As with many things during my service, things I knew intellectually are being learned at a more visceral level. While we were still in Vila, I learned more about objectification.
I’ve been wearing a loincloth in the village for a while. When one of the other PCVs heard about this, she requested that I wear it to one of the dance clubs in town during our training. Those of you familiar with how little shame I have will not be surprised to hear that I was game.
I thought about walking in in my shorts and changing there, but that felt too much like sneaking in. Which meant I had to walk half an hour from the hotel to the club in a loin cloth. Some of the other PCVs demanded that I not walk in front of them. I guess I was “distracting.” I walked at the back of the group. I do believe I almost caused a crash or two. I definitely got A LOT of vehicles slowing down to make sure they were seeing things correctly.
Once we got into town, I had to get into the club. There was actually a bet going about whether they would even let me in. It was no problem at all, as I suspected. The security guards were all ni-Van and loved that I was taking their custom so brazenly. Inside the club, more ni-Vans were entertained and pleased to see a white man in a loincloth. The men congratulated me. The womens’ reactions were my objectification lesson.
There were a few ni-Van women who were displaying the timidity we’ve come to expect. I would feel a hand brush against my backside but if I even turned my head towards them a little bit, they would hide their faces and run away. Some of the other women were a bit more aggressive. There was one ni-Van who was definitely interested in white men (after escaping her, I saw her with several others through the night). She was not afraid of dancing a little too close and telling me how awesome she thought I was. I thanked her and moved to a different part of the dance floor.
Then there were the tourists. Apparently this group of women thought it was appropriate to try and flip up the front of the loincloth. Why they thought so, I don’t know. When I asked about flipping up their dress, they didn’t seem to think that was a good idea. Fortunately, doing so to a loincloth does not expose anything except more thigh. Its not like I was wearing a kilt. Again, I needed to put distance and my group of friends between myself and the over-aggressive ladies.
After two hours, the white owner of the place came over and told me to put pants on or leave. I had brought my backpack with pants inside so I could hang around for a bit longer until everyone else was ready to leave.
It was a learning experience for me but I don’t think it was the same as what many women experience when they dress nice or dance at a club. Being physically bigger than the aggressive women and not outnumbered by them at any point, I never felt in any actual danger. For me, this was an unusual event and something I found interesting. If I had to deal with this crap all the time, it would get annoying and frustrating. Thinking about these aspects has given me even more respect for women who put up with aggressive males on a regular basis.
The event was also quite appropriately timed due to a training we had that morning on bystander intervention. The training was a very good conversation about when and how you can and should intervene when you see other PCVs (or anyone for that matter) getting into a potentially dangerous situation. One of the things that was re-enforced for me by the experience was the importance of the group. When I wanted to remove myself from unwanted attention, there were female PCVs I could go dance with. I could also move so that the group as a whole was between myself and the aggressor.
Having made self-defense training one of the major aspects of my life, this has been an invaluable experience for me. Most physical confrontations I am likely to find myself in are going to involve containing an aggressive individual. In teaching others, especially women, I need to also understand how to deal with situations where the main focus is getting away from a dangerous situation. Experience is the best teacher and walking a short way in those shoes allows me to better understand these kinds of situations in which I would not otherwise find myself.
Besides, how many people can say they went to a night club in a loin cloth?