Sexual harassment in Belize: Me, too.

Trigger warning: this article will discuss sexual harassment and sexual assault.

After a few mere hours in San Pedro, I was already in love with the food, the historic Belize culture and the people. Well, that’s until I heard a man catcall me from the sidewalk. It was split-second moment, where I zipped over the cobblestones, that again, I, a female solo traveler, encountered sexual harassment.

It was a hot, humid day in Belize, and my thighs were starting to stick to the leather seats of my golf cart, which I cleverly named Peditro. I whipped my gas-powered golf cart around the speed bumps in the streets of San Pedro, Belize. I was careened down the streets riddled with bike, motorcycles and golf carts like my own on my way to a food tour. Minding my own business, I was sexually harassed abroad, again. 

Heyyyyyyy giiiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrl

During my time in Belize, I heard the phrase, “Hey girl,” with an elongated “i” sound and rolling of the “r,” far more times than I can count. (In internet lingo it would look something like “Heyyyyy giiiiiirrrrrrrl.) In Latin American, “Hey girl” is a common greeting, but is also a catcall.

Sometimes it’s hard to decipher between the two. There were times where Defence Force soldiers and police officers would call out, “Hey girl” to me. It was their way to grab my attention. After all, I was a female solo traveler and that was apparently taboo in Belize.

Other times, I’d be climbing the Mayan ruins or driving slowly through a Belizean village with my windows down. As I passed by I’d hear calls of “hey girl” followed with toothy grins and salacious stares. This is what this greeting felt like.

In San Pedro, this particular “Hey girl” was a sexual invitation. As I slowed to creep over a speed bump, in hopes that I wouldn’t skyrocket out of my seat and crash my noggin into the cart’s ceiling, he catcalled me. The young gentleman leered at me as he yelled, “Nice legs.”  

I ignored him, which is what I always do when I get catcalled. He apparently was not happy with my response. The message was clear, I was declining his invitation.

He then shouted, “You have a lot of mosquito bites anyway.” After a pause, he added, “Your legs are awfully hairy.”

How did I take it?

I laughed. The man was insulted that I wasn’t wooed by his sultry greeting. How frail was this man’s ego that he had to ridicule me to prove that my rejection didn’t hurt his feelings?

Frankly, I could care less what this stranger thought of me. His opinion was never wanted or needed. He could call my legs scaly, bumpy, pale and every other insult, but I wouldn’t mind. I wouldn’t let his petty words or his “compliments” affect me.

I’ve learned that catcalls are not a compliment. Nor are they something that I should acknowledge. Catcalls are nothing more than demeaning comments that belittle me to being an object. I’m an object that people can own and fantasize about.

My body is something I celebrate. Yet, I do not need catcalls or any other forms of sexual harassment to make me feel worthy or desirable.

Looking back, did he expect me to slam on the brakes of my golf cart to accept his invitation? Probably, but I wasn’t interested. I was far more interested in feasting on more garanches.

#MeToo

My story is not unfamiliar. It’s the same story told time and time again by women. Virtually all women are sexualized and it starts at a young age. The first time I recall being catcalled was when I was 8 years old. I remember being sexually harassed as young as age 5.

No, this story is not to make you pity me. If anything, I hope it’s a wake-up call to listen. Listen to the truth that survivors of sexual assault and harassment tell and believe them.  

After a wave of survivors coming forward and publicly condoning predators and their abusers, it’s finally time for survivors to take center stage. It’s our turn to speak. It’s your turn to listen. #TimesUp

Resources

Sexual assault is prevalent and is not an issue that should be kept silent anymore. No longer will victims continue to be victimized by not speaking up.

If you are a victim of sexual harassment or sexual assault, or are an ally and want to become more educated, there are many websites you can find support and information. Also, if you are inclined, share your #MeToo story in the comments. If not, take an oath to not only listen to survivors but believe them as well.

There are numerous hotlines for sexual harassment victims and sexual assault survivors. The United States Department of Education also has additional resources for those wanting to learn about sexual harassment and the Center for Disease Control has resources pertaining to sexual assault.

About the Author

Quirky Globetrotter

Hi! I'm Martha! The mastermind behind Quirky Globetrotter a feminist travel blog. Quirky Globetrotter is devoted to telling narratives devoted to female solo travel and hidden gems worldwide with an emphasis on intersectional feminism and how that impacts travel on a global and local level.

