“Pssst. I own you.”

As we approach the end of the Anti-Street Harassment Week, I’d like to talk a little about why Street Harassment is not just a sexual harassment issue, but the practice and reinforcement of male dominance.

A few weeks ago I went to the post office a block away from where I work. As I was walking back to my office, I passed by a car park with a wire fence. From inside the car park I heard a male voice say “Sweet Face.” I kept walking and he continued “Sweet Face, Sweet Face.”

I decided that I just couldn’t let this one pass. Not today. I wouldn’t let my psychological and physical space be corrupted by this man’s intrusion. I turned to look at him as I kept walking.

“Don’t call me that”

“What I should call you, then”

“I don’t want you calling me at all”

He had been following me all along the inside perimeter of the car park till I turned the corner. He raised his voice.

“Tell me your name. If you don’t tell me  your name I am going to call out to you every single day you pass here.”

It was a threat. 

A shiver went through me. I kept walking. I looked up and saw a man and woman glance at me. I guess a few people had been observing our exchange as I walked. The looks were curious. I guess they were wondering why I would engage this man at all or possibly they were waiting to see if the situation would escalate.

Two things ran through my mind.

1. Thank God I don’t have to pass this route everyday.

2. What would I do if I did have to pass this route everyday?

It also made me think about his threat. His aggression. The way he was demanding that I tell him my name. His sense of entitlement. Him feeling like he had the right to harass me and intimidate me to get me to do what he wanted. And that he would continue to do so, despite my feelings.

It is so clear to me that the high rates of domestic violence and rape in this country have very much to do with the way men see themselves in relation to women. That they have the right to dominate, in any space, even in a public space, any woman whatsoever. And to challenge that entitlement is to invite increased aggression, and violence if necessary, in order to maintain the status quo.

All those people who looked at me as I confronted this man also participated in the perpetuation of this status quo. Perhaps they were as disgusted as I was. Perhaps they too wanted to say something. But, it’s simply not a part of the script. We accept that men will accost, verbally abuse, intimidate, threaten and say whatever they want to women, and women will either keep silent or face the wrath of a man who feels his entitlement is being challenged.

There are no easy answers here. Like every other woman I am confronted with street harassment almost on a daily basis. And most times when I weigh the psychic energy needed to confront it against the fastest way to remove myself from the offending ass, I opt to say nothing. And on the days when my spirit just can’t bear one more crude, crass or just damn annoying “psst”, I have to weigh whether I am in a safe enough space to confront.

But it’s more than just me. It’s more than just a sexist comment on the street. It’s more than cultural. It is the most pervasive and socially accepted practice of discrimination against women; a gender script played out millions of times a day reinforcing men’s dominance over women.

Simone – WomenSpeak

Trinidad and Tobago

My name is not “My Dear”, “Dearie”, “Sweetheart”, “Darling”, “Babes”, “Sugar”, “Honey”, or “Babygirl”

A gentleman called my office phone, asking for some information. I helped him to the best of my ability. Below is the conversation that followed.

Gentleman: Thank you, my dear.
Me: You’re welcome, but actually, my name is ____
Gentleman: Well, thank you, _____ my dear.
Me: You know, I prefer to be called _________
Gentleman: Well, ________ MY DEAR, there are some things in this world we all don’t like, but we have to accept anyways.

I was speechless.

It seems like such a simple thing…a name.

I wonder…how would the man have addressed another male?

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 8) acknowledges the right of a child to a name and identity. As a child, I had a right to a name. I had a right to an identity.

As an adult woman, am I not entitled to the right to be called by my name? Do I not have the right to an identity of my choosing?

Why do some men feel the need to take away my identity?
Why do some men feel the need to take away my name?

Why do some men feel to create for me an identity of their choosing?
Why do some men feel the need to create for me a name of their choosing?

My name is not “My Dear”, “Dearie”, “Sweetheart”, “Darling”, “Babes”, “Sugar”, “Honey”, or “Babygirl”.

I define who I am.
My name is _______

Caribbean Woman

 

I felt like the perpetrator.

I decided to switch up my exercise routine and take a walk early one Saturday morning. I wore leggings (long tights), with a long tank top coming down to the tops of my thighs.

At one house on the corner, a group of young men were sitting outside with a female relative. One said, “Good Morning.” I looked at him and repeated, “Good Morning”.

As soon as I turned the corner, I heard behind me, “I like dem legs.” I reacted. I flipped him off.

The woman commented that if she was out for a walk, she would not go around showing people the ‘middle finger’.

