Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Fighting without violence

Why, at every juncture, with such frequency, do I feel like being a woman is having to fight?

Whether it's against the bouncer in the bar, who tells me that he won't let my 3 male friends into a bar because they don’t want a “cock fest”. So I ask him if he would prefer a “tit fest”, and he says yes. I say that he’s being sexist, staring him straight in the eyes. He smiles; I don’t. He realises how serious I am, so he capitulates, “Yes, fine, your friends can come in. And by the way, I’m not sexist”, smiling again. Yeah, right.

Whether it's against a male acquaintance, a friend of a friend, who I have known for some years. He has always been fond of me, has manifested his attraction physically, and in a way that I have never been comfortable with, mostly because of the fact that for the vast majority of the time that I have known him, I have been in a long-term, stable relationship with another person. The friend is well, well aware of my boyfriend. So why does he still hit on me, does he still place his fingers on me invasively, does he profess to harbour a shallow love for me? Why does he not adhere to my articulated clear-cut boundaries of “friendship”? Sometimes, though, I am doubtful: where I am normally more forceful, in reaction to random guys who harass me in the street or bars, my rebuffs of him have always been mild. Yet, I thought, firm. They were not the venom that I reserve for random sleazes because he comes under the category “friend”. I suppose I was more tolerant of his advances, though undesired, because of a supposed friendship and respect. But the advances never stopped.

Whether it's against my own boyfriend, or “husband” as he is known to some (we feign marriage in order to legitimise our collocation in the eyes of the more conservative segments of society.) I told him that this guy, the supposed friend, who had been with us all night had been speaking to me and touching me in a way that made me uncomfortable, compromised. I told him this, not because I wanted to start trouble, not because I wanted to stoke tensions in our social group, but because I was disturbed. And I voiced my disturbance to the person I trust most: the man who I have spent the best part of five years with. Obviously my words, my vulnerability, did not resonate. My words spoke to him more about his own insecurities, his own pride, his own frustrations or regrets that sprung from not dealing with these repeated incidents coming from the same person, than my own well-being. I had sought comfort, while instead he sought to challenge those boundaries that had been crossed. He insisted that enough was enough, and he was going outside with the bloke “to talk about it”. I asked him not to, but perhaps was not forceful enough, as he did go out to “sort it out”. Five minutes later, he’s walking back into the bar with blood on his hands after having punched the guy in the face. Great, what a really mature, thoughtful, unselfish way of dealing with the situation, oh enlightened male partner of mine. I leave the bar overwhelmed in embarrassment, guilt and rage.

Whether it's against a faceless stranger who assaults me on a deserted flight of stairs as I try to escape all the stifling chauvinism that surrounded me that fateful Friday night. I see him descending the staircase behind me, him on the right and I on the left. About half-way down, out of the corner of my eye, I notice him moving in my direction. My immediate thought is that he is going into one of the entrances of the apartment buildings that line the staircase. But before I realise it, he is putting his arm around my head, his hand around my mouth, pressing his weight against me and pushing my body down towards the ground. Somewhere there is something sharp, maybe a key, and it scratches against my neck. His other hand yanks at my handbag. I scream with all my fucking might, scream. Screaming, over and over and over. As I scream, the thought flashes into my mind that I know, I know in all my time spent engaging in issues of violence against women, that screaming is the best way of deterring an aggressor. So I scream until it rips the back of my throat. And it works. I hear a window bang overhead, and he lets go of me and starts running back up the stairs, reaching the top just as a door at the side opens and a man steps out. I have stopped screaming, and I am caught between hysterical sobs and choked words of explanation. “Harami”, I manage to utter. “Thief”, as I enter the safety of a shard of light escaping from the open door.

Whether its against that very sleepy shop owner, that angel in disguise, without whose presence I dare not think what would have happened on that staircase. That kindly man who offers me water and tries to calm me down, but insists on saying “women should not walk alone at night.” But why? Why can't a woman effectuate a short 10-minute walk home in her own neighbourhood? Why are we made to be afraid?

All this occured, believe it or or not, within half and hour on a Friday night.

Now, the next day, I cannot wrap my head around the violence. The violence of prejudice, the violence of sexual objectification, the violence of uncontrolled jealousy and pride, the violence of harsh assault.

Why is there so much violence?

Why are women so often reduced to the sum of their physical parts?

Why are women used as an excuse for men to be violent towards one another?

Why do women have to be afraid to walk alone at night?

Why is there so, so much violence?

It is the fear of violence that oppresses us. Yet it is the anger about such violence that mobilises us.

