Growing up in an urban setting (mostly in flats in the CBD of East London) I learned very early in my teens that I didn’t own my space when I walked out in public. Like many women who are dependent on public transport and public areas waiting for taxis, the mail gaze has always been part of my daily bread.
When I asked my mother and older sisters about a strategy in dealing with men’s comments in public I was often told, “su’bahoya wethu, a’khonto babhetere ngayo” (Don’t worry yourself about [men], they’re not worth your attention”). This didn’t allay my frustrations because it seemed that the less vocal women were in these public spaces, the louder men became. The attack on the woman at the Noord taxi rank was a prime example of what happens to many women across South Africa. I have been fully dressed but some men have had the audacity of slapping me on the bum simply because he can, or caressing my face as though he owned it.
Apart from the physical harassment, men have the annoying habit of whistling at women to get their attention the same people do to get the attention of dogs. I noticed early in life that women didn’t do this to each other and least of all to get the attention of a man. And my highlight experience of walking in public are the obscenities men shout when I don’t respond to their “ek se baby, ngas’ske undifake kuloo mathnga akho” (hey baby, I wish you could let me in between your thighs). When I have ignored these comments, the man has proceed with “hayi suka,suziphakamisa” (Whatever! You think you’re better!). I guess he’s hoping that will offend me more than the fact that he has made a sex object of me not realising that I could be his daughter, sister etc.
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