I realised that the street I had turned down was lonely. There were no people around since the day was early. I could hear the men and woman still talking about me.

I felt scared. If one of them decided he was insulted enough…

I walked faster, thinking about the consequences of my actions. I felt like the perpetrator.

Then I remembered, at age fifteen, walking home from my exercise class in the evening, wearing T-shirts and long pants, and having men call me ‘sexy’, ‘darling’, ‘beautiful’. But never to my face…always just as I walked past. I remembered feeling uncomfortable, always on the lookout for someone who might decide to use more than words.

I avoid that house now. I no longer feel like walking. I haven’t worn my favorite pair of leggings (long tights) since.

 

Caribbean Woman

Broken

On the 25 November, which also was International day against violence against women. I was severely beaten by my husband of eight years. At six in the morning my seven year old daughter was awaken by my screams for help.

I was slammed into the wall, cuffed in the abdomen and breast, beaten in the head and most of all publicly humiliated.

I feel broken with no where to turn and no one to help me.I am especially afraid of what this is doing to my child.

Needa L.

Her screams..

Her screams fill my head, especially when I close my eyes. When I witnesses that video of the 13 yr old special needs girl being raped it was all I could do to hold back my emotions. It call came back to me in a rush. I was attacked at my home 6 months ago. My home was broken into while I was asleep I was tied up, my head wrapped and then I was raped while my children slept in the next room. This is still very fresh in my mind and sometimes I wish that the assailant did kill me like he promised too so that I wouldn’t have to live to feel what I’m feeling. Don’t get me wrong I’m grateful to be alive but when I hear how people are treating with this incident so lightly as though its no big deal. I feel to scream at them and say yes its a big deal! A huge deal! She was raped! She will never forget it and now there’s a video that the world has seen of her horrible ordeal. Don’t we understand that every time we view th e video we rape that child all over again. Doesn’t Mr. Alleyne Know that? Every time I had to repeat my story, to the police, my family, to my therapists it got harder and harder. I understand its called re-victimization, so if Mr. Alleyne believed what he did was right he must be a qualified therapists to deal with sexual abuse survivors and special needs ones at that.

Its been almost two weeks since the airing of that video and I’m back to using sleeping pills because every time I try to sleep I hear her voice in my head begging him to come off and then I feel someone over me and I cry remembering my ordeal. I wake up with cold sweats. I’m a single mom with children and this whole situation is just too much. Just seeing the way the public reacts so flippantly to the crime of rape, I know in my heart that no one must know my secret and now more than ever I choose to remain silent and suffer quietly because if I get that re-action to me I will surely lose what little sanity I have left and then what would happen to my kids? Who would protect them?

Crying Heart

“Whistling is for DOGS! Say good afternoon!”

soulsistrin:

This is an issue that is near and dear to my heart.  It is something limits my life.  I developed somewhat of a phobia of walking the streets of Port of Spain after moving here because of this.  The leering looks, men staring directly at my breasts and private parts, men making comments to me or about me.  I rarely ever walk the streets anymore.  I don’t even like walking around the Savannah.  The men in the cars hiss and whistle.  I cannot stand it. 

I remember being on Frederick Street one day, the busiest street in Port of Spain.  I was having a conversation with someone on the pavement and a construction worker high up on a building was incessant, whistling to get my attention.  At first I ignored him but eventually I lost my temper.  “Why you whistling at me so!” I shouted up at him.  “Whistling is for DOGS!  Say good afternoon!”  The entire block burst into laughter and the man was visibly chagrined.  He smiled lamely, apologized, and told me good afternoon, to which I responded politely.

I was walking up the street to my parents’ home in Maraval one day and two secondary school boys were crossing the intersection as I approached.  One of them made a comment and I shot him a look.  The second boy digged him in the ribs with his elbow.  “Say good afternoon say good afternoon!” The first boy blurted out, “Good afternoon miss.” I smiled and told them good afternoon and we went on our ways.

I avoid walking the streets here.  When I do I make it a point to respond politely to men who are polite to me.  I cannot do much more than to encourage them when they do not act like cave men.  But sometimes the nasty leering look is all I get.  It makes me feel as if I am walking down the street naked.  I am being violated by their eyes.  It disgusts me, but you have to be careful who you talk to and how in Trinidad.  I could get a positive response or I could cussed out.  Thankfully the latter has never happened to me.  But I still have to gear myself up mentally every time I have to walk on the street.  I still cross when I see a group of men.  I always wear loose fitting clothes, walk fast, make no eye contact.  It’s ridiculous.  Because I get it all the time even when I am driving my car.  And I always wonder… has this ever worked for you?  Has a women ever responded positively?  I know men who insist that women like it.  That we feel complimented and not ignored.  I’d like to ask you on behalf of all the women who DON’T like it, that since you can’t tell the difference, then please just be polite and say good afternoon if you have to say anything to us at all.  I am not a body or a face.  I am yourdaughter, sister, girlfriend, mother, wife.

