Cat calls

Canadian women are warned about traveling to the Dominican Republic because of the aggressive nature of the men here. More so than any other place I have traveled, this is true. However, when people say ‘aggressive’, I think of strong, forceful and dangerous. This may all be true, but at this point I have not encountered that kind of aggression.

Further than this, if you are a woman who has only ever traveled to a Dominican Resort, you haven’t even begun to see what people are talking about and you probably think they are crazy. Or, if you’ve always traveled with your husband, a boyfriend or a male friend … you may also not have seen this phenomenon of cat calling males!

You know when you walk through a local market and vendors are all calling out to you, talking to you, almost demanding you stop to buy from them and then somehow, because we are all so nice, they convince us to buy something from them? A constant barrage of words from a language you don’t understand intertwined with broken English words can be totally overwhelming if you aren’t expecting it or don’t know how to deal with it.

On the streets of Santo Domingo (and throughout the Dominican) if you are a lady walking alone or in a group of women you will encounter a constant barrage of comments in a variety of languages. It is particularly funny when they say it in Spanish, you don’t respond, then they repeat something in English, then German, then whatever other language they may know bits and pieces of. I guess they think somehow that we don’t understand them, when in fact, we are just ignoring them!

I’ve categorized the men here lovingly into five different categories:

Speak no evil
Attention Grabbers
Genuine Gentlemen
Down right dirty

Despite the stereotype that all Dominican men are persistent in their attention grabbing antics, there are actually lots of men here who don’t do that. Sometimes you get overwhelmed with all of the men that are calling out constantly to you, but when you stop to look around, there are men everywhere who could care less that you are a single white female walking down the street. I’m guessing that these are likely the guys that a white woman SHOULD want to meet because they are likely respectful and well educated. Unfortunately, they are the ones that are less prevelant and harder to strike up a conversation with.

Speak no Evil
The next type of Dominican man is the one who only sees you and doesn’t speak to you. Some of them take a quick glance and if you catch their eye, they are shy and look away. Others take a moment to check you out from head to toe. They have no shame in looking you up and down, head to toe AND they want you to know that they are doing it, they don’t for a second try to hide it. These same men often walk past you and then deliberately turn and check you out again over their shoulder, often offering up a quick playful smile, just begging you to smile back or give them the ok to say hello.

Attention Grabbers
The attention grabbers are the ones that you really have to practice ignoring. They are everywhere. They may look you up and down as well as hollering loudly at you. I am genuine in saying that this happens to me no last than 30 times a day. And, it comes from every direction … behind you, beside you, in front of you, across the street, from the buses passing by. If there are men there, you are almost guaranteed to hear something from them.

The most popular calls I’ve heard are:
Rubia – Blondie
Mami – Mommy, but this word is often used affectionately between couples or friends. It is similar to saying ‘dear’ or ‘sweetie’. Men call women Mami and Women call men Papi. Men here particularly love it when you call them Papi, which you have to be careful of!
Bella – beautiful, or beautiful woman

Often these calls are proceeded by a ‘pst’ or almost a hiss to get your attention. So, it is ‘pst pst pst … rubia!’ ‘Rubia! Rubia, rubia!’

After a little while you get used to ignoring these comments because they are thrown at you constantly, but it is really hard to ignore the hiss that some guys use. I don’t think they really understand how horribly demeaning it is to hiss at a North American woman. It feels so ugly, rude and kind of like being scorned like you would discipline a puppy who is chewing on your shoes.

I’ll be the first to say that these cat-calls are not because I’m drop dead gorgeous! All white, north American women will get these calls. It is simply because I am white and blonde. Oh yes and it helps that I’m curvy. It is a huge cultural difference between North America and Latin America. Latin American men love their chubby ladies. They think it is soft, feminine and beautiful where as North American men tend to be more attracted to skinnier or more fit women. Latin American men go wild for a woman with big hips and an ample toushie! Here, I am affectionately called gordita (a beautiful chubby woman). At home, being called chubby would be horribly offensive! Here, because it is tied together with beautiful, it is a wonderful compliment.

