I am quietly, calmly overflowing with rage.
As I travel the dusty, two-minute path from the beach to my current home on the south coast of Kenya, motorcyclists slow down as they pass and men follow my progress with their eyes, halting their conversations to call out hello’s and worse.
One rises and speed walks to catch up to me. I slow my pace; he slows.
“Hi lady! How are you? Are you hungry?” He asks and I walk on, quelling an ever-growing urge to punch something. “You look hungry.”
What does that even mean?
So many shouts, uninvited attempts at conversation (read: flirtation), stares that harbor more than curiosity, pick-up lines that would be comical were they not so relentless—all in the space of five minutes. A baboon sits on the side of the road picking through garbage and even he seems to gaze at me with a bit too much meaning.
It would be impossible to identify the proverbial straw in the pile of harassment I encounter. My back does not break, however; it seethes. And in that moment, I snap.
Internally, that is. Externally, I keep walking coolly on: eyes set ahead, shoulders back. Too proud to show my anger—or perhaps not proud enough.
To look at me, you would never know that I am filled with rage:
Rage against cross-cultural commonalities which allow for street harassment.
Rage towards those who misguidedly take cultural sensitivity to equal passivity:
“It’s just a different culture. People are just friendlier. They just want to say hello.” No. If a human being feels harassed, violated or unsafe in any way, it is harassment. It just is. For me, cultural relativism ends there.
Rage at men and women both who criticize people like me for being too prickly—the same who file feminism under misandry.
Excuse me if wanting others to respect my right to walk down the street—any street, anywhere—in peace seems like too tall an order.
Rage against the apologists:
“It’s not about harassment; the same thing happens to men… so quit making assumptions and get off your high feminist horse.” Again, no. Consider this: When I walk down the same street with my partner, nobody—except maybe a taxi driver looking for a fare—nobody talks to us. No shouts; no earnest attempts to make eye contact; no heavy pauses in conversation and heavier stares. Are you really going to argue that I’m not being targeted as a woman alone?
Rage at the boys who cry wolf.
If my words at time do smack of misandry, perhaps it is because one in two men I pass believes I owe him something—that because he wants to talk I must automatically indulge his whim.
This rage is older than I am and if anyone doesn’t think it is fair, I would ask that he wear it for a day before judging.
Finally, I am filled with rage towards myself.
For not being the woman who spins around and talks back; who flares up, glorious in the flames of her fury and loudly, ferociously demands the world’s respect.
But I have always found it easier—safer too, perhaps—to respond with my pen rather than my tongue.
And so I walk on, silently enraged, dreaming of the day I will spin around and speak what I have written.
Naming harassment as anything you don’t like—anything that angers you— is a slippery slope to equality, you may caution and perhaps you are right.
Still, I prefer that risk to the alternative; I will choose rage any day over a slow collapse into complacency. Accepting anything less than full respect and full equality is a slippery slope as well, and I will not go near it.
Author: Toby Israel
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
Photo: Wikipedia Commons