How to Deal With Unwanted Male Attention Abroad

Song of this article: Contemporary Love by Joni Payne

Seriously, my soul is singing. 


I wanted to title this post "How to deal with Asshole Misogynists Abroad" but decided that maybe was a tad too aggressive, so I toned it down. 

Aight Ladies. Let's talk real stuff right now. One of the realest fears of solo travel (and one that I still have on the daily) is dealing with the local men. From street harassment, to catcalling, to grabbing, to the unthinkable, asshole misogyny is a thing. And the further away you are from home, the more present it is in day to day life. Of course, there's wanted attention from foreign men that may be romantic, new, and exciting. But then there's the unwanted attention, which we all have to learn to deal with.

It's a shame to say that we "have to deal with" these sort of things, because in an ideal world, women would have no responsibility in the matter at all. But until we get to that ideal world, us wonder woms are just going to have to trust our inner bitch, and do what we have to do to keep ourselves safe. 

In my time abroad (especially in my first year), I've had my headphones ripped out of my ears while walking by a man who wanted my attention. I've been shouted and whistled at upwards of hundreds of times. I've been followed back to my hostel. I've had a man try and flirtatiously sit on my lap on the tube (can I get a HELL NO?). I've caught a man trying to take a photo of me. My friends and I had a man chase us down the road to our hostel in Turkey. I've had a man join me at my dinner table. I've had a 70+ year old man walk up to me on the street and ask me to go back to his house with him. I've had a man grab my phone, add himself on my Facebook, and proceed to send me messages on Facebook every day for 6 months, even after I had deleted him. I've had a man wait outside my fitting room at H&M. Fucking pricks. (*Just a side note, this list started with 3 things. As I continued writing this post, I thought of about 100 more and added them. It is crazy all the things you try to block out).

I'm not telling you this to scare you by any means, but just to show you that it is a reality that all the badass feminism cannot stop. It all depends on how you deal with it. With strength, power, and confidence. That's how.

At first, I used to be overly polite, because typically, that's how I used to deal with unwanted attention back at home. A polite little let down and signs that I'm not interested typically used to do the trick. But then I realized I have absolutely no desire anymore to deal with that shit. A.) Ain't nobody got time for that. B.) I'm not a piece of buffalo chicken mac and cheese to be gawked at (clearly I'm hungry). and C.) ABSOLUTELY 100% FUCK NO. Also, I don't ever want to let the fear of being harassed on the street prevent me from traveling by myself, because if I trust my inner Super Girl, I know that there's nothing really to fear. 

The first thing to know, which is hard for me to swallow, is that we have to understand that these men may come from cultures where these kinds of behaviors are socially accepted. Now, that does not make them appropriate or right behaviors in any way. However, we need to understand that before we go apeshit on their asses, that they may not mean any harm and that whistling at a girl or following them down the street may be considered flattering (NTY, but I digress). 

As well, I know that the inner feminist and diva in me wants to try and correct their behaviors by pointing out that they're being little twats, but sometimes I need to take a deep breath and realize that you cannot correct a culture in a few days. Also, I would never want to put my safety, or the safety of those around me at risk by causing a scene. As much as I want to disempower them and assure that they check themselves, sometimes, it's just not worth the risk. Quite a few "CAN WE JUST NOT"s may be running through my head for the next hour, but at least I didn't put my safety in danger.

Anyways, that's enough chat. Here's a list of my pointers in effectively fending off creepers, and dealing with them in the aftermath. 

Prevention Tips

1.) Know the emergency numbers and your accommodation's address just in case.

I've said this in probably every article I've ever written regarding safety. But it is so so so important to have the emergency numbers memorized in case of emergency. Most smartphones allow for emergency calls to be made, but they vary from country to country. Also, know your hostel address by heart, in case your phone dies and you need to hop in a taxi to go home to get yourself out of a sticky situation.

2.) Act natural and dress local.

