I stood this morning with my daughter in my arms and watched my husband climb into his car and leave for work. Nothing out of the ordinary you would think. But the minor actions of his movements and choices struck a chord with me. Particularly with the current #metoo and #ifmenhadacurfew movements rocketing through social media.
He was calm, secure and confident in his movements and choices. There was no fear or paranoia present in his actions. He closed the front door and didn’t think twice about leaving the security gate open and unlocked. He nonchalantly clicked the button on the gate remote whilst walking to his car, blissfully ignorant that he had opened himself up for a possible attack if someone saw an opportunity and noticed his lapse of judgement. He climbed into his car, with his back to the gate. I know that he confidently drove all the way to his office without locking the doors of his vehicle.
Completely and blissfully unaware that these tiny actions are not one that any woman is comfortable doing, particularly in South Africa.
We’ve had this discussion about security and vigilance ad nauseam. It’s become somewhat of a game if you will, for me to remind him before we leave our property to ensure that he remembered to lock the doors. The possibility of becoming a victim of an attack is not one which crosses his mind often, or if at all. Based on chatter at get togethers with friends, I am not alone in my ‘paranoia’ and neither is he in his mindset of ‘my wife is paranoid’. Men and women live in different universes in terms of safety.
I have always been vigilant and aware of my surroundings, my vulnerability and of our socioeconomic circumstances of our country resulting in increasingly brutal and aggressive assaults on women in particular. We are alert when shopping, clutching onto our handbags as though they contain the holy grail. We observe the movements of any person who happens to be standing in a parking lot nearby us when entering or exiting our vehicles. We don’t dare walk alone in the dark. We don’t dare dream of going for a job after sunset, especially alone. We don’t dare go into a public toilet on the beachfront or remote shopping centres. We don’t dare pull roadside to tend to a flat tyre or rogue toddler who has houdinied their way out of their safety seat. We don’t go for a walk on the beach alone. We send links of our Uber rides to our partners and loved ones. We give them names and addresses of clients we are going to meet, and let them know when we’ve left safely.
None of these things cross my husbands minds. That they are a daily reality for me and most women is something which is incomprehensible for him. How one person can live with such fear and uncertainty.
My concerns have always been there.
I have my own #metoo stories which I’ve shared with close friends. A man who stalked me for several years, who knew my every movement, who followed me everywhere, who confronted me at my car one night in a dark parking lot, who followed me to the beach for a solo stroll one evening, who sent me lewd messages, who tracked down my new cellphone number everytime I changed it and who finally was able to drug my drink and take me to a secluded spot on the beachfront and attempted to rape me. The police officers who found me did nothing. He had not kidnapped me, he had not raped me, harassment via texts and phone calls was not yet against the law. My clothing also indicated that I was looking for attention, so I had only myself to blame for getting into that situation. I was groped and grabbed more than once in my 20’s while out clubbing.
I was once thrown out of a club for punching a man who stuck his hand under my skirt and grabbed me. He was not reprimanded, but I was thrown out for defending myself. I was grabbed and taken behind a curtain at a local Octoberfest and felt up by a trusted friend. Again I was reprimanded because I had been drinking and was clearly looking for trouble for dancing and drinking. Clearly the onus is on a women to dress like a nun and sit in a corner, the prospect that a man is incapable of keeping his hands to himself is an impossible one if my experiences are anything to go by.
Women live in fear of being assaulted and victimised every day. It has become so much a part of our reality that it is commonplace for us to behave and observe in ways which men simply cannot understand.
One thread on Twitter asked women what they would do if men had a curfew. The results were astounding and a complete eye opener for many. Simple tasks and pleasures which men take for granted are luxuries or completely impossible for us.
Through all of this I am also raising a daughter. Someone who falls into the most vulnerable category of sexes. I want her to be strong, independent and resourceful. I also want her safe. I love that she is naturally a social and outgoing person, but her ability to run into anyone’s arms, blindly trusting that she is safe and secure with them, terrifies me. At the tender age of 2.5 years, how do you even begin to explain the threat that people could pose, without destroying her blossoming personality, trust and independence?
How do I begin to explain to her that because of her privilege she is already at a disadvantage and already resented by so many. How do I teach her how to embrace human nature and love openly, when I eye most people with trepidation, fear and distrust myself?
For now I task myself with the role of tutor, mentor and guardian of her. Ensuring her safety in our home and especially out in public. I encourage her freedom to greet, wave and high five anyone who greets her and respect her decision not to hug or greet someone if she is not comfortable with them. As she grows older we will broach more delicate subject matter surrounding what constitutes appropriate physical and emotional contact and abuse.
These are important lessons to teach our children. They need to know right from wrong. They need to know what is acceptable and not acceptable behaviour, towards themselves, and others. Without our guidance how are they to know how to tell the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behaviour?
So, while I watch my daughter take a nap, blissfully unaware of the dangers which she unknowingly faces every day, I take comfort in the knowledge that so far today, her world is perfect and safe. Tomorrow is another day.
I am also grateful for the role model that her father, my brother and a few close family and friends are for her. Men who can show her what it is to be loved and respected by the opposite sex. How a woman should be treated and expect to be treated, without compromise.
By teaching new generations how to respect one another, knowing right from wrong and letting them know that there is no shame in coming forward in the horrific event that someone has hurt them is vital in ensuring future generations safety and security in their lives and freedom.