36 thoughts on “Sexual harassment in Belize: Me, too.

  1. I’m glad you kept going and didn’t engage in conversation with the guy. I’ve also been catcalled more times than I care to count and have learned to just let them roll off my shoulders and into the gutters where they belong. I know that there are others out there who haven’t been as fortunate. I’m taking the oath to listen and believe the stories!

    1. Hi Rachelle! I think it’s so incredibly sad that women have become numb to catcalls. It’s sad because they are so degrading, yet since they happen so often, we opt to not say anything. But I agree, I’ve brushed them off in the past and have never mentioned them again because I either didn’t want to deal with the drama or didn’t want to be assaulted further (physically or verbally). I guess I’m hoping that someday we have a way to speak out in the moment. Right now, I feel like writing a #MeToo and #TimesUp post is all I can do. Thanks for reading and taking the oath to listen!

  2. This is something very popular if you travel to Muslim countries. They have a tradition of hospitality too and you never know when they are really hospitable (usually when their wives are around) or when they want to have sex with you (usually right after their wives leave to care the children). In Jordan, I was proposed three times only in one day. I had to throw their visit card because there was no other way I could get rid of them. If I’d travel more in this conditions? Yes, besides that they are pushy and insistent, if they touch you, they go to jail, so if I want to experience Jordan, I’ll have to figure out how to adapt to this environment.

    1. Hi Iulia! My fiance is actually originally from Saudi Arabia, so I can understand what you mean by hospitality in the Middle East. (For the sake of not sounding insensitive and coming off as rude, I’m going to frame my comment about all cultures.) I truly believe that this trouble of deciphering between whether someone is being hospitable or coming onto you is a gray area. As you mentioned, a proposal is pretty evident about their intentions, but I think different cultures behave differently which sometimes get construed as a sexual invitation. Yes, someone touching you without their consent is definitely wrong. Yet, there are cultures that insist that they open the door for you, etc. which is their way of being nice and showing their gratitude. I hope my post didn’t seem to state that all acts of hospitality are sexual invitations! Thank you for sharing your story. Safe travels to you!

  3. I’m sorry you had this unfortunate experience in Belize. It looks like a beautiful place, but these things happen a lot, at home and when travelling. Of course, that doesn’t make it right, but when I’m alone somewhere foreign, I just put on my headphones and pretend I can’t hear anyone! Job done 🙂

    1. Hi Lisa! And yes, catcalling and sexual harassment/abuse happens everywhere. Honestly, I think I experience it more at home than abroad, but then again, that could be me giving people, whose customs I’m unsure of, the benefit of the doubt as well. Like you said, ignoring is always an option, I often do that to prevent myself from getting catcalled further or being harmed in another way, but I would like for it to stop. I personally don’t think centuries of ignoring catcalls has worked, so I’m hoping that we can fuel a movement that can help women and also stop catcalling from happening. Thanks for reading and sharing your tips!

  4. I always find ignoring these people the best way to handle catcalling. I am sorry for your bad experience and the sad part is, there’s so much of this going around the world, it’s just irritating and frustrating as a solo woman traveller to have to face such creeps. And I don’t think I have come across any woman who hasn’t faced some or the other form of sexual harassment. I mean, seriously, we are in the 21st century and still having to deal with such ridiculous demeaning behavior from men!

    1. Hi Medha! I definitely agree that it’s ridiculous that girls age 8 have to learn that men are just going to be demeaning towards you for the rest of your life. Or we try to romanticize catcalling and young boys teasing girls by justifying it and saying, “Boys will be boys.” Society needs to tackle these issues head on so young girls no longer have to ignore catcallers. We should feel empowered enough to stand up for ourselves, but also feel safe enough to do so. Thanks for reading and sharing your insight!

  5. I know a lot of women who would enjoy having that kind of attention on them but I know many ladies aswell who would just ignore them and I am one of these ladies. Wherever we go or are there will always be more or less a catcall….it is just up to each the one of us to decide how to act on that. I have to admit though that the guy answers to your rejection were quite hilarious….haha mosquitos bites?

