May 5th, 2021, 04:00 PM

Is Being 'Engaged' the Secret to Safety in Paris?

By Isabella Sibble
The 10 euro ring I bought to combat street harassment. Image Credit: Isabella Sibble
Reflections on my experience wearing an engagement ring to combat street harassment

Before I left for Paris in the fall my sister-in-law suggested that I buy a fake engagement ring to put on in bars, in public transport, or wherever else unwelcome attention may be hurled at me. She had lived alone in Singapore for nine years and cites this small action as being the most effective against harassment. Unfortunately I was, as many are, a naïve optimist and a little self-deprecating, as I held the opinion that I was just… average-enough to evade such leers. I quickly realized that there was no such thing, and that French men are tireless in their disgusting pursuit of strangers.

When the harassment started, I played with the looseness of my clothes. I tried staring straight at my phone or at the ground no matter where I was. I walked fast, I walked slow, I stopped dead in my tracks. I wore headphones, I upgraded to the noise-canceling variety. I wore sweatshirts, put my hair up, wore my running shoes. Nothing worked. When I wore a big t-shirt, someone grabbed the excess fabric on the metro. When I looked at the ground as I walked, a man walked beside me, yelling, until I looked up. No speed of walking changed my experience. Stopping on the sidewalk when someone was following me only gave them the chance to approach me and limit my physical escape routes. No matter what I did, harassment was a daily experience, and when I got followed home one evening, I knew I needed another solution.

I remembered my sister-in-law’s advice and broke my 6-month Amazon boycott to buy a cheap engagement ring; waiting with bated breath and little hope that this would work.

Engagement Ring Luxury Tax Monopoly

"Engagement Ring Luxury Tax Monopoly" by Philip Taylor PT is licensed under CC BY 2.0


The ring looks pretty nice for what it is. It's has three 'diamonds' on a 'silver' band, and from a distance one wouldn't know the difference. But of course, I was more interested in its purpose. In the days that followed, I was shocked. 9/10 times, a flash of the ring was enough to keep men’s uncomfortable stares, gross comments, and inappropriate gestures away. Making a habit of touching my hair, moving my mask, and scratching my arm with the ‘betrothed’ hand was eerily successful in warding off incoming and fiercely unwanted attention from random men. No method is perfect, but I have been happily surprised by the efficacy of this simple trick, mostly because it intercepts the potential harassment instead of being a safe way out of harassment that is already taking place.

But why is it, that a cheap, fake wedding ring is so successful? I shudder to think that we still live in a world where men are only willing to be respectful when the respect is for another man’s possession and not the woman herself. Any action I took towards safety as a single woman was unsuccessful, only when I took action in the disguise of a wife, albeit a fake one, was success found. These are uncomfortable thoughts and ideas, and it’s unnerving to suggest that this is still the world we live in, but the immediate success of the engagement ring offers no other reasoning. While the feminist in me is irate that my safety is dependent on another man’s perception that I am ‘taken’ by someone else, at the end of the say, it is a trade I am willing to make. Street harassment is a reality and being able to reduce the chances of it happening is power. Safety is paramount, and if a 10€ purchase can keep me from being followed home multiple times per week or being tailed by cyclists in the park, that is a good deal to me.

Engagement Ring

"Engagement Ring" by LJ Mears is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0