As soon as we landed in Beirut, at 3am yesterday morning, I noticed the men blatantly check out and comment on women’s appearances. Male drivers frequently hit the breaks in the middle of a busy street, roll down their car window and do the cheesy move of lowering their sunglasses so as to better stare at the women walking by on the sidewalk. Apparently that is normal behavior. I understood why Dynamo and his brother are so strict with their younger sister’s appearance. They don’t want her to ever give off the impression that she is anything but a respectable Arab girl. I’ve always found them quaint – most of it seemed like common sense and good taste: too tight clothing or too much skin (something all young girls get wrong from time to time) looks trashy, regardless of the culture. Why must they always bring it back to the concept of Arab respectability?
Well. To my surprise, I found myself covering up when walking around town yesterday. Not so that my respectability wouldn’t be doubted, but just to give the men less cause to stare at me. It seemed easier to modify my behavior, to avoid dealing with the irritation of their rude cavemen behavior, than to perpetually be frustrated and uncomfortable in my surroundings. In case y’all were wondering what I was wearing that required me to cover up, it was a lined, black maxi sun-dress – the kind that looks like a tent, or as Dynamo kindly phrases it, a maternity dress.
Today, I wandered through downtown Beirut with my friends. They needed to run an errand in one of the nearby offices, so I told them I’d wait for them on a park bench, facing a Roman archeological site, a Maronite church undergoing a facelift, and a military checkpoint near the parliamentary buildings. Like a cat, I wanted to soak up the warm sun rays. I craved a few minutes of silence, after 3 intense days of socializing. One of the girls, whose family lives in a Beirut suburb, sought to reassure me, “Don’t worry Vanilla, you won’t get raped here, it is a safe area and a high traffic street. I’m not worried for you, you could probably handle any boy who gave you trouble.” I laughed, finding her rather dramatic – obviously, I could handle myself, but in civilized downtown Beirut, I was not at risk of getting raped in broad daylight!
10 minutes into my pleasant daydream, a young Arab dude walked up to my bench and asked me if he could sit. Sensing a blog story about to unfold, I nodded.
“Nice day isn’t it? Nice view here (pointing to the Roman ruins).” Yes.
“Are you British? Oh Canadian! It has always been my dream to live in Canada.” Makes sense, Canada is a cool place.
“How you like Beirut? Not as nice as Canada, right?” It is very nice. “Are you here alone, tourist? How long are you here for? Ah, one week? Your best friend’s wedding?! Very nice, is she Lebanese? But where is she now? You are alone today?” The she is a he, bro, and no, I am not alone, my friends are across the street.
“Are you married?” No. “How old are you?” (Wow. Rude. Bro, you have no social skills.) 31. “How old do you think I am?” (Emotionally? 12) 25. “Exactly right, you are so smart.” (Silence, look the other way.)
“Do you have a Lebanese phone number? No? Only Canadian? Oh, that makes me sad. I wanted to ask you to go for a drink with me.” No, thanks, I am really busy with all the wedding festivities this week.
“Do you want to have sex with me?” WHAT? “Do you you want to have sex with me?” No, lol.
“Why? It would be a good time.” I highly doubt that.
“Do you have a boyfriend? Is that why you won’t have sex with me?” (Part of me considered lying, just to get rid of him, but then it occurred to me that the truth would be more insulting). No. “So why won’t you have sex with me?” Because I don’t sleep around, and I definitely don’t sleep with strangers. “Should I leave now?” I’ll let you figure that one out on your own. “Should I?” (Imma sit here in silence and watch you work through each of your alternative plans of action.)
Luckily, at that moment, Dynamo’s sister was walking down the street, and I reached for her as a drowning person reaches for a life jacket. My suitor asked me again,“Should I leave now?” Yes. Definitely you should leave now.
I told my friends when they joined me soon after. They all laughed, amazed at how I seem to attract these stories. They also confirmed that he only asked me that because I was white – he’d have known that an Arab girl would have ripped him a new one. But then again, no Arab girl would ever have found herself sitting alone on a park bench – that would have been a tacit indication that she was open to such a proposition.
So there you go.
White girls are perceived as sluts.
I was offended, humiliated and ashamed – poor little white girl suffering from ignorant prejudice for the first time in her life. I thought of all my non-white friends, and finally began to understand what they must go through ALL THE TIME.
Recap of all previous posts related to this trip: