In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg asks 'what would you do if you weren’t afraid?' It’s a question I think about almost daily.
Last year for Women’s Month, I wrote a women’s wish list – a list of some of the things that I thought would make women’s lives better. This year I’m feeling less hopeful and angrier.
I’m angry that when I walked to work this week, on four out of five days I was harassed by men in the street saying variously: "I want to make a baby with your body lady", "You look so beautiful lady" followed by vigorously lip-licking, "come now, smile" and so on.
When I didn’t respond to these harassers, they didn’t give up, as one would hope. Instead, they grew louder and more aggressive; their gestures more lewd. One man, as I continued to ignore him, began to bark at me like a dog. So, I am angry that in a public space my body is deemed public property.
I am angry that an eleven year old girl could ever be considered consenting to repeated rapes by someone who regarded her as a daughter and angry that a judge is not fired or stripped of power when she or he rules in contravention of the law.
I am angry that we have to start international petitions to get the national justice system to take note. I am angry that a woman has a low chance of securing a conviction for the person who raped her, even after many years in the justice system.
I am angry that campaigns like "wear a doek" are the best response that the state can come up with to the issue of women’s inequality, and that budgets are spent on campaigns that have no real indicators by which to measure their success.
I am angry, so angry, that the NGOs who are doing the work of reviving and healing women who have suffered abuse in South Africa, are facing funding crises and closure.
I’m angry that the world dissects women into body parts. I’m angry at the world that is clamping down and rolling back on women’s rights that were fought for 58 years ago.
Those women marched against structural violence from a state system – what do we do against structural violence from a whole society? When do we get a free pass to our own country?
So, this women’s month, I’m an angry feminist. Hear me roar.
If I were to transform this anger into a new wish, what would it be? What if for one day, let’s say the 9th of August to be specific, men were not allowed outside?
What if for one day, men’s freedom of movement was restricted in the way that we restrict our own; by not going out at night, or taking a different path to work to try and avoid harassment? What if, for at least one day the streets were safe for us?
Can you imagine it? The scary thing is it’s very hard to. Imagine walking, running, driving, being in public, without fear of harassment? Without the very pervasive reminder that the space is not owned by you. What would it be like?
Imagine what this could do for our confidence – our sense of ownership and power. I imagine we would feel defiant, and we would begin to realise what we have been missing out on. How would we feel on the 10th when the men returned? Would we feel more like a sisterhood?
What would men do when we returned? Would some realise what it’s like to be trapped and limited? Would some be angry, resentful, or determined to put us back in our place? What of the good men? Would they begin to speak out more?
Our challenge is of course not with individual men – it is with the culture that backs up the patriarchs, the chauvinists, the street harassers. It is with a system. So if for one day we could skew the system in our favour, be free, walk outside without harassment, what would it be like?
What would we do if we weren’t afraid?
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