Overseas Briefing

By Middlebury Campus

BUENOS AIRES — I went to an all-girls school for 10 long and, against my best efforts, formative years of my life. A relatively liberal, non-religiously affiliated all-girls school. They preached a very odd, though subtle, type-A version of “I am woman, hear me roar.” And, yes, before you ask, we did wear uniforms.

Why am I telling you this? Because before I get into it, I want to explain that though I’ve never felt even the tiniest the desire to burn my bra, I have had trouble completely scraping the “girl power” stickers off my middle school binder.

So it was with that strange flavor of, dare I say, feminism that I walked head first into the piropo. Here, piropos (cat calls) are, for lack of a better descriptor, everywhere. And I mean this in every sense of the word, from geography and discretion to content. If you have a uterus and are outside, you’re fair game. Really one of those beautiful times in life, in which showing up, quite literally, is half the battle.

But what is most impressive about piropos is their diversity — both in the men that dole them out and in their diction. There is no knowing whether you’re about to receive the standard “que linda,” a marriage proposal or something that I know from experience the Campus cannot print without a whole lot of asterisks.

What I can foresee with certainty, however, is my skin-crawling, muscle-tensing, full-bodied reaction. Thanks to the Holton-Arms School for young ladies, I’m not the type of girl that easily allows the comments of a stranger (especially ones that vary in accordance to my hem line) to weigh heavily on my self-esteem. But for some reason, these men, these street corner lurkers, business suit surprises and neighborhood Quilmes drinkers continued to get to me.

So, at first I thought maybe it was simply an issue of having my personal space violated. Time and time again, Argentines will tell you that the biggest cultural difference between here and the United States is personal space. Their conclusion being, of course, that we like ours a little too much.

But I soon realized that sometimes it was not at all a matter of culture. Sometimes this invasion of personal space was simply a reality of urban living. When you are being hugged by a strange man from behind in a crowded subte (subway) car you just have to literally grin and bear it, despite the fact that the whole time you’re thinking something along the lines of, “Ah, ok, yes, this is happening. No big deal, this is just as intimate as I’ve been with a man in months. He seems like a nice enough guy. Like he has kids. Right now he’s thinking about how I remind him of his daughter. Oh god, just try not to move.” You know … just as an example.

But despite the physical discomfort, that kind of intrusion didn’t quite make my skin crawl. I’ve done the morning commute in downtown D.C. and, I’ll admit it here, ventured into the Bunker a couple of times as a first-year.

This pretty much left me with one possibility: it is, in fact, about gender. A conclusion which suggests little course of action considering that the purpose of this semester is to invest myself in a new culture, and in this case, one with some serious residual machismo tendencies.

So I decided that, like my prep school, maybe the piropo too presents a hidden potential for growth. Maybe if I unclench, I’ll learn something about my own brand of feminism or even learn to find value in this sort of open appreciation. At the very least, I’ll come home with a whole lot of unbelievable pick-up lines.


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