I should be writing a new script. So that I don’t fall behind on my student loans (on can dream, anyway), and so the husband and I can stay fed this summer (the baby, presumably, will have the breast – just like in the “Lady Madonna” song). This naturally means that I am busy participating in useless online debates at Feministe. In the course of one such debate, I have discovered that – egad! – expressing pity for Kate Middleton’s utter loss of anonymity is problematic, ya’ll (I’m beginning to loathe the word “problematic,” btw: it’s right up there with “privilege” and “trigger”).
I don’t know what it’s like to be a diamond tiara-wearing international celebrity, but I do know what it’s like to experience a partial loss of anonymity. When I lived in Amman, Jordan, in the years 2008 – 2009, I couldn’t step outside and walk down the street without shit going down. At all. Seriously. I was a young foreign woman, and a conspicuously Slavic foreign woman on top of that, in a country where ladies like me are too often associated with being “easy”. Even some people who weren’t interested in getting a piece of me felt that they had every right to point, stare, make comments, and sometimes even follow me around as I tried to, say buy tampons or whatever. People took pictures of me with their mobile phones. Entire tables full of people would get curious, sometimes even viciously curious, if I wanted to have a drink at a restaurant at night. Girls made comments about me in club bathrooms, unaware of the fact that I could usually understand what it was they were saying about me in Arabic, so that I couldn’t even pee in peace.
We all lose our privacy when we go outside, but my loss of privacy on the streets of Amman was nearly total. I wasn’t a person – I was a curiosity at best. A lot of factors contributed to this – not just my gender, appearance, and age. I had a halo of vulnerability around me. I couldn’t get used to what was happening. Unlike some other people who find themselves in similar situations, I couldn’t cope with the situation, which only increased the attention.
Even kind attention, people calling me beautiful in an attempt to make me feel welcome (both men and women did this), devastated me. I moved about the city from safe space to safe space – house, gym, expensive hotel bar, friend’s house, etc. – tensing up every time I had to mix with “ordinary people.” The worst was being intruded upon in places I had initially decided were safe. I had felt comfortable going on shopping trips, and then the first time a group of grown men started making comments and pointing their fingers at City Mall, I went home and cried for hours. The same thing happened when I discovered that the guys who worked at the gym I attended had tried to get the women’s locker room attendant to covertly snap pictures of me with her mobile when I changed (when she had refused, they pestered her with questions about my body – what did it look like naked? When she told them they were being assholes, they were shocked, she said, because to them, what they were doing was completely innocent – they never even imagined that to someone like me, what they were doing amounted to a colossal, total betrayal).
Incidentally, I was pampered in Amman. I never had to hustle for money like I do in Moscow. I didn’t have to borrow at the end of the month, or delay medical procedures while I waited for a freelance fee to come through. I didn’t lie awake at night, wondering what on earth I would do when my savings ran out (as they’re about to, again!). I ate great food. I took mini-breaks at great hotels. Ladies were paid to put expensive pumpkin goo on my face and massage my back. I certainly never cleaned my own bathroom or cooked. I still have fabulous clothes and accessories from that period of my life, vestiges of past luxury: delicate cashmere scarves, sparkling Donna Karan dresses, pearls, giant sunglasses, golden keychains, designer tunics that now nicely contain my baby bump. I rocked that shit, yo. I was queen of it.
But the price was too steep. There were other factors that contributed to my ultimate decision to leave, many of them private, but the mere fact of my day-to-day existence in Amman had exhausted and worn me down to the point that I, little miss spoiled, went all the way to the crazy former USSR in order to get my shit together and heal. Seriously. I found healing in a place where the metro gets blown up, for God’s sake.
Incidentally, I had moved to Amman for love. That love was very much a real thing, which is why it chaps my hide to hear people make snide comments about the “real” reason why Kate Middleton married William (what do we officially refer to him as, now? Do I care?). Considering the Middletons are rich, I seriously doubt that money was at stake. Despite my own feelings about the British monarchy, which are conflicting, I think there’s actually a whole lot of sexism and snobbery involved in subtly making the claim that this girl is a damn gold-digger. Seriously, people, even royals, even rich folks, meet and fall in love – and then have to make sacrifices for that love. It happens, and I view Kate Middleton’s loss of privacy as a pretty giant freaking sacrifice.
I’ve got no doubt that Kate Middleton will be able to handle being a mega-celebrity. I’ve got good money on her! She rocks those tiaras! Still, unwanted attention can be a bitch for someone who still remembers what it’s like to walk down the street like a normal person. It can leave you feeling exhausted and bitter and hunted, and for anyone who thinks otherwise, I sincerely invite you to try it out for yourself.
6 thoughts on “Per the Wills and Kate debate: yes, losing your anonymity can, in fact, suck”
I can completely relate to this post, as this was my experience while living for two years in Kolkata, India. It’s a really strange and difficult thing to juggle all of the things you mention — curiosity, male entitlement, white/Western privilege, safety, assumptions of sexual availability, ubiquitous visibility, etc — with simply living daily life… especially when you’re living somewhere at the behest of another. And it can be so overwhelming in ways that are hard to convey to people who haven’t lived it themselves. When people asked me what I missed the most about living in the US, the first thing that always came to mind was anonymity.
