Be 19 years old. Unconscious at 3:00 am in the parking lot of a renowned restaurant/bar in Bogota. Be a female: a Victim. Wearing a mini-skirt… a slut.
In November, 2013, this case spurred an agitated social debate. On one hand were activists and women’s rights organizations advocating for female’s liberty of choice. On the other was the more conservative faction of Colombian society that put blamed on women’s choice of attire for the majority of sexual crimes against females.
Bogota’s women organized a miniskirt protest under the Twitter tag #MePongoMinifaldaYQue (#IWearMiniskirtSoWhat). I didn’t join. In fact, the news didn’t really hit me until last weekend when I bought my first pair of very short shorts.
My story is more or less like this. Summer is coming and I need shorts that are not gym shorts. My bf (who is not Colombian) and I went to the mall and he suggested I try some short shorts. I glanced at the clothes and raised my eyebrows. I don’t even consider the offer. Why would anyone wear something that gets them raped?
That day was Easter in the orthodox church and I made a cynical comment along the lines of “yeah it makes sense to celebrate God by wearing slutty shorts”. To what he replied “what are you talking about? They are not slutty, they are short. They are nice”. You are too Christian”. Then I paused. I am not too Christian! He was right, they were just short. period.
Then I thought, “OK, I have been lifting heavy weights and my legs look pretty, I feel like I can pull these off”. So I tried every single type of shorts in the store and found them surprisingly comfortable and… yes, nice! I walked around, checked all the angles in the the mirror of the dressing room. I’ve never given my self this luxury: to visualize me walking around in short shorts, owning my nice ass, knowing that others will see it… and not being afraid of that. I’ve often criticized Americans for their sleazy summer clothes. Even moms wear tiny, tight clothes! What else can you expect in a country where something is made profitable just by sexualizing it?
So… yeah, I bought the shorts and broke my paradigm. I’ve been wearing them around friends at picnics and dinner parties, and I feel good (tanananananah).
After my discovery, I called my (younger) sister and told her I felt stupid for having lived my entire life judging people for their choice of shorts. I told her “I don’t know why I used to think they were slutty”. To what she responded “Dah, because they are!”.
Are we too Catholic? I don’t think so. I think we are too Colombian.
Bogota, where I grew up, is a cold city high in the mountains. There, the sun burns your skin like crazy. Generally, there is no need to wear short clothes or to leave legs and arms exposed. Anything higher than your knee, or anything that exposes your curves is considered provocative. Be on the street and show a little bit of skin and you will get all sorts of whistling sounds, honking patterns, and naughty comments.
If you are a middle class female in Bogota, rape is a thing you worry about since the day you start using public transportation on your own. The buses are generally crowded and sexual harassment is the daily bread for women in the capital. It is so bad that the city’s police force has a special commando of undercover police women who are “fishing” harassers simply by wearing more “tempting” clothes and waiting for them to abuse their private space–and keep in mind that the definition of private space in Colombia is not even comparable to that in America. Some women develop colorful strategies to handle this pervasive sexual insecurity. I know of a lady who was so tired of men putting their genitals close to her face when she was sitting in the bus that she started carrying a needle to poke them whenever they got close to her. Personally, what I do is carry my mochila crossed and over my left hip because my right leg is stronger, thus, if I need to kick, that’s the one that will do more damage.
I was 13 when I started moving around on my own. I had to take the bus to go to tennis practice, to the gym, to the athletic villa, to my grandmother’s house, to the sports psychologist, to school (the times I did to go), to the movie theater, and importantly, to the ice cream shop: Crepes&Waffles.
Bogota is a highly fractured city, where rich and poor and miserably poor and miserably dangerous neighborhoods often share a common border. Sometimes, I had to go to sketchier parts of the city. I remember being 14 years old hearing my aunt telling me the secret to leaving a delicate scene “unraped”. “All you need to do is shit in you pants”.
I also remember being 15 years old (and looking like a 12 year old) walking to the bus station in the middle of the day, wearing my sweat suit and carrying my tennis rackets. One thing in mind, “if the neighbors dogs are unleashed and attack me (again) I have my rackets to defend me”. Totally unaware of any sexual danger. A construction worker riding his motorcycle approaches me and asks me for directions.The man is young and has a playful smile, he also has a musical voice. Surely, a farmer kid from the little town of Cota that’s just working in construction over the summer. He gives me a good vibe overall. I tell him I am not sure what he is looking for I can’t recognize the place by the description. He says “Oh well, that’s alright, thanks for your help”. He doesn’t take off. He is looking at me. I am looking at him without any particular worry. He is still on his motorcycle, he is measuring the distance between him and me. Short enough, but long enough. He makes a move: to grab onto my crutch and try stick his finger up my vagina through my clothes. I was wearing my sweat suit, my tennis shorts, my spandex shorts and my underwear. So, I was physically protected. However, I was not psychologically prepared. I didn’t tell anybody. It was so weird because it’s not like anything really happened. Yet, now I look back and I understand it was unfair. Just so confusing. Soon after the incident, I forgot about it.
Everything comes together now. I have a truly traumatic story of my childhood that I now understand is explained by the mix of rapacious male lust and impunity. As I may have told in another post (“friend or foe” ), I grew up with German Shepherds. They were my sisters and my best friends until much after I started attending primary school–so maybe until I was 6 years old. When I was 5 years old, I was going to a French school located about 5 blocks away from my home, the “Refous”. As customary in French school, kids are out at noon on Wednesdays. Wednesdays, Margarita, the lady that came to do the cleaning in the house would pick me up from school. Sometimes, Margarita would bring with her one of the German Shepherds on a leash.
To go home from school we had to cross a new highway and then walk about 10 minutes along a dirt road. One day, Margarita came to pick me up with “Sara”, my canine sister/best friend. I grabbed Maragrita’s hand and we were getting ready to cross the highway and start the journey home. Across the highway there was cow grazing. Sara was very excited about this cow, she was totally hysterical, barking and pulling. She was out of control. German Shepherds are strong dogs. Margarita couldn’t keep Sara from running away. Sara crossed the street, barked at the cow for some time and decide it was time to come back. She was running back to meet us, she was so happy. I could see it in her face, with her tongue out, and her sparkling eyes. She was half way through the highway when a truck rolled her over.
I still haven’t recovered from that. I used to cry just thinking about ti until I was 9 or 10 years old. That day I cried more than ever. My dad was furious and fired Margarita. She was not supposed to take the dogs out of the house. I blamed Margarita and myself; I never forgave her: I thought she was disobedient and arrogant. Why did she have to bring Sara? I thought she was trying to show off that she could handle an adult German Shepherd. It wasn’t until very recently that I understood her. Today, the picture is clear to me.
When this horrible episode happened some parts of the new highway were still being constructed, thus, there were construction workers hanging out all day in the neighborhood. Margarita brought Sara with her because she was afraid of the workers. Fuck. Margarita is innocent and my best friend is dead because of some lustful assholes. Those two things are clear to me.
After looking back, I realize I am also a victim of sexual abuse. The comical thing is that I did not put it together until I decided I wanted to safely wear “slutty” clothes: until I stopped being a perpetrator of a kind of toxic prejudice against women who want to celebrate their body or simply do whatever the hell they want to do.
There are many wrongs in society committed against women. All I know today is that I’d like to be able to wear my short shorts whenever I feel like. Do we need to change society for that?