After a month of catcalls and groping, Hannah Tennant-Moore wonders what she's doing alone with a masseur Boys have no problem. Because if boys see us, they try to grab us. I struggled to couch my objections in simple language. Sometimes I dance with boys or kiss boys. But only if I want to. It was only later that I remembered the oft-cited Department of Justice statistic that one in four American women experiences rape or attempted rape during college.
Although I found it stifling to imagine being deprived of erotic intimacy outside of marriage—not to mention a fun night out once in a while—the comparatively extreme sexual freedom of the U. I was distracted by these thoughts on my walk home from dinner with Sarasi, hardly noticing the fruit bats swooping in and out of lush rain trees.
Our conversation had unmoored my beliefs about sexuality. While I was reading in his garden one afternoon, a group of red-faced men in sarongs gathered nearby and belted out raucous renditions of folk songs. Men here, they see a white girl, they think bad things. Then he explained—self-evidently enough—that men see movies in which white girls show off their bodies and seem to revel in promiscuity. I had indeed noticed two or three middle-aged women traveling with and paying the way for younger Sri Lankan men.
And Sampath said he also had a couple of friends who were devoted—and successful—seducers of younger tourists. I chose to forget for the moment that I, too, exploited the increased freedom my white skin afforded me. When I got off the bus a few hours later, I was thrilled to find a beach touristy enough for me to sunbathe in a bikini without being harassed by local men. While I dove and splashed in clear, green waves, women in saris stood on the sweltering shore, dipping their toes in the froth.
The problem with this dichotomous thinking became clear when I decided to treat myself to a massage. After hearing from several travelers that female massage therapists were too gentle, I found a masseur who seemed professional, trustworthy, and capable of softening the knots in my back. I asked him if I could remain clothed for the massage; he nodded and smiled beatifically in his long white skirt. The masseur had reassuringly effeminate eyes and lips, and slow-moving, skinny limbs.
Besides, I was wearing a bathing suit underneath my clothes. But just a few minutes in to the massage, his heavy breathing and disproportionate focus on my inner thighs made it clear that he was not only doing this for the money. After a month of enduring catcalls and groping, I felt so stupidly vulnerable for having believed I could apply Western social rules to a Sri Lankan interaction. I knew how rare, and therefore freighted, female nudity in Sri Lanka was.
Yet there I was, lying mostly naked before a man I did not know. I kept my eyes shut tight throughout the massage, trying to pretend that the hands rubbing oil into my stomach and legs belonged to a woman. When I paid him at the end of the hour, he offered to drive me on his motorbike to visit some waterfalls. He was 23 and she was 19; they had been dating for four years. Until we marry, I protect you. But then Sarasi flashed me an excited smile, her eyes widened mischievously.