Me too

Let me tell you what happens when you mix two dozen Spanish tourists, three fruit trays and a single wild monkey. In a word: emoción.

Our tour group, which was raucous to begin with, reached a whole new level when that little animal swooped onto the bow of our boat, snatched a banana out of the guide’s hand and then shoved the whole thing in his mouth. Exciting as a story about a monkey on a speedboat may be to a travel blogger, I was not amused. As everyone rushed forward to get a better look at our little guest, I was pushing my way to the stern, as much to avoid the wildlife as our tour guide, Matt, who somewhere in the middle of all that chaos found the time to grab my ass.

I’ll be the first to admit, the front of the boat was so crowded that I thought it might have been a mistake. But then it happened a second time; there was no mistaking that. Someone had grabbed my ass not once, but twice. And I had a pretty good idea who it was before I even turned around.

Don’t do that,” I said, locking eyes with Matt.

“Oh sorry, sorry,” he replied, motioning to the fruit that the monkey was now holding. “It was the banana.”

As excuses go, it was a pretty stupid one. I’ve been eating bananas my entire life and I’ve never accidentally grabbed ass in the process. I would have told Matt as much, but just then the monkey caught sight of a box of sandwiches and went on a tear straight through the Spanish mob. The monkey screamed, the Spaniards screamed and for a second it looked like the whole boat was going to go bananas. Then, just as order was about to be restored, the monkey pooped, which set off an even bigger and grander kerfuffle than the one that came just before.

In other words, the moment was lost. So I just walked away.

Truth be told, I wasn’t that surprised about the whole thing. I wasn’t that upset about it either. It happens all the time, so I’m used to it. For example, the week before my encounter with Matt, I had the misfortune of being seated on a plane across the aisle from a Serbian man who continuously leered at me during the nine-hour flight from Helsinki to Bangkok. Every time I got up to use the bathroom or stretch my legs, he did the same and then positioned himself directly in front of my seat and refused to move as I squeezed past. His behavior was so egregious that a flight attendant intervened – not like it helped much. When we sat back down, he got right back to staring. Thankfully, I was wearing a hood, which is something that I started doing a year ago when the same problem came up on a flight to Fiji.

There’s more, of course. The endless catcalls on the street, the more subtle examples of sexism at work, the anonymous advances on the internet. I have no shortage of material, is what I’m saying, and the downside to all that “experience” is that none of it shocks me anymore. I’ve gotten to the point that paying for a service and having my ass grabbed in the process is a mere annoyance – like too-hot coffee or train delay. I was about to shrug this incident off, much like I did on the airplane the week before and the street the week before that, even though it didn’t seem fair. To ignore what just happened was a tacit approval, a small signal that Matt can do whatever he wants and face no consequences. Avoiding confrontation feeds the cycle.

On the other hand, to raise the issue with the other members of the crew or the tour operator was to set in motion a series of events that could cost Matt his job. One might argue that he deserves just that since part of his job involves acting like a decent human being. But I didn’t want to be the one responsible for getting him fired – even if I knew it was really he who was to blame. I didn’t like that option either.

Besides, if Thailand is anything like America, speaking up would be an exercise in futility. There was no right way to do it:  If I reported the incident to another crew member right away, I’d probably be typecast as “hysterical” and written off as “overreacting.” If I took the time to gather my thoughts, consider my options and then contact the organizer later, they would probably wonder why I was waiting. Even if the crew or tour operator heard me out – which is a really big if – there would be all the messy follow ups: this business about the pictures I allowed Matt to take of me earlier in the day when I clearly seemed to be enjoying myself; the ones from after the incident, in which I still look pretty cheerful; that I posted all of them online. There’s the matter of my dress, or lack thereof; there’s the fact that before all of this happened, I shared my email address with Matt so that he could send me the photos; there’s the tip that I left for the staff, presumably for a job well done.

