Mexico, with all its violence and machismo, is really beautiful and tranquil in places. On that day in Cuernavaca I was strolling down a residential street, Palmira. The quiet road was lined with palm trees. Save for the occasional car or bus trundling past, nothing but the soft chirping of exotic birds could be heard.
It was the last place I expected to see a penis.
I was overdressed for the weather. My sleeves were short, but I was wearing long jeans, in 40 degree heat. I had a skip in my step, a product of both my good mood and my desire to get home and change into a bikini.
A car the colour of shit rattled past me, and swerved to a halt at the side of the road. The erratic way he drove unnerved me, so as I caught up to the parked car, I quickened my pace to indicate I wasn’t interested in being kidnapped.
“He might just want directions,” said the stupid naïve angel on my shoulder, “why don’t you just glance in and see?”
So I glanced. He didn’t want directions. The skinny runt was leaning back in his chair, looking through the open window at me, masturbating like he’d been poisoned and had the antidote in his sack. The car shook with the quick-motion force he applied to abusing himself. I choked on my gasp and ran.
I had never heard of such a thing, (I mean street harassturbation, as I like to call it, I’d heard of masturbation). I was in the kidnap capital of the world – also a country where violence against women is as common as piñatas, and rape is all but all the rage. I say this not as a run-down of Fun Facts about Mexico, but to give you an idea of how fast I ran.
I called my boyfriend. He answered, “Hey baby!”
“Oh my god,” I said, ohmygodohmygodohmygod…”
“What? Oh god, what?” he said, alarmed.
“I was walking – and – man – car – masturbating like a safari park chimp – and – I ran – and –“ I panted.
“Calm down honey, calm down…” he trailed off and started laughing.
“It’s not funny!”
“Yes it is!” he said, “Hell yeah! My girlfriend is stop-the-car-and-start-jerking-off hot!”
In fact, everyone I told laughed. Everyone. Oh – except the women, who had also had it happen to them, and knew it wasn’t a compliment.
Can I just repeat that?
BEING MASTURBATED AT IN THE STREET IS NOT A COMPLIMENT.
Because that guy didn’t see me and think, “She looks intelligent”, or even “She’s hot, I must pull myself off.” He wouldn’t have done it if I were blind and deaf. He wouldn’t have done if it wouldn’t have scared or upset me. My butt isn’t bad, but he didn’t jerk off at the sight of me because he loves to watch me go.
He did it because he hated me, on sight, and wanted to watch me get scared.
This was anything but a compliment.
Don’t get me wrong – I made jokes too. When my friends said it had happened to them, being as naïve as the angel on my shoulder, I assumed it was the same weirdo, roaming the city, getting off on frightening peoples’ sisters and daughters. And sure, I said, “The bastard! I thought we had something special!”
I spoke to Holly Kearle, who heads up the “Stop Street Harassment” campaign. She informed me of some still little-known facts about harassturbation:
– It mainly happens to young girls. In fact, most street harassment happens to young girls – catcalls, honking, grabbing, masturbation. It happens to girls who, were the men to actually have sex with them, would be victims of paedophilia.
– It mainly happens in countries where machismo, or even an outright hatred of women, is prevalent.
– The country where is happens the most is Yemen.
– 80% of women have experienced street harassment of some kind
– The most common complaint about street harassment is that witnesses generally don’t do or says anything to curtail it. It is “normalised”. Just as I was told having my day interrupted by a panting cock-throttler is a compliment, women are expected to accept shouts of “mamacita” (quote: Mexico), “nice teets” (quote: Morocco) and “I wan’ fuck you” (quote: Zimbabwe) as part of normal life.
“We’re still at the awareness-raising stage”, said Holly, “we’re still trying to get the message across that this is not ok. Men who make light of it don’t realise it’s terrifying and degrading, and that it is happening to women they care about.”
“Harassturbation” – has it happened to you?
I was 12. I was on the train coming home from school. I heard a strange noise, and I looked up and there was this sausage in my face. A man was masturbating right at me. I started crying, I was terrified – I didn’t even know what it was.
Teo, now in her 20s, Romania
I was in my early twenties, and my friends and I were at a train station in Venice. We saw a guy half-hiding, masturbating at us. My friend was furious, and screamed at him to stop, to leave us alone. he just carried on. If anything, it seemed to excite him more. People saw. A couple of people tutted. But no one did anything more.
Emma, 22, Venice
I was on a bus, and had fallen asleep. I was woken up by a shaking. A guy next to me was jerking off at me. I think he woke me deliberately. I shouted but no one did anything. I ended up moving seats to get away from him.
Jemma, 19, Malaysia