A couple of months ago I had to take a taxi home, because it was dusk, I couldn’t tell the gender demographics of the taxi passengers. I am usually super careful about that. In order for me to safely board a taxi, there has to be at least one woman inside. A taxi that only has men is alarming to me. It makes my palms sweaty and it makes me immensely anxious. The truth is, I am afraid of men.
Patriarchy says that men are supposed to be protectors but all the violence that my body has received has come exclusively from men. I remember when I was 15 walking home from the shops, a local boy who had been trying to get my attention called out to me and asked me to stop for him. This was extremely irritating to me because while he had told me that he liked me, I had explained politely that I didn’t like him and that I held no interest in getting to know him better.
My candour didn’t seem to deter him. In fact, the more I rejected his advances, the more attentive he got. He would be waiting for me at the shops every time I went and each time, he would repeat the same speech about us being together. After a while I stopped verbally engaging him because clearly my words meant nothing to him, so he would often walk beside me going on and on.
On this particular day, he was not alone, he had two other boys with him and something about his body language made me increasingly nervous. He seemed to walk with an assurance that bordered on arrogance. When he reached me, he physically restrained me, stopped me from walking. His two friends were on either side of me, smirking. It was broad daylight but the situation just felt dark to me. He asked me out once more and in annoyance I told him that he wasn’t my type, that there was no version of reality where he and I would ever be together. His two friends burst out laughing and then the one friend asked him if he was going to allow me to speak to him that way. That is when he let go of my hand and swung his right palm and struck me across the face. The impact of the slap made me drop the bread that I had been sent to buy, when I bent down to pick up the bread, a flood of hot tears was coming from both my eyes.
All three boys laughed and I walked home feeling violated. Something had changed inside me. I now knew for sure that males are not protectors, they are the assailants and if a male protects you, it is usually from other violent males.
The presence of women in public spaces makes the space feel safer. I have the belief that women would not laugh in the presence of violence. There is something about men that makes them dangerous.
I remember walking into a new mall this one time and I needed to use the bathroom. The public toilets were at the end of a long corridor, it was well lit but it was very long. As I walked towards the direction of the bathrooms, I saw three males approach. They seemed to know each other and their bodies filled the entire width of the corridor. As pressed as I was, I turned back because it felt safer to deal with a distended bladder than a group of males. This might seem like paranoia on my part but too many times I have witnessed men demand attention from women.
A friend of mine was slapped across the face for not greeting back a strange guy she didn’t know. There was also a viral video a couple of years ago where taxi drivers in a Johannesburg rank all started groping this woman for wearing a skirt that they deemed too short, they all claimed she was asking for attention, so they gave her attention by pawing at her body, grabbing on her breasts and touching on her thighs. The woman was in obvious distress and by the time she escaped the throng of barbaric men, her bra strap was torn and they were all laughing like hyenas after a kill.
Navigating public spaces as woman is fraught with danger. Men make the streets unsafe. There is a certain kind of anxiety women feel when they are walking in the dark and hear footsteps behind them and realise that it is men who walk behind. In instances like this, I slow down, so they catch up and walk ahead and I will cross the street to walk alongside a woman. So maybe women are the true protectors.
This piece is part of a special collection of essays and poems called Women in the World. Click here to browse more stimulating reads.
Tell us: What do you think about this piece?