All that would come up. And it wouldn’t matter that everyone else on the boat did the same thing. That they also took photos, handed over their email addresses, walked around half-naked and said “thank you” at the end. They weren’t the ones complaining, I was. In fact, I was the only one complaining, so the problem must be with me. And if my problem didn’t stem from one of those things mentioned above, then it just must be something else I did or didn’t do. Case closed.

You may think I sound cynical, but I’m really not. I know that for a fact that’s how it would play out because I did mention the incident to someone a few minutes afterwards: an Australian man. He wouldn’t have been my first choice for a sounding board, but he was the only other person on the boat who spoke fluent English, so I decided he would have to do.

I didn’t expect him to be angry on my behalf or advocate for me in any way. I just thought he’d listen and, in some small way, acknowledge what happened and agree that it was wrong. But I got nothing, not a single word. He merely raised his eyebrows behind his mirrored sunglasses and then turned back to his much younger Thai girlfriend – a woman he twice praised earlier in the day for her ability to get out of bed and onto a boat. It was a dig made all the worse when, a few hours later, I watched him glare at a Chinese tourist with the heat of a hundred suns for accidentally kicking sand on his beach mat. If only I mattered as much as a towel.

 

But now I’m getting ahead of myself, which might not be a bad thing since this type of tangential thinking is exactly what happens when a woman is trying to decide how to react to being harassed. Back on the boat, I decided to play it down the middle: I would say something to Matt (again) and also imply that I intended to file a complaint with the tour operator later. With any luck, I might cause enough concern that he’ll change his behavior for a time, or at least think twice about doing the same thing again.

As I made my way to the front of the boat, I didn’t bother figuring out what I’d say. I knew from experience that the person being confronted will always be in a rush to speak first, usually with an expertly crafted line designed to catch the other person off guard and make her doubt the whole thing happened the way she thinks it did. Whatever speech she practiced beforehand won’t make sense as a response and she’d be left sputtering and stumbling, looking even more foolish than she already felt.

But this conversation would be unlike any other I’ve ever had, mostly because one of us was covered in monkey shit. Let me tell you, if you ever find yourself gearing up to confront a sexual predator only to find that a monkey had, just moments earlier, flung its feces at that very person, you will take it as a signal from the universe that you are doing the right thing. I chalked the whole thing up as karma, swift and merciless.

But even in his sorry state, Matt didn’t miss a beat. “It was the banana,” he insisted before I could say a word. He paused as he tried to flick shit from his hands into the water. “I had to hold it low, so that the monkey wouldn’t take it.” It was an utterly ridiculous explanation, one that I would never believe, unless presented with a bunch of magical, hand-shaped, full-motion bananas.

“I don’t believe you,” I said. “And no one else will either.”

The irony of my response was not lost on me. After all, it is the threat of disbelief that keeps women from speaking up about these things in the first place. I’m happy to report, that line works both ways. It was with great satisfaction that I watched Matt wipe his shit-stained hands down the front of his shirt and look nervously at the other two members of the crew. He set off almost immediately, speaking in a furious bout of Thai to the boat pilot. He was covered in shit – and he was full of it too.

"There is 1 thing that lets down this hotel and that is the breakfast. Although there were lots of things about, breakfast was limited so much that we were contemplating cereal. Eggs are freshly cooked but there is 1 person for it and it's so slow. So I think they might need to get 2 pans on the go. Bacon was dire, looked awful I didn't even try it. Sausages and ham is the fully processed kind. Even though some items had covers they were often left open such as for bread and pastries and flies were all over them. I had no end of bites from being stood waiting for eggs or sat eating. Not good. Maybe get some fly catching strips." Reading hotel reviews sometimes double as entertainment…. oh, and any notes on hotel location? #view #hiking #hike #thailand #railaybay #nature #travelblog #travelblogger #solotravel #travel #travelgram #blog #blogger #wanderlust #mountains #beach #beachlife

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For the rest of the day, I kept my distance from Matt as best one could on a 40-passenger speedboat. He did the same, which led me to believe that my threat – empty as it was – was received. Matt all but confirmed that at the very end of the day when he pulled me aside on the pier and finally apologized.

