"I Don't Have the Pussy for Little Lanterns"

“I Don’t Have the Pussy for Little Lanterns”

There’s a fantastic idiom in Spanish used to express exasperation, employed mainly by women: No tengo el coño para farolillos. In English: “I don’t have the pussy for little lanterns.”

If someone’s nagging you, the boss hounding you for results – use it. Irritating customers got you down – use it. You’ve had it up to here with misguided misogynist behaviour – let it rip.

One afternoon in Essaouira, a vibrant fortress city on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, my travel companion Amy didn’t have nothin’ for little lanterns.

No sooner had we left the hostel did two young local guys, leaning nonchalantly on the laneway wall opposite, comment on Amy’s physique: “Hey, I like your ass.”

Clumsy, offensive flattery at best, sexual harassment at worst, in a second Amy’s fury, cumulated over some weeks in Morocco, propelled her to spit in the man’s face. The next second, I grabbed her arm and hurried us toward town.

Amy was as shocked as I; “I didn’t expect to do that, I just lost my shit.” But instead of going on about the danger it could’ve caused – those guys might’ve flared up against her brash retaliation, plus they knew where we were staying – I began to think: when are women excused for fiery behaviour?

I’m not endorsing a face-spit; in any case, this only aggravated said male’s disrespect for the female he already sought to degrade. Even a firm “Fuck off” might’ve been pushing it in a country where women need their husband’s permission for divorce and there are no laws prohibiting domestic violence.

But the ass-comment guy had sexually harassed her, eroding her dignity and sense of security right at the hostel, where she should feel safest. What did he expect? In fact, what does any man of such behaviour expect?

Post-face-spit, I began to acknowledge that we women, on the whole, command ourselves with exceptional composure despite the deluge of harassment and frustration that plagues us every day, home and abroad.

Consider this: Amy’s response was a once off in my year-long trip, during which I observed disturbing interactions between local men and tourist women in Sri Lanka, was touched, ogled and ignored for my gender in India, and bore gnarly mood swings from an Iranian couchsurfing host after highlighting his sexist comments.

These aren’t isolated incidences; we all know female travellers’ stories of public bus gropes, unsolicited proposals for sex, being insulted for declining, “acceptable” coercion and rape, as well as wearing the blame when something goes wrong. “What were you thinking when you went drinking with him?”

Equally demoralising in regards to travel – something that strips my pussy of lanterns completely – is learning about how local women fare in countries we laud for their spiritual substance (witch hunts and dowry deaths continue in India) or visit for their “exotic” beauty.

Thailand’s multibillion-dollar sex tourism industry, based partly on the perverse concept of watching a Thai woman pull razor blades from her vagina, perfectly captures how local women assume the supply for the (white) male tourist’s demand. Sex work catered to tourists in Southeast Asian countries is growing.

Additionally, consider how the female body is employed in tourism advertising. Take the archetypical Hawaiian woman, who appears fleshy, curvy and often reclined (see: submissive) in so many Hawaiian getaway travel brochures. Aloha, boys – come and get her.

Feminism has long suffered a branding issue, but the image of unshaven, pitchfork-yielding feminists fighting to strip men’s rights and banish them from the kingdom is exhausted and irrelevant.

Feminism is the search for social, political and economic equality between genders. When another female travel companion asserted she’s “not into feminism because I know a few feminists who are bitchy and angry about life”, I paused with circumflex brows: “So, you’re not into equality?”

But if it’s not somebody’s nuisance, apparently feminism is a phase, according to a male friend of mine. “Every chick in Norway wants to be a feminist nowadays; it’s a big trend. They still have sex with heaps of guys but act all feminist.”

Allow me to quickly remove these little lanterns before I explain: Perhaps feminism’s “trendiness” explains Norwegian women’s higher than OECD average education and employment levels, Norway’s third ranking position in the 2016 Global Gender Gap Index and longer paternal leave in the Nordic state, a direct benefit for men. And sexual desire and agency aren’t incongruent with equality; they cultivate it, m8.

Relatedly, perhaps the most infuriating aspect of the woman’s experience is explanation itself. Circa-new age, it’s confounding that my male acquaintances still can’t recognise patriarchal plots (“But chicks get free entry and free drinks in clubs!”) or their own sexist conditioning (“You’re not like other girls.”).

And don’t get me started on hypocrisies like the bloke who wouldn’t date a pornography actor but consumes porn, or the partnered man who thinks attending strip shows shouldn’t upset the misso (GH writer Mardi Wilson explored this in her honours thesis.)

Exposed and subjected to sexism over a lifetime, might you imagine why women feel a little angry at times? I’m not talking spit-in-the-face, scream-like-a-banshee angry. I mean, permitted to express our annoyance with a bit of oomph.

We shouldn’t be expected to have the pussy for little lanterns when some people are so hell bent on breaking them.

Cover by Chloe-Ann

Lizzy is a freelance writer on a year-long trip from Bali to Iran. As a graduate of journalism and Spanish, she’s interested in language and culture, and dreams of being a foreign correspondent.