Genuine Gentleman
Amongst all of these other types of men, there are also some genuine gentlemen. Every once in awhile someone will stop me on the street and simply call me beautiful, or bella, but in a really nice, kind way … not by hissing or yelling at me. Most of the time, they just say it and continue walking with a smile. They seem to be just offering up a compliment and not looking for any particular kind of attention or return on their investment … just simply an act of kindness.

One day while I was sitting on a bench in one of the parks in Zona Colonial, an old man came up and stood in front of me. He simply wanted to tell me I looked like Marilyn Munroe. He wasn’t looking for money. He didn’t stay around to chat. He didn’t look at me like a piece of meat. He just simply stopped to give me a compliment. Now, I’m pretty sure I don’t look like Marilyn Munroe, but none-the-less, it was a lovely moment! Even funnier is that I was sitting with one of my Dominican friends at the time. Usually if you are with a Dominican guy, the cat-calls are less prevalent.

Speaking of the genuine gentleman, I have gotten to know a couple so far. And, it just seems to be a different way of life, a different outlook on women and an appreciation for beauty. Men here are full of sweetness for their ladies and have a ton of pet names for the special women in their lives, whether that be as a friend or as a girlfriend. Some of my favorites are:

Mi estrella – my star
Mi Corazon – my heart
Preciosa – precious
Dulcura – sweetness
Princesa – princess
Mami – Mommy

These gentlemen also do things such as watch out for you when you are crossing the crazy traffic packed streets. They open doors for you, pay for you when you are out and genuinely make sure that you feel special, 100% of the time. Now, maybe I’m too trusting, but I like to believe that they are truly genuine in their efforts not just to impress and not just trying to get me in bed. (sorry mom!!!)

Down right Dirty (beware of vulgarity below!)
On a lesser scale than all of the types of men above, there are some men on the streets who are just down right dirty both in their appearance and what comes out of their mouths.

One night as I walked with my first two roommates to Sirena (a store kind of equivalent to our Wal-mart), we got the regular attention that has come to be normal. I’m not sure if I get more attention as a single white girl or if we draw more attention when there are three of us. No matter what, there is always attention showered on the white girls here, good or bad.

On the way home from the store, after dark, around 8pm, we passed by a man who was particularly dirty and vocal. Unfortunately he also called out to us in English so it was very clear what he said.

Loudly, as we walked by he exclaimed ‘I want some p***y. Give me some p***y.’

Why any man would choose to exclaim this loudly at three girls walking by is beyond me. I guess he just wanted to get a reaction from us. Mine was simply ‘Good luck with that’, as the three of us continued down the street a little more quickly than normal.

Further, with things I don’t understand … I don’t understand how Dominican women put up with all of the above! The men here often are calling out to white women or checking them out while they walk along the street holding hands with their girlfriend or wife. Are the girls just used to it?

And, when a guy calls out from a bus or a car, is he trying to draw attention to you or to himself? It isn’t like they expect you to chase after the bus / car and declare your love for them just because they called you beautiful …. Do they?

My local friends tell me the best thing to do with all of the compliments is just to ignore them. There’s no way you could respond to them all anyway or you’d be busy with that all day long! So, for the most part I ignore the comments and just keep on walking like I have no idea the I am the only white person on the street amongst 100 locals who are all various shades of black.

Yesterday on my way home from the Super Mercado one of the bus workers hollered out ‘Ayayay Mami’. I usually ignore the calls, but this one caught my attention, probably because of ‘ayayay’ instead of ‘pst’. I looked up and a young guy winked, nodded and smiled as the bus rushed past. I shook my head and laughed. Regardless of their intentions, who can really complain about getting compliments all day long? If nothing else, the comments make me smile … sometimes I try to hide it inside, but every once in awhile a smile creeps across my face as I think about the fact that some random guy just found me attractive enough to holler at me.

My teacher at school explained to me one day that no one can ever really be depressed here because it if a life of compliments. If you think you are having a bad hair day, you just step outside your house and some random stranger is there to tell you that you are beautiful, or that your hair looks nice. If you are having a bad day, you just walk down the street and the men here will remind you with their looks and their words that you are worth looking at. It is an interesting concept for sure … tonnes of regular compliments have a positive effect on mental health. Maybe it’s true that Dominican is just a happier place to be!

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