The closeted agenda of the Open Mic

With T&T Pride fast approaching, I can’t help but re-call my pleasant and not so pleasant experiences in July 2010. So here goes … As a lover of the arts, I have frequented the open mics spots and live shows, which have grown considerably in popularity and demand over the past five years. I myself having performed in various events, mostly advancing a feminist agenda through spoken word and readings. Last year I decided that it was seemingly ludicrous that Pride should come and go and never be addressed within the local art spaces designed for open expression.

In an attempt to ameliorate this dis service to the population at large, I approached a friend of mine – a host of an open mic and explained my concept in hopes of sharing at the next session. In preparation for this event I asked my mother if she would be willing to sew some pink triangles for me as a gift to the audience. For those of you who are not aware,

homosexuals were forced to wear pink triangles during the Holocaust to identify them as such. This triangle was later inverted to represent a symbol of pride. This request was a big one, considering my mother’s feelings about homosexuality but she did it anyway … for me. I was immensely grateful.

On the night of the show I was told I was up next and then a minute later that I couldn’t perform. Completely flabbergasted by this series of events I was given a speech by the host … MY FRIEND that due to further consideration (over the past minute or so) that the content of my presentation may be offensive to members of the audience. She further went on to say that they were running a business and had to be concerned with public perception. In the end I agreed to do my spoken word piece but not talk about PRIDE or give out my triangles. In retrospect I’m still not sure whether or not this was the right decision. Sometimes when you are faced with unexpected situations, your reaction can be unpredictable. I did however express my displeasure with the handling of the situation and made it quite clear that I had no intentions of attending any future events.

The ordeal did however motivate me to approach other open mics, the hosts of which I also knew. Two times over I was again shut down, with one individual not even having the courtesy to respond to my email. Needless to say, the whole experience was very eye opening to just how closed these open mics really were.

Walking the road that I have chosen, politically and ideologically, I have already resigned myself to loosing friends and perhaps even the respect of peers but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t taken aback by the reaction of these so called liberals who I thought were providing spaces for people like me to create a better world. Once again I was reminded to stay in my place as woman, as feminist, as lesbian, as educator and as freedom fighter.

Barefoot Contessa

While Walking Up Back Street

While walking up Back Street

in green tank, yellow mesh T-shirt

and loose blue jeans

a copper hails me from

the other side of the street,

Ras, eh ras,

Dem breast dey look real sweet,

Ah just want dem breast dey,

Just de breast, you hear ras?

And me, being the polite

And obliging lady

My parents brought

me up to be,

Coolly took out a

Meat cleaver

(cause you never know

when a copper is gonna

ask for your boobs)

And commenced to saw

Through them

One at a time,

first right

then left,

And I took them

Over to the copper,

Silver spittle

Drooling

Shock and awe

Manifesting in his

Narrow copper face

As he stares at

two perfect melons

sitting in gouts of

blood and mucus

In my outstretched hands

(well what did he expect?

I was never one for silicone meself)

I took the melons and stuffed them into

Narrow copper’s pockets

And wiping my hands on my

Loose fitting jeans

Walked all the way up to

Peace Mo

Grinning

new melons sprouting

through red patches

on my green tank top

and yellow mesh shirt,

Screw You Copper!

Read an Interview with the author Debra Providence.

The Walking Wounded

I was sixteen years old and a fifth former preparing for CXC. He was a teacher at my school but more than that he was a long time family friend. As early as January, the pressure of the upcoming exams was taking a toll on me. This meant That I spent many days in the school’s sickroom and saw countless doctors. One afternoon, after another doctor’s visit while my aunt and I were waiting on public transport the teacher passed by and offered to take me home. My Aunt, needing to get back to work was grateful for his intervention.

On the way home he said he needed to make an urgent phone call and would need to stop briefly at his home. He invited me in and I promptly made myself comfortable on the couch. I must have dozed off while he was making his call because the next thing I knew he was over me demanding sexual favours.