I've written a little bit about it in my article "76 Things Every Female Backpacker Needs to Knowbut try to blend in and act like a local as much as possible. That means avoiding sorority t-shirts (sorry ladies, I know those comfort colors tees are everything), clothes with distinguishable logos, tight leggings with shirts that don't cover your butt, etc. Trust me, I love these things as much as the next basic gal, but it's important to try and look as much like you know what you're doing as possible in order to draw unwanted attention away from yourself. Cover your head with a scarf if need be, and ditch the mini-skirts at home. 

That being said, if you have blonde hair, I'm sorry to say, but you WILL get more attention in Mediterranean countries. You'll find it easier to blend in if you're visiting Scandinavian countries, however, be prepared for the looks and stares that you will get. All the same, you will get attention for being white in many African and Asian countries. You can still act like a local even if you do have these identifiable traits marking you as an outsider though. Just look like you have it together, and "together you will have it all." (to quote the most frequently used AIM profile quote of all time). 

3.) Walk with inner sass. 

The globe is your personal runway. Walk with conviction, confidence, and with a purpose. I'm all for having a wander and a stroll, but if you look like you're walking without a destination, you become an easier target. Act strong and you will appear strong and feel strong. 

4.) Wear a wedding ring. 

This sounds like a joke, but I kid you not this works without fail almost every single time (although some men just don't even give a shit). When I travel, I often switch my diamond graduation ring over to my wedding ring finger so if someone approaches me, all I have to do is flash the ring their way and they back off. 

5.) Make female friends.

Assuming you're traveling alone, find female friends on tour groups or in your hostel that can back you if they're nearby. It's always good to have backup wonderwoms who can save you if you're in distress. 

If it happens...

6.) Keep calm.

Please please please for the love of Olivia Pope, do not freak out. If someone approaches you and you're not interested, don't yell and scream or cry or get offended. If you get hollered at it from afar, keep walking and say nothing. If a man approaches you and tries to talk, politely tell him you're not interested and move as far away as you can until you get leave the area. If a man grabs you, be firm, but maintain your composure. 

7.) Never, ever, ever, tell the truth. 

Where are you staying? Are you married? How old are you? Where are you from? Do you have a boyfriend? Who are you traveling with? What are you doing tonight?

Come up with backup answers to deter them. You don't remember where you're staying. Yes you're married. You're 30. You're from South Africa (my alter ego is always from South Africa). You're traveling with your husband who is on his way to meet you. You're spending time with your husband tonight. If you come up with a set of things that you always say when someone gives you unwanted attention, and soon enough you'll know them like the back of your hand. 

8.) Walk toward a group of women. 

As much as we're out to stab each other in the backs and compete with each other, there's also a secret girl code that all women have with each other. It's the same code that governs the universal "do you have a tampon?" rule to strangers in the bathroom. If someone needs a tampon, and you have one, hand it over. 

If you're getting unwanted attention, head toward a group of women if you can see them. If you're on public transportation, lock eyes with another woman or group of women to show them that you're uncomfortable or in distress. If they're local women, they can kindly tell the perpetrator to fuck off in his native language, or they can at least make you feel like you're not alone. 

9.) If he persists, get snippy.

Firmly, loudly tell him that you are not interested. If he continues, threaten to call the police. If you're not in a crowded place, get yourself into a crowded place and find someone who can help you. 

10.) Evaluate your situation. If it continues, call the police, find someone who will call for you, or find a taxi immediately to go home. If the situation needs immediate help, yell for help. 

Assess you're immediate situation as it's happening. If you feel that you are in dire circumstances, yell, shout, run and ask for help, or call the police. If you feel like you are in harms way and can safely remove yourself from the situation, get yourself in a taxi out of the area or back to your hostel/hotel. 

11.) Remember that there are pigs everywhere.

Don't let one rogue experience ruin a city or a culture for you. There are amazing, wonderful people in the world. And most of the world is like that. However, there are many pigs in the world, and they are everywhere. If you let one experience taint your trip or cause you fear, you're letting him win! Be victorious, show the world what female badassery really is, and come out on top! 

However, that being said. It is absolutely, 100% okay to be upset, distraught, and need help. While I have made light of these situations and joked about them throughout this article, sexual harassment and assault are very serious and must be taken as such. 

 If you have been harassed, abused, assaulted, or raped, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline to speak with someone. 800.656.HOPE (4673)