#MeToo… My harrassment story
A few months ago I joined a new family. (More commonly known as a new job.) A family who has known each other for yonks and openly express affection in the form of hugs.
Upon one of my first interactions with one of the male staff members, I made it known that I’m not much of a hugger. Something he as well as plenty of the others respected even though it was a bit awkward at first. Awkard because it comes naturally to them all and they’re so used to it. Recently I gave in to a random hug here and there. It was not too bad actually.
This had me thinking about why I don’t do hugs. Why I don’t really speak to men all that often and why I go mental when men invade my personal space. Why I am known as somewhat of an “Evilina” to young men and teenage boys.
I support women’s empowerment. I empower women. I stand in solidarity with women around the world.
I am not much of a lipstick person but when I wear it, you best believe it will be red. Why? Besides finally finding the perfect shade for my complexion, I do so to show that I support rape victims. Because I remember being scared beyond belief when I was a kid and a boy threatened to rape me. Because an old drunk interfered with a group off girls (including myself) at a party once. The party: A confirmation. And I was about 10 years old.
This is my #MeToo story…
I have never been raped or physically abused in my life. I have however been on the receiving end of unwanted attention. If I were an ice cream, Sexual harassment would be my flavour. And there are plenty of men who crave that flavour…
If you’re into horoscopes and believe in Zodiac signs you may have heard that Libras are flirtatious to a fault. Apparently we flirt with anything under the sun. Such charmers, the bunch of us. The latter I would agree with. We do know a thing or two about charming. But that’s about it.
Ever since I can remember, being friendly has been misconstrued with flirting in my case. Smile with someone too brightly and it’s as good as saying YES to just about anything they ask before they even know what the question is. Then that’s not even having a conversation.
A colleague. A friend. A family member.
The past few years my confidence has stripped bare on a few occasions by men whom I had respected and who I trusted (to some degree).
• A colleague almost twice my age had started flirting with me randomly.
• Two years prior to that, a colleague started making up rumours because I ignored his advances.
• A member of my husband’s family decided out of the blue that I had the hots for him and told me the feeling was mutual. He could feel it in my hugs.
• Friends, who knows my husband as well, decided to start sending me inappropriate texts at random times.
The above are but a few of the incidents I’ve had to endure. Making me wonder what exactly it is I put out into the world. Making me believe that I am the problem. Me! A married mother of 3! I blamed myself for their actions and words.
Why would so many men from different avenues all have the same reaction towards me. I had to be the problem.
If there is one thing I learnt from my late gran (Mamma Ali) it would be to make yourself look presentable. I remember how she fondly reminisced about the good ole days and how women used to apply lipstick even when they were doing chores because someone may come knocking at your door. I also remember how she didn’t quite like frizzy hair. She would have had lots to say about my hair right now ?
From a very young age my mom used to school me about my facial expressions. “You are going to chase people off with that face”, she would say. It stuck and I don’t even have to remember to rest my face. It comes naturally.
My other gran (just Mamma) instilled the importance of politeness. Being friendly and kind. You have nothing to lose. Besides, it’s more difficult for someone to ill treat you when you’re being friendly. Gosh she’s wise, don’t you think?
Being equipped with this knowledge from three of the most powerful women I know, I think I know myself enough to know the difference between a loose woman and being a well balanced one. One who treats (almost) everyone with polite courtesy.
My biggest crimes would be that I’m spontaneous, flexible, have the ability to make everyone feel special and laugh a lot. I’m a people’s person. It’s a gift. Although I’m no fashionista, I want to look my best at all times. Dressing in clothing that suits my body type and makes me feel good. Bearing in mind that modesty is my top priority. (I’m raising girls. It’s a prerequisite)
Being harassed has influenced the way I dressed too because that, along with my friendly nature seemed to be the problem. My smile faded for a while and I felt dirty. As a result my marriage suffered. I felt like I failed my husband. In a way I felt like a cheater. (One’s mind can be rather irrational at times) Luckily I have a husband, who is my best friend, and has my back. Often he’s also the voice of reason and logic that makes me snap back and get up.
It’s so easy to drop the ball and forget who you are. All because some men are hernias. I am still the friendly person I have always been albeit a tad reserved. I am not the problem. At the same time society can make you feel like your the villain.
My advice to women who are facing similar circumstances:
• Know that you are not the problem.
• Contrary to rape culture, your clothing does not mean that your asking for unwanted attention.
• Being friendly or polite is not flirting. There is a huge difference.
• Don’t for one minute accept it when the perpetrator tells you “I’m only joking/kidding”.
• If a man makes you feel uncomfortable tell him to stop. In. No. Uncertain. Terms. If he doesn’t, don’t just accept it and hope it will blow over.
• It helps to talk to a trusted friend or family member about it. They can and often will tell the person to back off.
• If it happens at work, report it. You may not be the only victim.
• Society often blames the victim. As messed up as it is, it happens. Chin up woman. Society is not experiencing your situation. You have every right to feel, process and deal with the situation in your own way and own time.
These days my days are filled with teenage boys and their raging hormones. I have to be so careful about the way in which I carry myself and dress as well. At the same time I need to portray a healthy image for both girls and boys to make them aware that a woman’s clothes and mannerisms does not necessarily imply that it’s open season.