I am SO excited to introduce y’all to my jolie friend: the brilliant, beautiful, and bold Shelly Enright. I met Shelly over 6 years go in my hometown in NJ through a youth group. She’s an incredible, open minded, and kind jeune femme with the best, au naturel mermaid hair I know.
Shelly is currently studying abroad in Southern France. When I asked her about her trip, she had the following unexpected journey to share and I am so grateful that she did. Thank you for sharing this personal experience with us, Shelly! -Jillian
How I Overcame Harassment in France
Guest Post by Shelly Enright
Voyaging to new lands is never easy.
When I first moved to the south of France, I had to get used to a lot of new things.
Between the customary cheek kisses upon greeting someone, buying a fresh baguette everyday, and having to find ways to pass the time until the drunk couple fighting in the street cools down so I can leave my apartment and go to class, the hardest thing to adjust to is what it’s like to walk down the street.
The first day I arrived my program director told me not to make eye contact with anyone while walking. I didn’t think this would be possible because in America I had gotten used to the pleasant power of being able to brighten someone’s day by smiling at them.
Here, however, people do not see smiling as passing warmth. If you smile at someone it will confuse them, or, 9 times out of 10, if you smile at or even so much as accidentally make eye contact with a man, he will approach you. If you manage to not let your eyes wander, men will probably approach you anyways, using their body to block your path, reaching out to grab your arm, or yelling at you from their cars.
I’ve never felt entirely safe walking down a street alone, but here harassment is constant. It doesn’t matter if it’s day or night, if I’m alone or with a few other girlfriends, it happens almost every time I leave my apartment. I am very lucky to have come from and attended school in areas where this kind of behavior happens to a less physical degree and it’s a further sign of my privilege that I still allow myself to be shocked by it.
I was so shocked by it at first that I never left my apartment after dark. It does get worse at night, and my program director all but made me and the other girls on the trip sign an oath that we wouldn’t go out alone past sunset.
So I’d sit alone in my apartment instead, feeling trapped and angry and like everyone in the streets below wanted to tear off a piece of my flesh. I began to feel more and more trapped, especially after my director told us that going out after dark would really be an invitation, specifically from us to dangerous men.
How is it my fault that the earth turns, the sky darkens, and if I suddenly put a toe over the threshold of my building someone might come up and touch me, rob me, or worse? It’s not my fault, and I was sick of being told it was and I felt betrayed that my director told an entire group of young women that it was.
So, I had to come up with something to do to keep me from giving into all the rage and caged animal feelings I was having.
One day I pulled out a map of the city’s tramline to find out how to get to Ikea. I looked the map over. There were a bunch of green and blue spaces on the outskirts of the city that I’d never known about. It appeared that if I just got on the tram and took it to the end of any line, I would end up somewhere nearby one of the green or blue spaces. I began taking a closer look. The green spaces were all parks or cemeteries, and the blue were lakes and ocean. I made it my mission to visit every green and blue space.
I’m going to describe the visit to one green space in particular: Château de la Mosson.
It’s hard to resist an adventure when you see Château written on a map. If it’s written down for everyone to see, that means that anyone can go there right? A friend and I decided to find out. We took the tram for about thirty minutes and got off at the second to last stop, right on the border of Montpellier and a neighboring town. After wandering back from the wrong direction, we saw a sign for Domaine de la Mosson. It was above a closed, locked gate.
Not wanting our trip to be a waste, my friend said we should keep walking, until we found a nice little nature path adjacent to the general area of the Château. We followed the path and its stream until we could go no further, and turned back. As we headed toward the main road, I looked over the water.
Between the trees on the opposite bank I saw what appeared to be cream-colored columns. After pointing this out to my friend, she promptly climbed down to the bed of the stream and decided she was going to cross it.
“There’s a wall over here!” she yelled from the other side. “I’ll be right back,” she said. At this point I couldn’t see her and soon I couldn’t hear her either. So, I decided to jump across the stream too. And when I got to the wall I found it was easy to scale. And when I reached the top, there it was; an old mansion, decaying in the middle of a green field.
I ran to join my friend on a path bordered by sculptures, winding around the back of the Château.
There was definitely a strong feeling within that mansion; the kind where you feel the need to whisper and can’t just snap touristy photos on your IPhone that you’re going to shove into your pocket and forget about until you scroll through them. The air was silent and heavy and quite a few centuries old but overall completely unforgettable. Something about it stayed with me even after l left.
As it turns out, two very tangible things almost did stay with me after I left. As we made our way to the far side of the Château, two black dogs came running towards us out of nowhere. We stayed very still as they reached us, my warning of, “Don’t show fear,” the loudest phrase I had uttered on the grounds. I extended my hand to the first one that reached me. He sniffed it and let me pet him, and then his companion did the same. They bounded around us, circling and trailing as we made our way back to scale down the wall.
It was clear that they probably just wanted some food and affection, but I didn’t have any food on me, so I assumed that they would stop pursuing us after we jumped down to the riverbank and crossed the stream. As it turns out, however, they followed us all the way to the street off of which the path extends, and then they turned back to the mansion.
Overall, that day is still surreal to me. But while I was at the Château I was reminded of what it’s like to not constantly feel threatened by other human beings. I felt as though I were in a new, unreachable part of the world.
From then on I found spaces I felt safe in and gathered them with the help of a friend. I had secrets to keep me from going crazy, and places to go when rage and violence felt like the only way to handle the aggression I encountered in the streets daily. I’ve made many more animal friends, including some more dogs, a few cats, lizards, and horses, and now I always carry treats for them.
Written and photographed by Shelly Enright.
Shelly Enright is a junior at Mount Holyoke College, currently spending the year abroad in Montpellier, France. She’s a French major and art history minor. In her free time she likes to travel and hula-hoop. She’d like to thank Jill so much for this opportunity! For more, you can find Shelly on Twitter and on Tumblr.