    1. Hi Dada! You bring up an interesting point about catcalling be considered a compliment. I think this is deeply rooted in our upbringing. I remember as a child, adults would tell me that if a boy was mean to me at school or teased me, it meant that he liked me. So I learned at a young age that sexual harassment equated to romantic feelings. How messed up is that? Yet, like in my situation, even if I do not choose to respond, I damage a man’s ego. And yes, my legs were covered with bug bites from trekking in the jungle prior to visiting the cayes. Then again, it wasn’t in that mans place to comment on my appearance. Thanks for reading and sharing your story!

  6. I had a similar experience in Marseille. But I was walking with a woman I met in the hostel and we were chatting. It was clear to them that we were not French and probably tourists. I was looking at her while talking, so I actually had no idea of who was in front of me nor near.
    So, we were walking and I remember just freezing when a guy with some friends touched my hair. He had absolutely no reason to do that. He simply invaded my personal space without no consent telling me something I didn’t and couldn’t understand.
    It seems so stupid and nonsense, but I just felt so turbated by it. And I shouldn’t have.
    As you shouldn’t have to worry about being catcalled, nor try to normalize it. We have the power of the world, we can use our mind, and we can, we have to respect each other. Women, men, gay, lesbians, transexuals… we all are just human beings.
    Thank you for sharing!

    1. Hi Veronica! Yes, that man invading your personal space was sexual harassment/sexual assault. And how sad to hear that you and I and many other women have this happen to us numerous times in our lives. Consent is a very important issue to discuss. Yes means yes, right? And yes, society has framed these problems as “stupid and trivial.” But they aren’t. It’s about women’s wellbeing and frankly, it means like society just doesn’t give. Again, thank you for sharing your story and being so brave. Safe travels to you!

  7. Ignoring them is the only way to go! Haha that his fragile ego couldn’t take it! They can dish it but not take it. My worst experience with sexual harassment while traveling was in Morocco. And I was even with my husband but that didn’t stop the men from even trying to actually touch me and of course, plenty of remarks.

    1. Hi Heidi! Yes, ignoring is the easiest thing to do, but I’m wondering if eventually there will be other options for women who are catcalled. Right now, if I were to lecture or try to educate this man about how catcalling is wrong and demeaning I could be sexually harassed even more, or worse. Isn’t it sad that women have to opt to stay silent to stay safe? Yes, when people try to touch you, that’s extremely unsafe and crosses into sexual assault. Thank you for sharing your story!

  8. Ignoring is the right thing to do. It happened to me a few times, but just moving on seem to be the right call. It’s not even worth my attention, if you can’t evolve pass the monkey stage (and I don’t mean to insult the primates, because some of these cat callers are even beneath that)

    1. Hi Ana! Ha, I loved your monkey joke. And yes, how they are behaving is crude and awful. Yet, society continues to reinforce the idea that catcalling is a compliment. I remember returning from this trip and telling people about this bizarre experience and many people I told mentioned, “Well at least you’re considered pretty and were catcalled.” That’s not the point! I should be able to walk down the street and not be objectified by “monkey behaving men.” Thanks for reading, safe travels!

  9. I remember being catcalled at when I was 11 years old and volunteering in Mexico. My mom had to sit me down and show me what to wear when we visited so as to avoid this sort of thing. It’s definitely a problem and you’re right, ignoring is the best thing to do to deflect attention but it doesn’t always work when it’s aggressively engrained in many males around the world.

    1. Hi Christina! How sad that it happened to you, but also at such a young age. Yet, again, society ingrains in us that we are “asking for it.” From the clothes we wear, to the way we walk. I think society is slowly deconstructing this idea, but it’s never a woman’s fault for being at the receiving end of a catcall. Just to clarify, I’m not saying your mother was wrong for telling you as a young girl to wear different clothing. I’m just disappointed in society overall that it had to come to that point. That you, an 11-year-old had to dress differently to prevent sexual harassment instead of the fully grown man having to change his behavior. Thank you for sharing your story!

  10. Thank you for sharing. I know it can be hard. I had a horrible experience when I was in Samana in the Dominican Republic. It really sticks with you, and I would absolutely never go back there, even for work.

