Before I moved to Belize, I was never once subjected to whistles, hissing, hey babies, or provided commentary about my physical attributes and actions of such on the street. Now riding my bicycle to work elicits at least one pejorative utterance from the teeming testosterone enhanced masses.
Never mind I’m wearing a uniform and school ID. Never mind I’m probably teaching his sons and daughters. No, my crime is being on the street, shamelessly brandishing female secondary and primary sexual characteristics.
Sometimes, depending on my mood and the obscenity level of the comment, I’ll respond with humor. Once a young man called after me, “Teacha, teacha! I wanna go back da skool!” My immediate response was, “Hmmm, bwai, you wa fail!”
We both had a chuckle and went about our days. At other times, the bile rising so quickly to my mouth, I’m surprised I don’t vomit at his feet. Take for instance the man I met one Sunday morning walking hand in hand with his primary school aged son and daughter. As he held their hands and passed me, he made sure I knew exactly how and where he’d like to lick me.
It’s no wonder that many of our young females walk around, head bowed in shame or alternately with a weighty chip on their shoulder, one that drives them to respond with cursing and backchat.
Men rarely seem to understand our frustration, citing we should be flattered or even amused. “Don’t worry when they’re calling. Worry when they stop!” And, “It’s one of the pitfalls of being beautiful.”
It’s more like one of the pitfalls of having a vagina, I say. I guess I misspoke earlier because it’s really not breasts and pubic hair that set these men off because if it was we’d not see uniformed police officers hissing after uniformed primary school girls. When this is mentioned to some well-meaning and enlightened men, they will admit that the first time their prepubescent daughters described how a man verbally assaulted them on the street, they were angry and disgusted.
“I guess becoming a father changes us,” they say. Well, hell! Weren’t you ALL sons at the inception?
As India Arie sang, “When you talk to her, talk to her like you’d want somebody to talk to your mama…” And do we really need to channel Aretha and start demanding our R-E-S-P-E-C-T every time we venture to the corner shop, the bank, the dentist, the daycare, the workplace?
Do we have to turn our society into some kind of militant feminist off off Broadway musical just so we can reach our destination unmolested?
I remember the first year I attended Sisterhood Camp: one week in Cayo with 50 girls, 8 female staff, 3 female cooks and a male owner and a maintenance man who kept out of the way until suppertime.At one point I realized my usual “walking about” tension was gone. I felt free, relaxed, light. Then I realized, I hadn’t been hissed at in 5 long, glorious days.
I shouldn’t have to exile myself from the co-ed world to feel this peace. I shouldn’t have to feel this way at all. She shouldn’t have to feel this way. You shouldn’t have to feel this way.
Remember, every woman is someone’s daughter, sister, aunty, granny, and mother… Talk to her like that.
– S. Renee Wentz
Location: Belize, Central America