DARE TO ASK: Are remarks harassment or flattery?

By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union

Question

Is Latino culture more sexist? I can't walk through the mostly Latino neighborhood near my house without getting harassed by men who think it's acceptable to make sexual comments or catcalls.

Katie, 23, Korean and white female, Washington, D.C.

Replies

In Latin cultures, men give out piropos ("little gems"), poetic compliments to get a woman's attention, like "You have eyes like the dawn." Also, Latin women don't fall apart at the slightest perception of "harassment" like some Anglo women do. They aren't assumed to be so weak that someone whistling at them should make them cringe in fear. It's a far healthier attitude that encourages women to own their own sexuality, and I plan to pass that along to my daughters.

A.C.C., 38, Mexican and American Indian male, Phoenix

Perhaps Latin men should stick to sending their piropos to Latin women since they won't fall apart. White women don't usually appreciate this kind of attention and wouldn't want their daughters to, either. By the way, is it necessary to grab your crotch when complimenting a woman on her eyes?

William, South Carolina

My many Hispanic male friends hate their catcalling brethren. It's low-class and makes all Hispanic men look bad. So teach your daughters it's OK to be objectified. That's a really positive message to give young girls.

Jay, female, New York

Let an Asian/white girl spout one racist lie after another, and that's OK. But let a righteous Latino brother give them the truth, and one racist Anglo after another drops a load in their pants.

Marisol, 23, Hispanic female, Nogales, Ariz.

Expert says

The Austin-based Latino Comedy Project (www.lcp.org), an award-winning sketch comedy ensemble, pokes raucous fun at this very situation in a popular stage sketch, part of which goes like this:

ANNOUNCER: "Ladies, are you tired of constantly getting hit on every time you go out? Tired of unwanted advances from unsavory characters? Well, pendejos (jerks) can be a thing of the past with the new, all-purpose Pendejo Self-Defense Kit for Women!"

Founding member Adrian Villegas says the skit touches a huge nerve.

"Whenever we do that, the Latinas in the audience go crazy, particularly when the Mojado Pendejo [a male jerk who also happens to be an undocumented border crosser] comes out."

"These women know that [catcalling] is not acceptable," Villegas said. "By mocking it, it's a cathartic release."

Lobbing verbal assaults isn't unique to Hispanic men, he added; all groups contain such rogues. Among Hispanics, it's mostly lower-class Mexican immigrants who haven't assimilated into U.S. culture, may lack a sense of power and "if they can get away with it and someone doesn't say -- -- you, they may sense someone is being flattered."

"My girlfriend would make them wish they'd never done it." 

Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee), moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL 32231. Include contact information.