Hello, let me introduce myself. My name is Andrea. I am more commonly known as “White Gyal” by the men on the streets of Guyana where I serve as a teacher to boys living at an orphanage. The boys know me as “Miss Andrea.” Everyday I commute to work using my own two feet and the bus. The hardest part is walking, not because it is a long distance or uphill both ways, but because men address me with terribly degrading comments, each one more insulting, sexual, and aggressive than the last. As I walk, I think about the women who experience this their whole lives. Young girls see their fathers call out to women as they are walking through the market. Maturing teenagers are expected to be flattered as they walk home from school and hear whistles as they walk past the bar. Women are carrying their small children with them as men ask if they could make more together. It is absolutely disturbing for women to be treated in such a way. It is as if they are a piece of meat or a prize to be won. How can this not wear on women? Surely, many of them learn to believe these false names and lies they are told.
As I sit with the boys along the fence at the orphanage, I consider how they perceive women. Do they view women as a commodity? The most consistent male role models they have are the older boys and the men who they pass on the street. These sweet and loving boys are growing up in a culture where men are taught to catcall women and women are taught to take it. Unfortunately, many of them accept these roles and do not realize the negative effects. I have sat with them while they call out and whistle to young women walking by. My immediate reaction is to try to talk about their motivation for saying something, how it might make the woman feel, and better ways of getting the attention of people they find attractive. I have learned that this doesn’t work so well. The boys feel very strongly about showing their dominance and are quick to defend their methods. It scares me for the boys, their future partners, and children. I know that in their beautiful, pure hearts they do not desire to have unhealthy relationships where the women are objects. Nor do they want their future daughters to be treated, or their sons to treat women, in the same way they do.
I found hope for them and the women of Guyana in an upsetting event. I sat with the boys along the fence in our usual spots talking about school and football. Suddenly, one of the big boys said, “Miss, you need to leave.” I tried to ask why and he just franticly shook his head. Just then a man walked up to me and said, “Aye white gyal. Good Afternoon.” I simply responded with, “Good Afternoon,” and began to walk away. Normally, this method ends the conversation. Unfortunately, this man continued saying, “I need a nice sexy white gyal an it look like you duh one.” I went behind a building in hopes that he would walk away. He didn’t. The man decided to tell the boys about all of my physical features that he lusted for. I was devastated, but not for me, for the boys. This is how they are learning to treat women. What do I do? I can’t change a culture.
These amazing boys gave me hope in their response to the man. One of the younger boys, Nate, came and sat with me behind the building. He was comforting me and telling me it would be okay. He did this in between peeking out from behind the building to tell the man, “She gone away.” After the man finally left, an older boy, Levi, sat with me and we had a meaningful conversation about the way men treat women. He asked me about the sexual harassment I have experienced and how it has affected me. We talked about how hurtful it is to feel objectified. He said to me, “Miss, I will never let anyone treat you that way again, and I won’t ever treat anyone like that. I promise.”
Nate and Levi showed compassion that day. Their compassion gave me hope. I have hope that they will recall this day when they consider calling out to women in the future. I have hope that they will spread their compassion for women to their peers. This is how change happens. It is not about trying to tell, or even reason with, them what is right. They have to have experiences that change their heart and open their minds. In the future, I hope that each woman of Guyana learns her true name. This is what will keep them strong as they are called these insults. Eventually, they will only be the true name given to them. This name is Beautiful Daughter of God.
Andrea Haller is a 2016 graduate of Ohio Dominican University where she studied Early Childhood Education and Intervention Specialist. She recently completed a year of service with Mercy Volunteer Corps in Georgetown, Guyana where she worked at Sr. John Bosco Boys’ Orphanage and Bosco Academy. She will be returning to Columbus, OH as an Intervention Specialist at Goshen Lane Elementary School in the Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools.