Sometime last summer I was walking home from visiting a friend when a man yelled “Uko na nyonyo poa” (Swahili for “You’ve got nice boobs”) as I walked past him. I turned around and gave him the dirtiest look I could. I felt so disgusted, so embarrased, so violated.
This was definitely not the first time this happened. Neither was it the last- unfortunately. Many of my friends have experienced the same- sometimes worse.
So I was delighted to see this video on my timeline last week.
There have been various criticisms of this video, which I won’t go into right now. But being a woman who’s been harrassed many times on the streets, I resonated deeply with this video. The main question for most people was “Is this really street harassment?” Sit back, that is not the point.
Rape and sexual harassment is rampant in this day and age. Because of this, you find yourself constantly looking around to see if you’re being followed. Most women have been taught to always be on the look-out. You are often scared. Mostly anxious.
So I’d like you to imagine what it’s like when a man makes loud, obnoxious comments about how you look or how you are dressed as you walk on the streets- you panic and wonder what he could do next. You pick up your pace. You repeatedly look behind. As if you are not uncomfortable enough.
Let me state categorically that I do not speak for all women- some comments are genuinely kind and I agree. However, it’s not about determining what counts as kind or what counts as harassment. It’s about an appreciation of the context and society we live in. It’s about respecting women and being aware of the fact that your comments could potentially make her (more) uncomfortable.
It upsets me that men are conditioned to think that they own the streets. That it’s okay to shout obscenities at a woman as she walks. That a woman must respond to your advances. That it’s okay to slow down your car and follow a woman as she walks. As if you are not uncomfortable enough.
© Tessy Maritim