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Dealing With Misogyny (And Catcalls) Abroad

Unfortunately for women studying abroad, experiencing catcalls isn’t particularly uncommon in the first months in our new home, especially when our host countries have more “traditional” cultures than our own. While we cannot immediately change the cultures of misogyny, there are ways to avoid, deal with, and positively channel the feelings we experience when it comes to dealing with misogyny (and catcalls) abroad.


Dress like a local

No one should ever be sexually assaulted based on their clothing (or lack thereof), but it’s good to research your host country’s fashion rules before heading abroad.

Dealing with Misogyny - fashion

This isn’t to say that dressing to Brazil’s standard will stop sexual harassment from Brazilians, but it will probably help you feel more comfortable when walking around.

Safety first, insult second

Serving those nasty cat-callers a good comeback will be more than tempting, but you have to remember your personal safety. Sure, comebacks are almost always good to shut down cat-callers in the U.S., but that can’t be said for every country worldwide. As a matter of fact, it can actually put you in a worse position.

Dealing with Misogyny - safety

So no, you will not be able to change a culture overnight. But yes, if you’re in a safe situation (in a well-lit, familiar area with friends) and insulting the cat-caller back will help you preserve your sanity, give ‘em hell.

Block out the haters (literally)

Want to walk to campus without getting catcalled by a greasy, old Italian man? Put on some headphones and blast some of your host country’s top hits.

Dealing with Misogyny - haters

Music is a great coping mechanism, and this way, you can enjoy the views of your host country abroad without hearing the nasty comments from strangers on the bus.

Be fair to your host country

Yeah, the international treatment of women can be pretty cringey, but it’s not fair to return home from our time abroad and say “all Spanish guys suck, they’re such scumbags.”

dealing with misogyny - privilege

Even if our host country’s society encourages catcalling and inferiority of women, it’s our obligation as (privileged) travelers to remember that these things don’t define our complete experiences.

Lastly, remember to have fun while you’re abroad. This isn’t to scare you from traveling the world or studying abroad in college, but just serves as a friendly reminder of things you should watch out for while abroad. Rock your semester!

Dealing with Misogyny - you got this

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Maggie Vlaj

Maggie Vlaj is a sophomore studying International Affairs at John Cabot University in Rome, Italy. Originating from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Maggie realized her love for travel after living in Stockholm, Sweden for a year, and although Sweden will always hold a dear spot in her heart, she's more than comfortable with living the Italian way at the moment. If she's not running around Rome looking for the best carbonara or cup of espresso, you'll likely find her reading feminist novels, cuddling with someone else's dog, or trying to get the best angle of some cool Roman graffiti for her Instagram.


6 comments

  1. Just be tiring to endure that on a regular basis. I just know similar situation traveling as a guy in different eastern countries.

  2. These are great tips! The sad part is that this is happening in our own country and we shouldn’t be expected to change our lifestyle because there are people out there who have no respect. Entering into a different country and culture, though, I do agree that we should adapt to their norm (and by we, I mean men and women).

    I tend to be a little aggressive when I get cat called, but I have to read the situation to ensure I don’t enter into a potentially violent encounter (which is unfortunate that I even have to think about that, but it’s reality). We women need to stick together and spread awareness of how demeaning cat calls are!

    xoxo
    Helene
    https://circleskirtsandpetticoats.wordpress.com

  3. For me where I am, it’s more staring and having people take your photograph(with or without permission) than anything else, although my friends and I have been catcalled by other foreigners living and working in Hangzhou. I hate to admit it, but a lot of sexual harassment we get (especially in bar or club environments and now that it’s shorts and t-shirt weather) IS because of how we are dressed. There are certain expectations/presumptions put on us because that is what this society thinks foreign girls are for or are willing to do SOLELY based on what skin we show where on our bodies. Of course, harrassment isn’t isn’t limited by what you wear but this what something that stuck out for me.

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