“I’m sorry about that,” he said. “The touchy touchy.”

For a moment, I was actually pleased. He had admitted what he did, instead of hiding behind a piece of fruit. This, many women will agree, is extremely rare.

And then I got even sadder, because this behavior is so common, the harassment of women so engrained in cultures all around the world, that this is what passes for a win: an hours-late, half-hearted apology in suddenly broken English issued under duress. Make no mistake, Matt wasn’t sorry about what he did – he was sorry that he did it to the single girl in the flimsy dress who turned out to be a 35-year old American lady with a couple of tricks in her bag.

Right down the middle. #thailand #beach #beachlife #travel #travelgram #traveling #wanderlust #phiphiisland #wanderlust

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If you’ve read this far, then I’ll assume you’re of like mind. Either you’ve experienced something like what I’ve described or you’re horrified by the idea that it happens to others. The people who “just don’t get the point here” have dropped off a couple thousand words ago. That’s fine. The post isn’t for them. It’s for you. It’s for the women who suffer in silence and the countless other people who sit idly by while this sort of thing happens day after day. We need to agree to do better – for ourselves and each other. We might not be able to change anyone’s behavior, but we can at least make it harder for them to get away unchecked.

It’s a daunting problem and it’s hard to get into the habit of chipping away at it – as I so clearly demonstrated by failing to contact the tour operator afterwards, if only as a formality. But progress is slow and steady. Any action, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction. I might regret not doing more now, but I’m glad I did something. There was value in that, if only for myself.

This post will do something too, I’m sure of it. It will make at least one person “unfollow” me when they recognize their own deplorable, pathetic behavior. And it will prompt five more people – women and men alike – to write to me privately or comment publicly, offering words of encouragement, promising to do better and apologizing for the rest of humankind.

In case you didn’t catch that, the ratio is 1:5. We’re all getting a little louder and it’s only a matter of time before our voices outnumber the rest. Change is coming, and when it does…. Well, you better watch your towel.

 

 

7 Comments
  1. I think I’d have done just what you did (hahahaha banana indeed…), and leave him waiting for the other shoe (the complaint you mentioned to the management) to drop. It’s the threat, not the reality, that unnerves them. He may, even now, be practicing his “but but but” routine for when It Happens.

    Complaining to the management would make you sound like a whiney american broad who sees a mayun under her bed every night. They might even have a good chuckle with Matt later over it.

    This way, he gets to stew a bit.

    • Yes, you’re probably right. I’ve noticed that the second I complain about anything while traveling, I instantly become “an American.” (I don’t know why we have the worst reputation, honestly. There are outliers, sure… but in general I see other tourists do far worse than we.) Anyway, that’s the sad truth. That if I brought this up, I’d probably be the center of a good laugh later – which would bother me more than the original offense. Still, I kind of think that if “we” don’t start doing more than just making threats then there are no consequences, and thus nothing will ever change. I will be channeling all my American-ness towards that goal.

  2. girl.

    You rock.

    i’d say more but i have to run a call in 5.. no, 4 minutes, and i’m not sure what i scheduled the call about.

  3. I’m thinking, too, that as Americans we’re far less publicly touchy touchy than in many other countries. In some countries women are offended if someone DOESN’T pinch. Or pat. We tend to rear like wounded elks, where a local woman would consider it flattery.

    • I respectly disagree. I’ve never met a woman who was offended that her ass wasn’t pinched. If there is such a person, I’d like to meet her. She needs her head examined. Also, even if we did want to say it’s a cultural difference, in this case, it’s not. Thailand is actually pretty conservative, which is ironic (?) since it’s a beachgoers paradise and everyone’s wandering around near naked. A Thai woman wouldn’t find such behavior “flattering”… and I did not react as “a wounded elk.” Let’s try not to perpetuate the problem with flawed thinking, shall we?

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