I doubt Kate ex-Middleton will have to cope with the same set of circumstances as you did, since gawking observers are likely to treat her with breathless respect rather than elbowing each other and saying “Woo HOO!! Would I like to climb aboard THAT!!!”. But unwanted attention has certainly driven another princess we all remember almost out of her mind, and certainly out of her manners.
I’m not sure where Arab men get their conviction that single white women are promiscuous as rabbits and will do it with anyone at the drop of a castanet, but it seems to be pretty widespread. When warships are in port, crew members often get hotel rooms to get away for awhile from ship food, and the constant noise and clamor aboard. Quite a few of those sailors, now, are women, and some who are friends told me about how they were treated in places like Jebel Ali and Dubai. They said when they were lounging poolside in their bathing suits, Arab men would cluster on the balconies and make kissing sounds with their mouths, and rub their fingers together in the universal money gesture. For a place that prides itself on courtesy to strangers, this kind of behavior is obviously off the map – but they told me the remarkable thing was, if you appeared to notice their behavior, and made it clear it annoyed you (as women are perhaps more comfortable doing when there are several together rather than a woman alone), then YOU were the offender who had broken the boundaries of propriety. YOU were the one who had given offense; by noticing offensive behavior, rather than just pretending to be oblivious as a polite person would.
How many of these guys actually get laid by white women? I think I can make an educated guess, based on how sexy women usually find it when they’re treated like a drive-through snack. Some are just slower to get it than others. But it still makes me wonder why the “easy meat” belief remains so prevalent.
Then again, maybe they just don’t like white women much, know their behavior makes you uncomfortable and do it anyway.
“Even some people who weren’t interested in getting a piece of me felt that they had every right to point, stare, make comments, and sometimes even follow me around as I tried to, say buy tampons or whatever. People took pictures of me with their mobile phones. Entire tables full of people would get curious, sometimes even viciously curious, if I wanted to have a drink at a restaurant at night. Girls made comments about me in club bathrooms, unaware of the fact that I could usually understand what it was they were saying about me in Arabic, so that I couldn’t even pee in peace.”
What is so strange to me about situations like the one you just described is the amount of psychological power you held over said people. It is…odd. Because surely, from reading your post, it is not a power you asked for or even wanted, and one that I’m guessing you would’ve relinquished without a second thought in exchange for privacy and peace of mind. You just wanted to live your life (would they have been so much as a blip on your radar screen without the staring and curiosity?), yet they were absolutely fascinated/obsessed with you. To the point of being incredibly rude and intrusive.
Glad you found healing in Moscow. At least you knew where you needed to be to recover.
The issue is really the attention itself – sometimes, you just want to walk down the street, buy a coffee, and read the damn newspaper. And when you can’t do that, for whatever reason, it can be pretty horrifying. Kate’s problem will also be the photographers – many of them are not above an insult to get a desire reaction from their prey. I’ll never forget Ben Affleck talking about how photographers would say things like, “Oh, I saw your mom at the Oscars! Boy, did she look like a huge slut!” so that he would lose his shit. It’s awful.
I also think that in the Arab world, a lot of people hold really crude stereotypes of foreign women. I’m surprised to hear this about Dubai, though, since I know they’ve been cracking down hard on sexual harassment – and when I lived there, I was allowed basic dignity. A guy could still ask me out in a bar, but he didn’t do it in a way that suggested that he thought I was subhuman. I also knew a lot of women from the Philippines who said the same thing about Dubai – that it was better as far as being treated with respect, so I don’t think it was just a case of being a Special White Lady, as the saying goes.
Jordan, I think, has changed for the worse – though I don’t know how things are now, nearly two years after I left. We had a Russian correspondent on a trip down there recently, though – she said the same things I always said about Jordan, “Gorgeous country, great people, but I couldn’t live there.” Because of all of the unwanted attention, naturally. I still remember staying in Jordan for over a month during my college years – and while people would naturally look at me, since I stood out so much, there were no disrespectful comments, nobody was offering me money to go have sex with them, and women weren’t calling me a slut under their breath. And then it changed, I guess. It makes me very sad to think about it.
Bingo. I had this happen many times in Amman. Some guy would make a disgusting comment – I’d yell at him or show him the finger – then he’d get REALLY upset, because how DARE I?! I was supposed to take it, or be glad for his august attention, I guess. I was spoiling his fun, and that wasn’t nice. I think it comes down to the fun aspect, in a lot of cases – these guys really see what they’re doing as harmless (even though if it were to happen to their sister, they’d totally lose it, of course).
“she said the same things I always said about Jordan, “Gorgeous country, great people, but I couldn’t live there.”
Having spent more that 20 years in that country, and also being half Soviet :), I think I related with with what you say (interestingly enough am not even a girl) but I disagree with the above statement, country is not really gorgeous, as its dirty, dusty, and crap climate, great people? are you kiddin me, those people are ready to kill themselves (recent events) from the hatred and anger and violence they have, not to mention the stupidity, so no, not great people, bloody assholes (generally)….. and in short, that country is unfortunately a sh*t hole (sorry to say it), and it is the people which make it that way…. some nice locations to visit yes, some nice very rare few people to meet yes, other than that i would say its all crap, как говорят – имхо.
I have always found Jordan to be very beautiful – even Amman, a city everyone loves to hate on, has some really beautiful parts to it. And I believe that Jordanian society has a lot going for it – in spite of its problems (problems of the sort that made me move, and other problems).