For a moment I froze as the horror of what was unfolding hit home. With mounting panic I pushed him away demanding that he leave me alone. Instead, he pinned me to the couch while his hands began their insistent roaming of my body. As I struggled against his advances he kept saying “you’re such a lucky girl,your classmates would give anything to be alone with me”. I often think the sound of my blouse being ripped apart coupled with my hysterical tears brought sanity to the situation. He told me to wash my face, fix my blouse and then he took me home.

At home I hid the torn blouse having already decided not to breathe a word to anyone. It was not hard to do because by age 16 I had already suffered abuse at the hands of my stepfather and 2 other males. That night I shed bitter, angry, confused tears. Tears because the betrayal hurt deeply, tears for the loss of a relationship that until then was good and pure, tears for all the hurt I had suffered in my young life. I was so very tired of it all. What had I done to make me a target for so many sickos? And how were they all so confident that my silence could be so easily bought?

My stepfather who sexually terrorised me from age 9 to 11 effectively ended my childhood. His touching began innocently enough, a stroke of my hair, a light touch on my cheek.Then one day while I was using the bathroom he came in and began stroking my leg upwards to my vagina.I clamped my legs tightly grateful for the extra protection offered by the toilet seat. I knew then that life as I knew it had changed. What I did not know was the extent of the sexual games he had in mind. His favorite was masturbating in front of me until he decided it would be more fun if I participated. Sometimes he would place a sweet in his mouth and force me to remove it with mine. To refuse was to be beaten until I bled or complied. Life became one big hide and seek as I tried my best to avoid being alone with him. 

He carefully bided his time,knowing that: a)I had to sleep b)Try as I might there were moments when I would be at his mercy. I would be awoken from my restless sleep by a hand or lips on my most private parts. I learnt to disassociate until I almost believed it wasn’t happening to me. The beatings hurt, the threats terrified but more than ever the feelings of worthlessness were valleys that would take years to scale. Some well meaning friends have theorised that it couldn’t have been all that bad seeing I was not penetrated by him. To that I simply say it was a living hell. My days and nights were consumed by terror, fearful of what deviance he had mapped out for me. It was so bad that by age 11 I had regressed to bed wetting, was functioning at 2 grades below my level and prayed nightly for death. I withdrew from my classmates ashamed that they somehow knew my dark secret. How could I be anything besides dirty in their eyes and why would they even want my company? My other worry was that I was now unlovable.

At age 11 the God to whom I prayed made a way for me to be removed from that household. While I slept comfortably at nights, safe from unwelcomed visitors, the trauma was never far from my consciousness. I decided the only way to cope was to block it all out and pretend it never happened. And for a while it worked until a song, a smell, or something that was somehow associated with the abuse would bring back all the memories.

At age 21, burdened by the pain and faced with a series of events that reinforced my feelings of worthlessness I overdosed. That was my blessing, the catalyst for pouring out ALL the sordid details of my abuse. A period of counselling helped me to put my life in perspective.

From time to time the nightmares come. I still find myself breaking into tears, unable to even understand or explain why I am crying. I have an inherent mistrust of people and a deep anger towards those who stole my innocence. At times I cannot bear to be touched by the opposite sex which causes untold stress in my adult relationships. To this day I cannot eat a particular sweet and I cannot sleep in total darkness. I often thought the abuse was connected to my looks and at times I felt like cutting my face if it meant the men would leave me alone. Over time I have learnt that abuse is not concerned with appearances. It just goes wherever it will.

My mother has refused to believe my stepfather abused me. It took me a long time to come to terms with the betrayal but I suspect her denial was really a coping method. I wish she would have told me how sorry she was that I had to go through so much. I wish she would have held me and cried with me. Most of all I just wish she would have believed me. 

So here I am, living life the best way I can. To all the walking wounded I say we are strong, much stronger than we even know. We’ve taken all that life has thrown at us and though bruised we are still standing.

Walking wounded

NO, you cannot have this Dance

This was the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to me in my few years of life. 

I had been attending the birthday party of a classmate and was enjoying myself. When a friend approached me and asked me if i would dance with him, given that I knew him quite well I obliged him in a dance. He was well mannered while we were dancing and as the next song began I felt a tug at my waist. This strange man was tugging at me with so much aggression that I decided it was time to take my leave.

On my way out the same man grabbed me by the waist where he had a firm grip and proceeded to bend me over. In frustration and fear I kicked him and headed for the door . 

For days I wondered if this was how most men thought they could operate with a woman. Since this incident I am careful with the places I go because i would never like to experience such harassment again. 

Highly Embarrased

Antigua