[An American Girl in Italy, Ruth Orkin, 1951]
Many of you are probably familiar with the photograph, "An American Girl in Italy". It portrays an uncomfortable divide, not only between the sexes, but the culture as well. The Italian men gawk and (undoubtedly) catcall the hurried, assumedly frightened, American girl. In Buenos Aires, it happens too.
In North America, women tend to forget how far they have come. Sure, there are some ladies who have brought us back a few generations like PamAn and Ms. Lewinski. Nonetheless, there is a resilience in North American women. We tend to fight our way back to equality. Or at least know it is our right to try.
In Buenos Aires, it's common practice for the men to whisper sweet-nothings into your ear as you pass. Here, it's all about beauty on the outside and that beauty is just being a woman. Period. If you dig into the countless travel brochures, they assure you that the incessant catcalling is harmless.
Being beautiful also seems to be a personality, for some at least. Beauty equals charming and pleasant. One travel magazine even goes as far to suggest how to be a porteno(a): "if you got it flaunt it. If you don't, get a surgeon". That's the personality here. Apparently.
As a Canadian lady, the catcalling definitely takes you back. I've never been one to blush at crude remarks. I have always been the one to burn red with anger: "You don't know me! Why you talking to me when you don't even know what I'm like!" Rest assured, you do get used to it (although it shouldn't be something you have to get used to). You even start figuring out ways that make the men feel uncomfortable. Stare them in the eyes. Keep your head up and proud. Make fun of the way they talk to women: "hey handsome, you need a friend?"
There is no way to single-handedly stop them. It's an issue of David vs. Goliath. But, you can make sure it doesn't get to you. You can control your reaction (exactly what they are looking for). Or, you can always go out in a paper bag (my personal favourite).
As well, the whole mentality and culture of the women here would have to change. Not all, but some ladies take pride in the attention. It makes them feel beautiful and desirable. Whatever works for them. Hey, I'm Canadian. That is my home.
All I know is that I miss the attention I got at home. A snuggle here, a sandwich there. Someone telling me I look beautiful, even in my pyjamas.