Dealing with Personal Space Violations in Jordan
Anyone who has traveled abroad before could attest to the fact that “personal space” isn’t always so spacious: particularly if you are a woman who happens to stand out in a crowd. PSVs, personal space violations, can range from annoying-but-harmless (cat calls, car honks, and declarations of undying love) to definitely-not-okay (touches, assault, etc.).
I – being tall, pale, and blonde – stick out a little bit in Jordan; but I have developed a system. I don’t respond to the whistling, the calling, the honking; I avoid strangers’ gazes and walking too close to anyone. I also adopt a “bitch face” and a “constantly in a hurry” walk whenever I am out. For the most part, I can tune out.
I don’t respond to the whistling, the calling, the honking; I avoid strangers’ gazes and walking too close to anyone.
A few months ago, though, I was walking down my street with my boyfriend (who, as a freckly redhead, also draws some attention) when I felt something brush from my shoulder to my hand: I had just been petted. By a kid. Whaaaat? I had had my fair share of verbal PSVs, but never had any Jordanian touched me – least of all a child. The touch was so soft, weird, and unexpected that I didn’t know how to react. So, I did what I had always done: kept on walking. Since it was just a little boy, I thought maybe this was something innocent, so I laughed it off.
Until times two and three, that is. With each recurring arm-petting, my reaction decreased from laugh, to nervous chuckle, to scowl. Still, I did nothing, because I was unsure of how to treat the problem. For an older male, I would not have hesitated to hurl any number of less-than-polite phrases; but this boy was only a child, barely ten years old. What was his reasoning behind it? Did he know better?
Of course he did. And frankly, his young age and motivation for petting do not matter. What matters is that I was made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, and objectified by someone else’s actions. The petting was wrong by default.
Unfortunately, this little boy is not the only child in Jordan I’ve had problems with. On a day-trip to As-Salt, a 12-year-old tried to solicit me for sex. A teenager shouted impolite pick-up lines at me while following me half way down a street.
Never had any Jordanian touched me – least of all a child. The touch was so soft, weird, and unexpected that I didn’t know how to react.
So what do you do? You say khalas – enough – and you move on, maybe throwing in a blatantly furious stare to make sure your point gets across. I was uncomfortable with the idea of yelling at an unknown child, but am now realizing that their status as “child” makes it even more important to speak up. A child, developing and impressionable, learns social norms and taboos from experience. Ignoring a negative experience will not teach them to stop; saying stop might. It might not change attitudes overnight, but if enough women (and men!) speak up when things like this happen, we could teach the next generation of Jordan to be more respectful of people’s personal spaces.