  11. Oh my, I wouldn’t even be able to remember all the times I was being catcalled. The thing is, I grew up in Ukraine and it is so common there that is becomes a part of the normal routine, especially if you are walking alone, anywhere, any time of the day. It is annoying at best, you learn to just ignore it. How about being groped by people you don’t know? I would still usually just laugh it off, because I don’t know how to deal with this properly, but I am sure I could sue if I was in the USA 😀
    Sorry for joking around, it could be so much worse than catcalling or even groping, and it is an important issue to discuss.

    1. Hi Lena! One of my best friends is actually from Ukraine and said the same thing to me. And you’re not at fault for joking about this subject, honestly, it’s hard not to poke fun a little bit because of the ridiculousness of the situation. Women are demeaned to being sexual objects yet society continues to think it’s OK? That in itself is ludicrous. You’re right it could be worse, but sexual harassment or any sort of sexual assault/violence should not be tolerated. Thanks for reading!

  12. Sadly this is a scenario that all too many women are familiar with. What makes men think they have a right to comment on our bodies and what a ridiculous reaction to sling an insult because you ignored his advances. You did the right thing by ignoring him but I know there would be a part of me who would have been tempted to sling an insult back.

    1. Hi Jayne! Oh I was very tempted to give him a mouthful! Then again, I was whizzing by on a golf cart and wasn’t going sidetrack my day to deal with him. I hope it’s evident that I too am frustrated that women still have to deal with this bullshit. Thanks for reading!

  13. Good work ignoring these type of cat calls – I’ve experienced similar situations all over the world, and found it particularly prevalent in South and Central America. Costa Rica, which is very close to Belize, was one of the places it happened the most, as well as the Middle East. Thankyou for speaking out about how, even though it may be perceived as harmless, it’s not ok.

    1. Hi Meg! Thank you for emphasizing, “even though it may be perceived as harmless, it’s not OK.” You’re completely right, though. It’s not harmless, and it has to stop. Like you said, catcalling happens all over the world. So it’s a societal issue that we need to reform. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  14. “Looking back, did he expect me to slam on the brakes of my golf cart to accept his invitation?” This is what I am always wondering. It’s baffling, really, to think that the person doing the cat-calling actually thinks this might be a successful way of hitting on someone! It ALMOST makes me feel sorry for the person for not knowing how to communicate properly with women. ALMOST — but not quite. I’m glad that this particular episode didn’t escalate into anything more serious. Although you must have been pretty hurt by the mosquito bite comment! 😉 😉 😉

  15. I am sorry you had to go through this. I’ve been cat called more times than I can count and it is awful that many women have the same experience. Doesn’t matter if it is a first world country or a third world one. I have investigated around the best way to deal with street harrassment and I have written a couple of articles, but the bottom line is that we should teach men not to harrasss instead of teaching women how to deal with harrassment. I hope at some point this notion spreads. Safe travels!

    1. Hi Dann! Thank you for saying, “the bottom line is that we should teach men not to harass instead of teaching women how to deal with harassment.” This is a crucial point that I hope everyone takes away. Stopping sexual harassment should not rely on the victim, but it does. Victims are blamed and shamed for “asking for it” and wearing revealing clothing, which is not the point. The point is that men think that it’s OK to objectify women, when, in reality, it’s not. Thank you for making that point. Safe travels to you too!

    1. Hello! And yes, I left Belize with so many good memories! I’m not the type of traveler who will let one bad experience ruin her entire trip, especially sexual harassment because it’s such a common thing. I don’t say that to brush off the instance, but to stand above it. I deserve more respect than what that man gave me and to let him taint the wonderful memories I have in Belize would be to let him have power over me. Thaks for reading and your words of encouragement!

  16. Something similar happened to me in Santorini. I was there out of season and local guys thought that just because I was traveling solo, I was looking for ‘male company’. Of course I didn’t let this ruin my trip but sometimes I felt a little uncomfortable.

    1. Val, thank you for sharing your story. Isn’t it sad that women constantly feel uncomfortable and as if we can’t enjoy ourselves (WE’RE ON VACATION FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!). It’s assumed that we are objects to be lusted after and I’ve had had enough, and it sounds like you have too. I’m sorry that this happened to you and honestly, I hope you gave that man hell! Kudos to you for rising above and being a badass woman! #TimesUp Happy and safe travels to you, my dear!

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