|Image: We Are The City|
As I washed my pile of clothes over the weekend, something that happened weeks ago came into my thoughts.
I was on my way home from work when I realized I didn’t have enough cash for transportation for the rest of the week. I decided to go to the ATM. At this point, I was already bone tired and my heavy backpack was making me even more weary.
When I was done withdrawing some cash, I looked in front of me and remembered that I could do with some groceries. There is a mart directly opposite the bank I use so I crossed the road and went into it. After maybe 10 or 15 minutes, I was done. Adding the grocery bags meant that my already sore body was even worse off. I just wanted to get to my house, shower and fall into bed.
As soon as I got out of the mart, an Okada rider in front of the bank whistled loudly at me, beckoning me to come use his bike. Now, it is almost normal for Okada riders to whistle at their customers, even though many are replacing whistles with a ‘Going?’ or other variations of the question asking whether a person wanted their services.
Back to the rider.
By this time, there were two of us who wanted to cross the road to the other side; a man and me. The Okada rider kept whistling and even though it is almost customary, I was offended by it. It wasn’t just that he whistled, it was also how he did. There seemed to be a disrespect to how he did that was off-putting. But I was too tired to even care.
The man and I crossed the road and we both went to stand a few feet from the Okada man and his bike; him to the left and me to the right.
‘You dey go?’ the Okada man asked me.
I did not answer.
‘Come make we go now.’
Again, I did not answer.
I noticed that though the man and I stood close to him, he continued to direct his conversation only to me.
By this point, I hoped another Okada would show up quickly, so I could be on my way to my house. Almost like the Sky Spirits heard me, two Okada riders came towards us. The man and I stopped them and without waiting to discuss the price, the man hopped on one and was gone.
I asked mine how much he would take me to my house.
‘N150.’ I countered.
The rider agreed. I gave him my grocery bag to hold while I climbed the machine. It was as I was climbing that everything went south.
The Okada rider who had been whistling – and whom I ignored – started to shout.
‘Why are you holding her bag? Give her the bag! She no wan pay better money. Give her the bag make she hold am.’
I was shocked at the vitriol. What was this man’s problem?
My Okada rider and I ignored him. Again, he continued to shout. By this point, I was mad. Normal me would have shouted right back at him but I was tired. So I asked in my calmest voice, ‘How is this your business?’
My question seemed to irk him some more and he started raining insults on me.
‘Carry your wahala dey go oh! Nonsense. You no wan pay money dey give am you bag. Give her the bag jare!’
I told him to learn to mind his business and again wondered why he felt it was okay to shout at me for absolutely no reason. If I hadn’t been the one he was shouting at, especially knowing I had not said a word to him prior to asking how it was his business, I would have assumed that he had quarrelled with the person, especially as he kept shouting, ‘carry your wahala dey do. Nonsense.’ What was the wahala? Standing on the road and minding my business? Refusing to use his services? What?!
By this time, I was settled on the bike and we were about to head off. You will not believe that this man raised his hand to as if to hit me. This time, I dropped all decorum and shouted. ‘Touch me and collect slap.’
The man started laughing as we zoomed past him. He had thought to rile me up and seeing me get angry seemed to make him happy. He continued to laugh in his loud tone until we were too far from him to hear him anymore.
My natural instinct was to tell the rider carrying me to stop so I could really go into it with the man. While I would not have fought him, I would have ensured he got a good tongue lashing. I was livid at the harassment, especially because I didn’t do anything to warrant that behavior. Oh! I know that he was probably unhappy that I didn’t use his bike and when he kept speaking to me, I didn’t respond. But there were two of us who didn’t respond. Why did he think he could act a fool towards me? Why did he think he was entitled to my response? The answer is simple; I am a woman. I can bet my last cash that he would never have responded to the man in the manner which he responded to me if I had been the one to leave first.
This harassment of women by men has become so commonplace in our communities that it has become an endemic. I have written and spoken about it one too many times and nothing seems to be happening. If anything, the number of times I get harassed have increased. I talked about how women do not fear getting robbed, as most robberies come with a side of rape. I have talked about why men so easily harass women and in fact, the day I reshared the post, I was sexually harassed by a man in a bus. So yeah, speaking and writing and advocating for a change of character from these uncouth men doesn’t seem to be doing anything.
In all honesty, I am tired. I am tired of expecting that men would do basic things like respect women’s boundaries and not attack us. I am tired of fearing for our safety whenever we walk at night or go to the market. I am tired of the people who ask us what we did to provoke these men like a ‘friend’ once asked. He told me I ‘needed to look at how I dressed or carried myself that attracted these sort of men’. You can be rest assured that I quickly put his ignorance in check and told him it is never the fault of victims that they are abused. I am tired of the men who laugh along when women are harassed or who stay quiet, looking away as if the abuse would stop if they don’t see it. And…I am genuinely tired of our societal systems that allow these men thrive because it sees women as ‘less than’, ‘weaker than’, or ‘not equal’ to the man. I am sick and tired of it all.
And for a while, I stopped fighting. I stopped believing that anything I said and did mattered. I stopped taking on the patriarchy and misogyny that keeps letting these men get away with constant attacks of women just because they can.
But every time I see one man become a better person, I have a little glimmer of hope. Every time I see one man stop the abuse and harassment of a woman, even at an expense to himself, I am reinvigorated. Every time I see a man hold his fellow men to higher standards of behavior when they are acting like fools, I know that the change we desire can be achieved. It may not be today, or tomorrow, or the next decade, or even the next century but be rest assured that it will happen. The norm will be the equal treatment of all human beings and the exception would be instances of abuse.
So why do men so easily harass women? Because we let them; you, me, him, her, them, all of us. And how can we ensure that instances of abuse and harassment are greatly reduced? We all have to hold men accountable for the way they treat women; you, me, him, her, them, and all of us.