San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Overzealous Flirters: Beware!

MEN and women appear to agree: in Costa Rica,pick-up lines and flirtatious comments can sometimes getout of hand.A recent proposal to slap a fine or jail time onoverzealous admirers, however, has drawn applause fromsome and wrinkled the brows of others.Outspoken Social Christian Unity Party legislatorGloria Valerín presented a proposal to the LegislativeAssembly last month to reform the Penal Code with theaim of protecting women from verbal assailants whoshout obscenities at them in public places.“THE reform applies to women victims only,” saidJorge Córdoba, Valerín’s advisor, who explained a generallaw already exists to penalize obscene words and gesturesdirected at members of both sexes with 5-30 days in prison.Under the proposed reform, a judge could either fineobscene flirters or send offenders to jail for 30-50 days.Any sexual or defamatory remark that affronts a woman’sdignity, and can be proved to a judge’s satisfaction withevidence or witnesses, would qualify as a criminaloffense, Córdoba explained.The proposal is under study in the assembly, and notlikely to be voted on for several months.TWO leading criticisms from an informal survey byThe Tico Times this week are skepticism that victimscould prove they were wronged, and skepticism that anyonecould fairly judge the fine line between complimentsand harassment.Most of those questioned agreed there is a long CostaRican tradition of letting people know how good they look, and women, especially, are used tohearing men of all ages mutter or shoutcome-ons such as “que linda,” or, “somany curves and I don’t have brakes.”They’re called piropos, and the meninterviewed by The Tico Times said theyare decent and women like to hear them.And while most of the women seemed toagree, they stressed there is a line thatshouldn’t be crossed.That line is hazy, however, and isswayed by factors such as the ages of thoseinvolved or facial expression and tone ofvoice of the admirer.PABLO Andrés Marín, a 19-year-oldwaiter who smokes cigars alone in theNational Park on the east side of San José,said police should crack down harder onthe vulgarities he hears there, especiallybetween straight men and gay men.“It drives me crazy,” he said, when hegoes to the park alone and is subject toinsults. “I come here with my wife so peopledon’t yell things at me.”Change is needed to protect womenand gays, Teryhuz Walker, a 28-year-oldgay man, told The Tico Times.“A law reform is needed for the heterosexualsbecause they’re too offensive andvulgar. In reality there are many things thatare very offensive that heteros say to gaysin this country, especially when you considerthat this country has a very active gaypopulation, sexually speaking.”DEFINING what is obscene is themain problem, according to Julio CésarSalazar, a middle-aged man who said he isself-employed. What is offensive to someis complimentary to others, he said.Some women dress for attention, headded.“When a woman puts on tight pantsand a shirt like this,” he said, pulling his T-shirtup above his belly button, “guys haveto say something.”John Paul Ruíz, a 17-year-old high schoolstudent, agreed, but prefaced thecomment with “women aren’t to blame.”Still, when they dress provocatively, hebelieves they want to hear the comments.“It angers me when people disrespectmy sister,” he added. “I say mae, havesome respect. Tell her she’s cute, butdon’t do all that other stuff.”THE problem isn’t confined to men,Ruíz said.“Women yell vulgar things to men.I’d be ashamed to repeat them, butthey’re vulgar.”Danish tourist Thomas Nielsen, visitingwith his companion Helle Thomsen,said, “We wouldn’t report an obscenityunless it were something physical – we’reonly in town for three or four days.”“Besides, we wouldn’t know there’s alaw or where to report it,” he added.Elizabeth Parra, a middle-aged housewife,said she supports the reform withoutreservation, and wonders only how shecould prove a man had insulted her.She has heard all kinds of “grossthings,” she said, such as “lots of meat andI’m hungry.”HER daughter Elizabeth García, a 15-year-old high-school student, said theobscenities don’t stop with words, andinclude “even the faces they make –they’re perverts. I have to cross the street,stand out on the yellow lines to get awayfrom them sometimes.”Her twin sister, Gabriela García, saidshe has never heard obscenities directed ather. Rather, men tell her she has beautifulhair, or a pretty face, she said.The twins said teenaged girls are notjust exposed to obscenities on the streets,but also at school, where some male teachersdo not refrain from making insinuatingcomments.“ONE of our teachers was fired fromthe school last year because several girlsaccused him of sexual harassment,”Elizabeth said.Jennifer Brenes, an 18-year-old highschoolstudent, said, “I’ve been told allkinds of vulgarities and I’m only concernedabout how to prove it.”She said young men usually say thekinds of things she wants to hear, but marriedmen and men over 40 are the ones whomore often cross the line that Valerín’s projectseeks to delineate.Like Dionisio Cabal, the Costa Ricansongwriter cited in the legislative proposalto punish vulgar flirters, Valerín aimsto take wooing back to “when its onlyequivalent was handing out a bouquet offlowers.”

Comments are closed.