Yes, I am left with a festering anger. I'm angry at the bouncer for his shameless exhibition and denial of sexism. I'm pissed off at my so-called “friend” for repeatedly groping me, disrespecting me. I'm angry at myself for not having been forceful enough. I'm furious at my boyfriend for his lack of self-control and punching someone in the face. I'm livid at the prowling assailant, whose footsteps and approaching silhouette will now haunt me when I walk alone in the dark.

The great challenge, I suppose, is to allow neither my anger nor my fear to push me to reproduce violence. The challenge, now, is for me to transform these negative, traumatic experiences, into a productive outlook, a proactive stance that will say: I will continue to fight. I will continue to express my dissatisfaction with sexism; I will continue to not let people touch me in a way that I am uncomfortable with; I will continue to combat violent solutions of problems; I will continue to scream when I am most threatened.

I will not let my fear, my anger, prevail. I will stuggle to not give into them, allow them to harness me, to inhibit me, to silence me. I will sum up all of my forces so that, at the end of it all, it is the anger and the fear that will give me strength to keep fighting. But to fight with my words, because I feel that is the only way to exhibit a strong, viable alternative to the violence that I have seen.


Didi said...

Hello there,

Wonderful post, and a great way to shake off the dust of these perverse events and exorcise your feelings. This night has no doubt only made you stronger. Keep your head up and know that there are tens, hundreds, thousands, millions, billions of women walking those dark streets with you.
Love Didi x

ileanasantamaria said...

I second that sentiment - we walk the dark alleyways in solidarity and choose to express our strength and combat the darkness, alongside you, with words and other alternatives to wanton violence and brute force.

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of your views and I am sure that this passion of yours will definitely help you in achieving your goal. Just have faith in yourself and in God and no boy can come in your way then...
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zerolando said...

Hi there,

Sorry to hear what happened to you.
but i just thought I'd share my 2 cents with you. Do not forget that you have judged your boyfriend's action as being one of pride, jealousy. That is of course understandable.But, If you skip forward in this post to what happened to you along the stairs , you hold that thought for a second, while at the same time thinking of what your boyfriend did, you might then understand that sometimes , of course unfortunately, your boyfriend's reaction is the type of reaction that is needed against all and any type of harrassments,especially this one.
This is simply true because we live in a society where the mechanisms of applying the law have become so dysfunctional that sometimes and to protect our rights we have to act by ourselves.
One thing i don't understand though. If i was a girl and i am having a friend make advances to me in such a way, i would have ended that "friendship" long time ago. Simple Fact: A Person who obviously doesn't respect your opinion, your obvious refusal and insists on imposing himself upon you is a person who doesn't respect you and therefore is no real friend.
I can't but imagine the possibility, of course i do not know the persons and my judgment is probably wrong, that a person who goes that far and doesn't respect your wishes has the capability of going even further in his actions. In that case maybe , even if wrong, what your boyfriend did was necessary to somehow put a boundary to his behaviour before it goes outta hand? But it should have been you, the concerned person, the entity who should have put an end to such unfriendly behaviour in your own more proper way for some time now.Oddly, in my opinion, you haven't.
But thats just me ;)

theRibZ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
theRibZ said...

I am deeply affected and touched by your story. While I cannot offer you an answer for your question, I can ask further questions myself.

Why is it that we, men, are supposed to be everything a woman isn't?
Why should we be physically strong?
Why should we impulsive? Why should we be masculine? Why should we bear the burden of raising a family?
Why is it that we should be the ones speaking up? The ones to be strong? The ones to take responsibility?
Why does so much pressure lay on us?
Why is it that we are expected, prejudiced and asked to be things we are not, nor things we would ever want to become?
Why are we supposed to marry women?
why are we supposed to hit other men instead of kissing them?
Why are we supposed to not show our feelings?
Why aren't we supposed to cry? Not to write, not to be affectionate, not to be subjective?

I wish I had answers to these questions, along with a thousand others... But all I can say is that you my friend, were NOT made to be afraid just as I am NOT meant to spread fear among your sex. You and I are fighters of the stereotype. You be the strong woman, the one who's ready to kick ass, and I will be the guy whose screaming in the street asking for help. You be the one to raise your hand and shout your lungs out defending her rights, and I will be the bashful man who cannot speak up.

I loved your story, while you shouldn't expect any answer, keep up your attempts of self-expression until you show everyone what you really are made of.

You are no woman. And I am no man. we are human beings.

J.R. Boyd said...

What a brave and inspiring writer you are. I will remember this gift you have given us, and I will try to do right by it. Thank you.

オテモヤン said...


Anonymous said...

Its been about 4 1/2 years since the last post on this blog.

I always find it kind of sad when a blog is defunct.