I had stepped outside to buy biscuit and a drink. I was bored and wanted munch on something.
Trying to decide between wafers and cookies, a hand touched me, held a bit, and removed only when I stared the owner right in the face.
It was a man. An older man, probably between his early to late thirties. Even without my asking him a thing (I just wanted his hands off me), he began to explain. How he had been trying to get my attention with calls of ‘baby’, ‘omalicha’, ‘nne’, and what-nots. He thought I didn’t hear and finally held my hand, accompanying it with a greeting, just to get my attention.
Livid is an understatement about how I felt. It sounded crazy. I proceeded to ask why he thought he must hold my hand to greet me, a stranger he never met before. (I didn’t understand that greeting strangers, especially one of the opposite sex now accompanied holding onto a part of their body).
Hear his defense: “Shey I cannot greet you again? Why won’t I touch you? And you sef, why didn’t you answer when I was calling you baby, nne? At least I am older than you. You should respect my age and answer me. Are you not a woman?”
Wow! Right there in broad daylight, a grocery store, a strange neighborhood (I was visiting a friend), a strange man haggling me for not answering his cat-calls, touching me inappropriately and without my consent, and still had the audacity to play the age game!
My head could not exactly wrap itself around it. Every time this happens (which is quite often), I am appalled and reminded of how entitled men/guys/boys feel about women just because they are women. But that day’s encounter was spectacular. I was even admonished for not recognizing and respecting the age of my harasser.
Can you even believe it?
And to think the woman running the grocery store found it funny and was laughing all through.
You see, I live very close to my current workplace. A ten minutes trek to work and another ten minutes afterwards. The building is located in a semi-estate, not noisy.
However, for most times I decided to walk home after work, I encounter guys who harass me. Some bold enough to walk up to me and say “bịa nne K’anyị jee na hotel ná”, translated to “baby let’s go to a hotel na”. A good number of them do not even accompany this disgusting proposition with a greeting or an introduction. So they just walk up to me or behind me, a strange lady, and demand we go to a hotel.
To do what?
It got scary, I had to resort to taking bikes home or walking with my colleagues instead. I was scared at the audacity, but mostly I was scared for myself. It was a quiet neighborhood and I do not want to have a repeat of what happened a certain day.
One was so adamant and fuming that I did not as much as spare him a glance or greet and just kept walking. He followed hastily, almost pursuing me, and I had to break into a jog. I was scared what he would do with his persistence and adamance. He had almost caught up with me when one of the ‘Abokis’ that keeps the gate for a neighbouring building intercepted by calling out to him to ask why he was pursuing me. (The aboki recognized me as one of the residents and was not happy an unrecognizable male was coming at me with such pace and adamance)
Seeing the aboki, the guy backed off saying “sorry ó, no vex”.
I had to stand for some moment, catch my breath and thank the aboki profusely for intercepting what I wasn’t even sure the guy was bent on doing. I was too scared to even think about it.
Subsequently, I did my best to either walk home with my colleagues (even if it means closing later, just to walk with them) or take a bike home.
It is hell.
The feeling of dread that accompanies being a lady and knowing that that single fact puts you at risk (loads of it) from the male gender.
That I am not safe, that I do not have to walk on the street and ignore any and every cat-call lest I piss a ‘guy’ and he decides to teach me a lesson.
That guys expect it of me to be submissive and subservient to each and every one of them, just because I am the lady and they are the male. ‘The supposed dominant.’
* The dread of knowing you are not safe just because you are female.
* The dread of having to stylishly look behind to be sure no guy is following unknowingly behind, because you are not sure what his motive is.
* The dread of knowing you cannot even enjoy a 10 minutes walk from work because of constant harassment, (devoid of consent) and sometimes from men so old you are certain they have birthed your mate.
I keep living in dread because there are two genders, and I am supposedly the weaker gender. The one society thinks should be dominated over, conquered, and subdued to submission and subservience.
Do you know how that feels?
* To live every single day of your life in dread?
* Because you are female?
* And that UNFORTUNATELY, the society and culture upholds and promotes patriarchy and female subservience, and so this dread will not stop anytime soon?
Do you know how how that feels?
I do not want your PITY.
I want this culture to CHANGE.