Before I purchased a trench coat from a particular trendy but tawdry Swedish clothing chain in Barcelona, it was as if I walked the streets of that city in nothing more than my birthday suit.
See that skirt I had on, those jeans, those shorts? Nope. Not wearing them at all. I was strolling around butt-naked, offering my unclothed form to every man I encountered to gaze at and even touch.
Only I wasn’t walking around naked. I was a fully clothed female. Men just treated me like I was nude.
They catcalled me, propositioned me, and sometimes even followed me home. Then came the time a man actually grabbed my butt.
I had to find a solution to this harassment. That solution came in the form of a camel-colored trench coat.
The coat wasn’t waterproof. It didn’t need to be. I didn’t wear it to protect me from the rain. I wore it to protect me from men on the streets in Barcelona.
But I shouldn’t have had to don a trench coat as protection from men. I should be able to walk naked down a crowded street if I want to and men will still have the self-control to respect me.
A man assaulted my bottom in broad daylight.
There’s a reason I felt I needed to buy the coat. I’d been living in Barcelona for about a year when a man on the street grabbed my buttocks. The assault took place while I was walking to yoga. I had dared to leave my flat dressed in a pair of Lycra pants and a tank top.
Sure, the outfit showed off my shape but I was dressed like that because I was ready to stretch and breathe in new air and exhale my stale worries.
I was ready to feel happier. The guy who molested me was just after a quick thrill.
He ran up behind me, put his paws on my bottom, then squeezed as hard as he could. Like he cupped my dual butt cheeks in his sweaty palms then dug his dirty digits into my flesh — hard.
I was shocked and screeched in pain and disgust. His assault was two-fold. He embarrassed and physically hurt me.
And he did all this in broad daylight on a street with other people around.
Rage blinded me. I whipped around to face him. He retreated a few feet but didn’t run away. He wasn’t threatened by me. He was like a city-park squirrel, much too tame.
He met my glare with a smug grin. He was pleased with himself. My bottom was but an object, a thing to be touched because he wanted to.
And like a city-park squirrel trained by humans to expect a handout, this guy seemed to believe I’d throw him a crumb. Like by accosting my ass, he’d aroused me.
I raised my fist at him. I was angry enough to hit him. It was only then that he finally scurried off.
I knew one thing — I never wanted a man on the street to touch me like that again. I had to find a solution to this street harassment.
I would finally come up with the solution of wearing a trench coat to cloak my form from men. But why should I have to cover up? Men should have more self-control.
A stranger touched my skin with the sickening purpose to arouse me.
I was accosted again a few months later. This time it happened on a summer evening while I was out walking, enjoying the fresh air after spending the entire day inside a stifling-hot flat.
A man passed me on the boulevard. As he did, he stretched out his hand to touch the skin just below my shorts.
This time, the touch wasn’t painful. It was gentle, intended to awaken the nerve endings in my intimate regions.
I felt humiliated. His gesture was fearless — as if to assure me that because he was a man, he too owned a piece of me.
I insulted him with expletives. This guy wasn’t a city-park squirrel. He was more like one of those geese that live in the murky waters of urban ponds. Accustomed to gorging themselves on stale bread tossed to them by humans, these geese will ruthlessly chase said humans if they’re not given an adequate meal.
Anger danced in his eyes. I sent more expletives his way. They bounced off him as he walked toward me. It dawned on me that he might hurt me.
I panicked, pleading with a nearby couple for help. The female told her male partner, “Don’t get involved in that lovers’ spat.”
“I don’t know this man!” I argued in Spanish. “He’s not my lover.” I pointed at my assailant. “He wants to hurt me.”
A group formed around us. I was creating a spectacle. At least with the commotion, the stranger scuttled away. I considered it a close call.
But I knew I had to do something to protect myself better. I ultimately bought the trench coat. But again—why should I be the one covering up? What makes men feel they can accost me on the street?
The trench coat protected me by concealing my femininity.
I first caught glimpse of the trench coat that would become my street-harassment body armor while strolling through the Portal de l’Àngel district in downtown Barcelona.
I spotted the coat on a mannequin in a store window. I liked it for its look. At that point, I had no idea how effective it would be to deter street harassers.
It was only after I began to wear the trench coat that I saw its effect. With the coat on, I noticed a distinct decrease in attention from the men I encountered on the street.
The coat’s skirted bottom shielded the split between my thighs and concealed the curvature of my buttocks. Its buttoned double breasts covered the roundness of my actual breasts.
Instead of presenting my female figure to the men on the street, I presented an asexual A-line silhouette. The trench coat neutered my sexuality and cloaked my feminine liability.
I needed that. Only by canceling that out did I gain the power to walk the streets unbothered.
The trench coat became both a physical and visual deterrent. With the coat on, a man couldn’t as easily touch me because a layer of cotton was in the way.
Women shouldn’t have to hide our bodies behind cloth shields to be safe from men.
However, I feel it’s wrong that I was the one who had to cover my body just to exist in peace in public spaces. A woman shouldn’t have to wrap her body in cloth just to defend herself against harassment by men.
Men should have more self-restraint. But they don’t. Unwanted attention from men made it unpleasant to just live my life. I decided that wearing this trench coat was the only way to keep my sanity.
I wore that trench coat rain or shine. It didn’t make a difference if it was the middle of summer; I still wore the coat any time I went out.
But it’s a sad situation when a woman has to sweat in a trench coat in the middle of July just to go about her daily life without being bothered by men.
A woman should be able to walk down the street naked if she wants to and men will have the discipline not to harass her. It’s wrong to touch a woman in the street without her explicit consent. Groping a woman in public against her will is not just abusive, it’s a crime.
Even catcalling is offensive. Would these same men permit other men to treat their sisters or mothers like that? What about their daughters?
Of course, they would never permit it. But they never considered my humanity when they harassed me. I was just a piece of meat on offer to be touched and fondled as they wished.
These men should have known better — but they didn’t. So as a woman, I was reduced to having to cloak my body in a trench coat just to exist safely while female in Barcelona.
Only by hiding my body under a trench coat could I regain my sense of autonomy on streets that these men clearly demonstrated were inexorably ruled by them.
But still, I should have been able to walk the streets naked if I wanted. If men had any respect for women, I’d be able to.
Photo thanks to Katie E.