I was told once that Kelowna’s gender ratio is skewed because there are more women in our city than men. As a single female, that made me feel like I was at high risk of growing old in Kelowna, single, and alone. But recently, I noticed in tourist season the ratio is not always true in Kelowna and that might be just as bad.
When the summer comes our way and the tourist season is in full force – all of a sudden there are groups of men everywhere; Kelowna seems to be a tourist hot spot for the city-dwelling male entourage. I’m aware of this because of the visual and verbal attention that noticeably increases in the summer.
When I’m out in Kelowna between September to May, I can walk around the entire downtown core and not have a single man talk to me. But in July, if I step one foot onto the boardwalk or mosey down to my favorite coffee shop, I’m suddenly very aware of my presence. I’m not a supermodel and I don’t have a sign on my shirt saying “please tell me how pretty I am” but when I walk down Bernard past the bar patios in the summer, I wind up feeling very self-conscious. Self conscious that I’m being watched or gawked at by men in a way that was not invited. You know…when you can just feel eyes on you?
For the longest time I’ve been walking the streets and taking these glances and small comments from tourists simply as compliments. However, I recently went out with a girlfriend and she offered a very different and possibly more accurate perspective. We were approached by a man who complimented us on our appearance saying we looked “Hott” and she got so frustrated. I told her it wasn’t so bad and we should just take it as a compliment. But she had a different word for it : harassment.
This change in terminology made me think. I would never stop in my tracks and tell a man how ‘Hott’ he was because that would be invading his space. He doesn’t know me and I don’t know him. I have no right to interrupt his night in such an assuming and disrespectful way. So why do some men think it’s completely okay to do that to women?
We’re taught growing up that we should take any nice thing men say about us as compliments. But when a man is a complete stranger who compliments you and then you proceed to be polite and say thank you, this could be opening a door you wish you never opened. It’s like saying we don’t have a say in who we wish to engage with. As soon as my friend and I had this conversation my entire perspective changed when I went out last Saturday night.
I went into a pub downtown to see a live music show where an uncomfortable series of events happened. When I first walked in, not even two feet into the entrance, a drunk man decided it was completely okay to push me and grab my ass. Then he continued walking without an apology even after I turned around and yelled at him. I tried to brush it off, but I realized that I had just been assaulted by a stranger. I was so bothered by it that it was written all over my face. Me, not being my overly smiley self, grabbed the attention of a man who came up to me and told me I looked pissed and clearly did not want to be there. I had never met this gentleman, he had no right to judge me. But he thought it was okay to tell me exactly how I was feeling. Following this encounter, his other friend came up to me without an introduction to ask me if I wanted to go home with him!
In the span of one night I was rudely awakened to the fact that if you are a female without a male partner close by, you are at risk of physical assault, verbal harassment, and unsolicited attention. This has never happened to me going out during our shoulder seasons.
Another problem was I didn’t know what to do in this uncomfortable situation. It’s an emotionally jarring situation and most women are not prepared with what to do. In hindsight maybe talking to security would have been the best bet. But because of how women are historically conditioned to thinking, I still had underlying thoughts like: “Maybe I was asking for it”, “Maybe my dress was too fitted”, or “Maybe I should be more understanding”. And I know that kind of thinking is wrong. I am not to blame for a strangers disrespectful behavior.
So for all of those young women out there going out tonight and for the rest of the summer weekends to come, be sure that if you feel uncomfortable you’re prepared with what to do and tell someone! If there’s anything I learned last Saturday, it was that I should be prepared, hold my ground, respect and protect myself.
It seems that tourists have a “no f*c*s given” attitude when travelling. But to the male tourists in Kelowna, it’s not okay to make women feel unsafe in their home town. We are not an inclusive part of your vacation. Be respectful of the people in the town you visit. It’s a privilege, not a right to travel here. There is no good excuse to disrespect and harass women. We are equals and not physical objects to be talked to however you like and grabbed at when you decide it is okay.
This experience was one I thought I would share because I know I cannot be the only one who’s been objectified in such a way. We live in such a beautiful city, full of beautiful people, and while we welcome you to share the beauty, all we ask is that treat us and our city with respect.
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