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.

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During my first few weeks backpacking around Sri Lanka, I’d felt uncomplicated rage at the general pattern of male/female dynamics, where girls’ virginity is tested before marriage and couples rarely do more than hold hands before their wedding day.

Yet widows are widely seen as “easy” because of their vulnerability (few men would marry a “used” woman), and white women are taunted with jeers like, “Do you like the f**king?

It would take me at least that long to walk back to my guesthouse, but I wasn’t too worried about being accosted by demons on the way. ” I asked Sarasi, a 19-year-old college student I’d met while walking around Kandy Lake in central Sri Lanka.

She’d asked me if she could practice her English with me; we spent most of the next week together.

Soon after leaving Kandy to travel around the hill country, I had an interesting conversation with a guesthouse owner named Sampath, a smiley bachelor with the sinewy body required to carry tourists’ packs on backcountry treks.

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.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.” Several times, men on the street grabbed my waist or put their arm around my shoulder.As soon as I yelled at them to go away, they recoiled in alarm, as if they couldn’t believe a white girl would be offended by an uninvited caress from a stranger.Gripping the metal seatback with both hands to keep from banging into the man standing next to me, I silently cursed American culture—and some tourists in particular—for making it more likely that I’d be harassed during my travels.