Last night on my way home after dinner (around midnight) I got a good taste of harassment from a crazy, vulgar Frenchmen.
I sat across from a man on the metro, whose penetrating eyes on my body made his misguidance evident, and within minutes he began to talk "at" me rather than to me, as I was but an object. He said some very inappropriate, crude, insulting, derogatory things to me (insinuating I was the kind of woman that would come home with him, to put it nicely), all of which elicited reactions from the other men on the train. I was grateful for the defense, as I really didn't know how to react. My first feeling was that of sympathy, as this man was clearly not right in the head. But then as he gestured to my exposed shins (I was wearing a just-below-the-knee dress, not at all scandalous) and stated, "C'est une salope," I was filled with the urge to punch him hard in the face, and spit on the ground in front of him. Instead, I alternated between laughing with the other bystanders at his impudence, and giving him stone-cold eyes for his abhorrent behavior.
The disturbing part of this situation was not the insult or debasement I received, nor was it even the disrespect for women in general that this man showed. Rather, it was the moral dilemma I faced afterwards, in trying to decide what would have been the most virtuous way to react. Was it virtuous of me to not really react to the man? Sure, it was safer and empathetic, as he was clearly not right in the head. But it also didn't feel just. I didn't do anything to teach or help the man, or even to simply defend myself against such degradation. I believe anger has its place, and I even think there are times it is important to react to the feeling of anger. But I also know the danger of such reactions, if improper.
Anyone who reads this, I would be really interested in hearing other perspectives on this situation. Please post a comment or contact me in some way :)