Today I am angry. I am also always angry, but that is besides the point. I am typing this half undressed on my carpet in my room, an uncomfortable position I will maintain till I finish this. I need to vent, or I will cry hot tears of humiliation.
I got off the bus at my final destination and had hit two men in 3 minutes. The first one not as hard as desired. He was a passenger in an empty bus that almost hit me as I turned to leave the stop. I exclaimed at the reckless driving and the fact that I was a woman incensed Mr Shotgun so much he hit my neck. I can still feel the exact spot as I type this. It churns with mix of pain, anger and the fear of ebola. I smacked his arm in return. Not hard enough. He opened the door and got down and walked towards me. I wanted him to hit me again and let things take their course. I wanted us to end as usual, at a police station, I wanted to bribe, pull strings, do whatever to make sure he got his. They restrained him. They appealed to him with the same logic that endorsed his hitting me : 'you know she's a woman'. Stupid me you're thinking, well I would have preferred that to feeling helpless.
Not more than ten steps away, I was going through the line of parallel shops that is a shortcut to my street. Its entrance is filled with boys who sell DVDs, phones and phone accessories. A mini computer village. Yesterday I pinched a guy for touching me. Today, at that very spot a guy sitting there touched me, I didnt check to see that he didn't deserve my rage. I smacked him with the anger of a few minutes ago, yesterday and today. I walked the rest of the journey trembling and wishing someone else to dare and receive my full martial arts package.
What I did was foolhardy. I would probably have been hurt and scolded by everyone who loves me. Including a friend who suggested that perhaps taking the longer route was an issue of better quality of life, not me allowing others' idiocy to determine my freedom of movement. We are still debating it, partly because for the grump that he is, its amusing.
I react pretty much this way every time. And I get responses along these lines:
1 'Why is your blood hot? In just dey play with you
2 'Don't you know you're a woman?'
3 'You don't have home training'
4 'You tink sey na onle you fine?'
5 'You nor even happy sey den dey follow you play'
6 'Ashaawo! I go slap you now'
One day I came home after a particularly bad day to experience that kind of disrespectful jeering two houses from mine. They were a group of school boys younger than my younger brother. I was so frustrated I was crying. My older brother (whom I'd had a fight with among other things that day) said something to me that stuck.
'Do not let yourself be saddened because of the actions of other people who are stupid'
That worked, but not for long, not in this case.This is not just a case of stupidity. My dictionary; at least its first and most relevant meaning defines stupidity as:
"Lacking in intelligence or exhibiting the quality of having been done by someone lacking in intelligence."
I fear the cap doesn't fit. They aren't doing this because they don't know better. This would imply such knowledge would change them. No.
IT IS CLEAR CUT BULLYING. Confidence in the fact that they are physically stronger and able to harass as they desire.
IT IS NOT ADMIRATION. You are not singled out because of your looks, or even anything more than a fleeting interest in watching you squirm, or whatever way you react which they find comical.
IT IS NOT IGNORANCE as much as NONCHALANCE. They are not interested in knowing, laughably less being concerned by such a thing as the concept of personal space.
IT IS, MOST PAINFULLY, OBJECTIFICATION. Whether you are wearing a hijab or short shorts, going to my street, or Yaba market, or anywhere at all; the mere deduction that you have a vagina qualifies you as a thing to amuse themselves with. Like a baby, only in much more denigrating, dehumanizing ways. You are not a woman in a relationship, a mother, or career woman. You are not the person who had a good day at work or is observing her youth service or is struggling to pay your way through school. You are only in that moment, nothing but 'woman' and can only be treated as human by the validation of a man being with you. This is the streets.
I don't get so angry because they are of a 'lower class' or illiterates, or not attractive, or I am proud. I get angry because of the sense of entitlement society allows another human to have to me .Because I don't want the mix of shame and anger at the way my body tenses up and I'm on the lookout for lunges to dodge when I'm passing two or more men.
I get angry because I don't want to think of what may happen if I happen to be alone with these guys in a room; but I do. I get angry because the freedom and decision to associate with certain members of the other sex is taken from me when they rudely force themselves into my physical awareness. It is mine!
I am 'human' before 'woman', 'somebody' before 'somebody's' sister, wife or girlfriend'. I get angry because I just want to walk in peace, the streets are mine, too.