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THE EVERY DAY SEXISM

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When a woman walks the streets, she will encounter a great deal of leering, groping, cat-calling, the societal ‘othering’, name calling, whistling, demeaning, staring, a lot of ‘that butt and that cleavage’.

If she ignores those comments, they will surely be followed by ‘It’s only a joke. Look at you!’ If you haven’t lived through what women have, then you can’t possibly understand this at the level that we do, no matter how deeply disturbed you are by the situation and how sympathetic you might be. It is not failing, or an admission of weakness for a man to understand intellectually what women have undergone. Just as I, as a woman, have an intellectual understanding of what it must have been like to live in the times of slavery, but I can never claim to know what the oppressed people felt.

Some men unconsciously participate in patriarchal culture, the every day sexism. Until they realise that sexism is like air, all round them, so pervasive that they don’t see it, even if they are in or a part of it. The hardest part is accepting that men will never truly understand what women go through, and it is for that reason that it is important for them to let women tell their stories. A close friend of mine experienced widespread sexism while walking the streets of the ever rowdy bus rank in Mbabane. She was just getting off a bus when one of the bus conductors started fumbling her. When she told him to stop and he wouldn’t, she pushed him away and that is when all hell broke loose. All the bus drivers and conductors came over and started calling her all sorts of names. According to them, she should have gladly welcomed this man’s harassment and taken it as a compliment. That is what rape culture dictates - that pretty women had it coming, and ugly women must be glad for the attention.

While the above scenario, and most conversations and issues are about men who are a problem, well this letter is about the ones who aren’t. If you don’t stand up against sexism, or speak out when you witness unfair treatment of women, then you are not any different from the men who actually commit the act. We tend to think of street harassment as something obviously inappropriate - someone yelling that they like your bum that they’d hit it; wolf whistles and pet names hollered down the block. It is not only the strange, shirtless guy who makes us uncomfortable, but also the men who are okay with sexism.

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