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BRED ON CAUTION: BEING A WOMAN IN A MAN'S WORLD

Image by Malick Sidibe

At any given point, especially in a space with men she is not familiar with, a woman is probably plotting and planning on how to escape if things go left.

She has scanned the room for possible exit points, objects that could potentially become weapons, and scenarios that she can act to escape a situation.

Before getting here, she has probably informed at least 2 people of where she’s going, who she’s going with, and, especially if the person is a guy, she has shared his name, phone number, place of work, pictures, and all other relevant information she thinks can be useful in identifying this person should things go wrong.

According to a study commissioned by Stop Street Harassment, 65% of all women experienced street harassment with 9% having been forced to do something sexual.

Among men, 25% reported facing street harassment.

“Every man is a potential rapist.”

This is what women are taught unconsciously.

Women prepare for the possibility that this man, even if he’s someone she knows, is in a relationship with, or trusts, will try something.He might attempt to grope her, he might attempt to rape her, he might verbally sexually harass her, but he most likely will try something. And this is not an unfounded fear.

Women are told that they should protect themselves from being assaulted and that they must do everything to prevent this from happening because it will somehow be framed as their fault if anything does happen to them.

Why was your skirt so short?

Why were you out running at that time?

Women’s lives are directly and indirectly controlled by the possibility of assault.

This ever hanging fear limits movement.

In a recent personal example, I wanted to attend a highlife event that would start at 10pm. It was an outdoor event.

I ended up not going because I couldn’t find anyone (read: any guy) to go with me.

You might ask: why was it so important for me to find a guy (or anyone really) to go with me? You see, it’s because I’m a woman. A woman who does not want to be alone at a thing that starts at 10pm, and possibly ends at around 4am. That’s about 6 hours of potentially fighting off possible sexual assault and trying to prevent it.

I’d have to watch my drink at all times.

I’d have to always stand/sit in a well lit area.

Basically, I’d have been too concerned about trying to avoid getting assaulted, drugged or raped to enjoy the event.

This is the reality of our lives.

I could go on and on with the stories -- mine and those of other women that I know and that I’ve read and heard.

A woman leaves her hostel and goes downstairs to meet a new friend. She enters his car, he hits central lock, drives off to secluded area, and rapes her.

No one questions the rapist, questions are thrown at the girl.

Why would you enter his car?

Assumptions are made: she’s probably a runs girl, so it doesn’t matter.

This.

Society tells you that you should always be hyper vigilant and be wary around men and you internalise these lessons. But when you follow these instructions, they turn on you.

NOT ALL MEN.

They tell you to never leave your drink unattended, if you have to leave it, don’t drink it again.

Never go to a man’s house, if you go, and he rapes you, it’s your fault because what are you looking for in a man’s house.

Don’t even think of sleeping in a man’s house. Why would you do that if you don’t want to have sex?

Why is your dress short? If they rape you now, you’ll talk. See what you’re wearing.

We are taught that we are not safe with men.

We are taught to look at men as beasts lacking in self-control, yet when we follow these instructions to the letter, we’re told to loosen up. That we’re the ones attracting the wrong kinds of men. That this man we’re talking to is different. He protects women you see?

I know that not all men.

I know that there are men who respect women. Who accept no. Who don’t try to force, or beg, or manipulate women into sex. But there are too few of them out there.

Almost every woman I know has a story of rape or assault, but all the men claim to be part of the “not all” camp. So, who is doing the raping and assaulting?

Men apparently see no problem with feeling entitled to women. Feeling entitled to their spaces, their attention, their bodies, them. That's why turning down an offer of a free ride can earn you insults, stalking and even forceful grabbing.

Countless women I know have cancelled Uber requests after seeing their drivers, because of the fear that the driver might assault them.

How do you not understand that you, a stranger, following me on a dark/lonely/sparsely occupied road is a scary experience?

How do you not understand that I am afraid that you might assault or rape me?

Why is my fear amusing to you?

Women experience harassment everywhere. In their homes, at work, parties, school, on the road, at religious houses and places of worship.

Harassment isn’t limited to physical spaces.

Women are harassed online, threatened with rape, death and other forms of violence. Look to examples such as GamerGate and Leslie Jones’s experience.

Women are harassed and assaulted while wearing skirts or pants, while wearing bikinis or burkas, with heads covered or uncovered, as babies or as adults. The constant perpetrators are overwhelmingly male. So, the next time you see a woman share an experience of assault, harassment, or rape, resist the urge to ask her questions about her clothing or her sexual history. Instead, ask why this man couldn’t take no for an answer.

Ask about the systems that cause women to smile politely and engage in conversations with men, even when they don’t want to, out of the fear that saying no, walking away or ignoring the man will end up in violence.

Ask about what can be done so men eventually start to respect women and see them as human beings first.

Not as property, not as delicate things to be protected, but as humans.

Words by Lade Tawak