La Drague | The Art of Seduction and Harassment


La Drague, as in to pick up, as in the initial verbal word play of courting is a popular topic in Brussels right now. Not because the art of seduction is a good thing, but that La Drague has become associated with something very, very bad: harassment. More importantly, the "cat-calling", or often offensive sexist slang or vulgarities that are commonly associated with harassment of women. In America we iconized the concept through construction workers whistling at the passerby woman. Here, in Brussels it's much, much worse.

My first encounter with harassment on the streets of Brussels was last year on a visit to see some friends. Not knowing where anything was or where to go in our unguided free time, me and Shannon ended up in a neighborhood I now know as Schaerbeek. While parts of Schaerbeek are safe, and void of this phenomenon for the most part, other parts are colloquially know as Petite Moroc or La Capitale du Moroc, (little Morroco) in reference to the very high ethnicity of Middle-Easter descent inhabitants. Indeed you feel a bit naked walking down the streets as eyes stare, men follow, and words (which I couldn't understand then) are shouted at your back-side as if it's (ever) going to make you turn around and quickly fall in love.

Recently, a documentary called "Femme de la Rue" on the matter caused quite a stir in Brussels. It occurred before I moved hear, but the effects have been profound. In the video a woman dressed conservatively tries to walk around her neighborhood and receives many remarks. The point being is a woman's dignity in Brussels is always likely to be soiled by the conflict of cohabitation of many cultures here in Brussels unless things change. This is a difficult to swallow for the home of the EU which in 2008 made a very controversial decision to ban hate speech and to reduce social friction. Yet Brussels can't keep the men on the street from vomiting vulgarity right outside their shiny supra-national government buildings. The irony is unyielding and many Belgian conservatives I've become acquainted with (who will remain nameless), even those who are running for election are quietly xenophobic about the Arab culture which they believe is to blame these activities. Worse yet, is they know they're xenophobic, and like in the US with Hispanics, these Belgian conservative think you should either conform or leave.

So I suppose we're really not all that different, but if the ideals of community and unified diversity (the mantra of the E.U.) are ever going to succeed in this world, then they have to start here in Brussels. Brussels knows it too, and in response to La Drague, last week it is now illegal to curse in Belgium in a way that's inflammatory to another individual. (Like calling somewhat a slut, etc.) It's all pretty nifty on paper, just as many of the laws that stemmed from the 2008 decision are, but enforcing them? Likely a nightmare.

Considering I've been here just under four weeks, my experience as many of the girls I go to school with have reinforced that La Drague is very common here. I've had men follow me home, call me names I've only recently learned in French, and likely countless other things I can't comprehend. It ranges from scary to corny and very quickly gets old really quick. Yet there is this habit to just accept it's a part of life living in this very diverse city. It's part of the culture of being a woman in Brussels and generally becomes little more than a nuisance in everyday life. (Likely why a lot of us just put headphones on and zone out.) The truth is as a writer I know one fact that I suspect a lot of women worry about, but fail to materialize into their justification of acceptance of this harassment: words can become actions. Having visited the Middle-East personally and knowing that there, physical harassment (touching, grabing, etc) often occurs with the verbal harassment, and having experienced it: I'm glad to say it hasn't occurred yet to me here. But with a 150,000 people living in Brussels it's just a matter of time till someone crosses that line and the worst fears of Sofie Peeters and the rest of us in Brussels becomes a new reality.

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