I am well and truly overcome. With anger.
Yesterday as I went about loading my washing, one of my new housemates had the nerve to put his grubby hands on my waist as he passed me by, acting like it was okay to touch me without my consent. I recoiled in horror and all he gave me was a smile that I read to mean, “Come on, you actually really liked that.”
It hasn’t been two weeks that I have been living in this new place and by Day 2, I had already singled this one housemate out as a jerk. After a few harmless conversations, he’d zeroed in on my relationship status asking me that afternoon – on Day 2 – if my boyfriend came from Kenya “because I’ve already seen you wearing two Kenyan T-shirts since you came”. I was taken aback by this line of questioning, particularly since I had initially reckoned the guy to be a friendly soul. But after this, I realised he was a bit too friendly. All the same, I chose to tell him the truth that no, my boyfriend did not come from Kenya and that instead, I simply loved the country.
Day 3. The man decides to get more direct.
“So does a beautiful girl like you have a boyfriend?” he asked.
“Yes,” I lied.
“Where does he live?”
“In this area,” I lied some more.
And that was that… or so I thought.
Then came the comments about how beautiful my hair looked, how pretty my dress was, how lovely and tall I was. All I have given him back these past two weeks are curt responses to show him how I really didn’t care for his opinion.
And then yesterday evening, he decided to put his grubby hands on me.
Once I’d regained my senses, I felt the anger melt my insides like lava getting ready to erupt from a volcano. Still I managed to maintain a calm tone with him because I didn’t want to get angrier than I was. I plainly told him to NEVER touch me again; to never ask me personal questions about my life again because we were not friends, just housemates, not friends! Ask me how my day was or make comments about the weather but don’t dare delve into my private life or space. We are NOT friends!
And you know what he did? Do you know what all 6 foot-plus and 40 years of age of him decided to do?
He did what so many men do when they violate women; what women who’ve been abused endure so often.
He played it in reverse and made it seem like it was all my fault. Of course, he apologised at first but when I kept silent because I was still seething too much to speak, he flipped the switch and I became the devil and he the saint.
“From now on you are a ghost in this house. You don’t exist to me!”
His tone had gone from gentle to increasingly steely.
“I didn’t ask to be a ghost,” I retorted. “I asked for respect as a human being you share a house with!”
And then he began to walk off, but stopped after a few paces to point a big index finger in my direction.
“I am so much older than you, do you hear me?!”
I didn’t respond because yes, he is correct. He is much older than me – in age, but not in actions.
“Do you hear me?” he repeated after I’d failed to respond the first time.
“But I thought you said I was a ghost to you, so why are you still talking to me?” I asked.
And then he walked off.
The guilt trip. The ugly guilt trip that men who can’t take a woman standing up to them play. How dare he, for a second, assume to put the insensitivity of his misdeeds into my lap?! I am still burning with rage.
This happened to me before, and then I was ten years old, far too young to know what to say or do. As I walked home, an old vagabond came down the street towards me, dragging an old dirty sack on his back. I had stopped at the window of one of my favourite boutiques and was peering in at a pair of glass shoes when he approached me and tried to fondle me. Thankfully, two older women came marching towards me and prevented him from getting beyond reaching for my chest. But then I heard a few weeks later that a friend’s sister had been a victim of this man. In absolute broad day light.
Who the hell do you think you are to touch me; to touch us?!
I was saved again, at about the same age, when a pair of older schoolgirls told me to get off the bus-stop bench where I was sitting and wait along the roadside with them for the next bus. If my head hadn’t been buried in a book, I might have noticed that the man sitting about one-and-a-half metres away from me on that still and sunny afternoon had unzipped his trousers and was performing sex acts on himself.
I have had saviours. And today, I know how to stand up for myself. But what about those 10-year-olds who don’t have adults looking out for them? What about those women who get fondled then beaten then raped then try to speak but get a laugh of ridicule thrown into their faces, or worse still, that wagged finger of blame. It was all your fault.
I am angry beyond imagining, beyond words, beyond anger itself. I am angry because though I stood up for myself, I am still left with that feeling of fear. What if I’ve just fuelled a fire? Did I overreact? Would I feel less awful if I’d have just kept quiet?
Isn’t this why so many of us keep quiet until something ‘really serious’ happens? In our minds, we somehow justify that it was all well-meant and that to say anything would be to blow it all out of hand.
Well, I am not playing that game. If I let you touch my waist, then where next will your hands feel comfortable to navigate? Will it be my back, my butt, my breast?! No thank you. Your hands have absolutely no business on any inch of my skin, unless I allow them there. My skin is like fine silk and my body is a queendom.
I am not for free!