in Europe. A large group of friends and I were at a bar last week when we spotted the Wi-Fi password up above the bar written large enough to see on a big sign: SexyWoman69.
My best friend looked at me and we rolled our eyes. I didn’t end up putting in the password, as if not using their router was enough of a protest of their inappropriate and sexist password.
This month, Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the U.S. Many Americans are in shock and are still angry at his appointment.
In Europe, harassment from men, typically local men, toward American women is commonplace. Many abroad programs warn that cat-calling and small signs of harassment are reported regularly. This isn’t different from the U.S., where cat-calling happens every day.
What can we do about it?
Talking back, refusing the attention, or reacting in any way to cat-calling and obnoxious men can come with consequences. My friends and I have recognized the danger of reacting to men in a place we are uncomfortable in and in a culture that we do not fully understand. Feeling powerless against this harassment is frustrating and reflective of American women who feel hopeless against a political system that championed and fought for the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh.
In a document titled “Sexual Misconduct Abroad” found on the Wake Forest Study Abroad website, the abroad office advises ways to, “avoid situations that contribute to stranger rape.” Some of these include: “Pay attention to your surroundings and what’s going on around you, make sure that someone knows where you are at all times, lock your room, windows, and doors at all times, walk in well-lighted areas and with others at night, even when going a short distance, if you think you are being followed, walk or run to an area where there are other people.”
On Duke’s Study Abroad site it specifically warns, “Do not respond to any catcalls that you receive. Just walk on.” These pieces of advice are no exaggeration. Running to avoid a man following and photographing a group of women walking home, crossing the street to get away from unwanted compliments, and taking backroads to class to avoid major streets, which oftentimes bring increased cat-calling, are all moments my friends or I have experienced in the past month and a half of studying abroad.
While Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment and the constant harassment abroad has us feeling hopeless, all hope is not truly lost. There is a midterm election on Nov. 6, and we are lucky and grateful to have organizations like votefromabroad.org that makes registering to vote and requesting an absentee ballot abroad easy. Pathways to Safety International gives specific support to survivors of sexual abuse, harassment, and assault abroad. RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) saw a record 338 percent increase of hotline callers from the Thursday of Brett Kavanaugh’s hearing to the following Sunday.
We are hopeful and grateful for programs like these which give survivors the support they need.
As we finish up our time abroad, we will likely have to remain silent and continue to avoid and ignore instances of men making sexist and harassing comments. In the wake of the Kavanaugh hearings and the #metoo movement, we are encouraged by the women of America who are compelled to speak up like never before. While we are abroad, our mouths are still covered, but we are voting and we will be home soon.