I love being a woman. I really do. But I can also say that I feel afraid being a woman in our world. It doesn’t matter where I could be in the world. Being a woman has never been and still doesn’t feel safe.
I remember being a teenager, walking with my best friend Sorrel to get some ice cream. There were older men hanging outside of a car, catcalling us and wanting to ‘get to know us’. I shouted an insult their way and carried on (visibly annoyed) with Sorrel. At that age, I just thought it was a bunch of dudes, being annoying dudes. Now, I realise they were creepy older men, hitting on young teenagers, innocently getting ice cream.
My sister, Kedi, was also walking around with a friend in town. Kedi (by the way) is ten years older than me, so this means she was in her early twenties at the time. They too were catcalled by a group of guys. They too threw out an insult their way. This is where it gets a little different in the story. One guy picked up a brick and wanted to fling it in their direction. He was stopped by his fellow catcallers. Kedi and her friend could have been hurt by a man, who became so angered by them rejecting his catcalls and decided the best course of action was to physically harm them. This is why I feel being a woman just doesn’t feel safe.
This made me think of that well-known quote by Margaret Atwood, “At core, men are afraid women will laugh at them, while at core, women are afraid men will kill them." Then it came to me that as I grew older and noticed men’s reactions in the streets if I rejected their catcalls; at work if I rejected their advances and amongst friends when I was at a party, that I became ‘nicer’ in my approach to saying no. And as they became persistent, I very would smile very ‘nicely’ and continue to say no. Then I may even say “yes” to get them off my case, only to feel stupid for having let myself not be tougher with them.
If I wasn’t called a bitch, then I was told I was acting “better than” them. I have literally been cornered at a party and I’ve been threatened by a man who was insulted I didn’t accept the drink he bought for me. Even though, I have been told that when I accept a drink, I should accept that I am now obligated to give my time and be a man’s new companion for the night- whatever that means.
As a survivor of rape, I know what it feels like to be scared. I know what it feels like to stop fighting, so the situation doesn’t become worse or even more painful, and not angering someone more that they could potentially kill you. I have come to see that when us women do some of the things we do around men, it is not to be nice; it is a survival response. We have been told horror stories or have been involved in a horror story or two (or more).
Look around the world. In some parts, women have acid poured over their faces and bodies for rejecting a man’s romantic advances. Other women are simply stoned to death. Women are screamed at and called bitch, slut, whore, all in the name if defending one’s ‘manly reputation’. Some men become enraged with the idea of a women being openly lesbian and rape her, to try and ‘convert her’ to being straight. Yeah, it really isn’t safe to be a woman.
I do believe that there are quality men who wouldn’t hurt a woman and wouldn’t go so far as to be violent toward any woman for any reason. I also know that wanting a woman romantically or sexually are not the only reasons for men to become aggressive or violent towards women. What I also do know is that not every man (however good) will stop another man from being a complete dick to a woman because, well you know the saying ‘bros before hoes’.
Even with so much change happening around the world, us women are so far from having an equal and fair life amongst men, that there is still so much change that needs to happen. I am still told ‘effective methods’ on how NOT to get raped, instead of men being told NOT to rape. I have been told that the colleague who sexually harassed me “probably didn’t mean it” because he didn’t know better. I have been told that the man who called me a slut and I fought with him, is just a lonely person and I should just “let it go”. I have been told to keep quiet while the men at a braai (barbeque) will cook the meat, even though it was almost burnt and I, as a chef could give them advice. I have learned that men do not like to be threatened and should be appeased.
Did you know that women who have been brought up in societies that require them to be quiet around men, are often the type that are naturally louder amongst peers because they have had to teach themselves to be louder in order to be heard? I can’t be sure where I heard this, but it had something to do with feminist psychology. We are fighting, even psychologically to be heard, and even though now we our voices are louder they are still not loud enough.
Again, I will say that some men are amazing. I shouldn’t feel privileged that such a species of man exists, because they just should. I would just wish that those men could teach their friends, and other men to be the same. I also wish that some men would realise that their identity isn’t determined by their masculinity but how much of a good person they can be.