It is almost impossible to find a woman who has not been subjected to some form of sexual harassment. Disparagement is familiar to many women due to the unwelcome attention of men, with whom they often have no affiliation. And it is sad that young girls are not exempt from the vile behaviours of those men who cannot seem to control their lust. Many times, I have witnessed men making sexual gestures, fondling their private parts in public or even exposing themselves to gain the attention of women and girls. In many cases, unsolicited physical contact or an attempt is made and the offenders expect that women would amicably accept such harassment.
To say that I am tired of this battle is an understatement. What I often feel is anger, frustration and, sometimes, fear. Fear because there have been instances when ignoring unwanted male attention resulted in a threat of violence. Mostly ignoring it is how I am able to control myself from retaliating in a way that may put me at the risk of being further verbally abused or even being physically harmed. Unfortunately, sexual harassment is not something that vanishes if ignored long enough. It is a systematic issue and many of the offenders are ignorant of the damage they cause, refuse to accept culpability, do not care that their behaviour is unacceptable or believe that their behaviour is normal.
As we have seen in recent times, especially in places like Hollywood, many powerful men who have offended have been exposed. Women are finding the courage to name offenders in an era where our voices can be a collective. Of course, there are those who are asking why there was silence for so long. There are also many questions as to the truth to some of the accusations. It is that shaming and doubt that often causes many women to remain silent and will deter many others from speaking about their experiences. It is encouraging that many are speaking up, which is a reality I hope will become a norm in Guyana. But I am not hopeful that the sexual harassment of women will end anytime soon.
Women are not:
We are not objects – not sex robots or mannequins whose only purpose is for the sexual gratification of men. We are much more than our weight or the size we wear. Our cup sizes and curves are no measure for our intellect or our worth. We are not here solely for entertainment while our hopes and dreams are ignored. Our education and skills cannot be reduced to how curvaceous our hips are or how we can jiggle our backsides.
‘Pssst’ is not a greeting.
Whistling is also not a greeting. We bear no wings.
‘Sexy,’ ‘Baby,’ ‘Fine girl,’ ‘Fat girl,’ ‘Thickness,’ ‘Sweet,’ ‘Slim-thick,’ ‘Black girl,’ ‘Red Woman,’ and ‘Darky,’ just to name a few, are not names on our birth certificates. And while calling us ‘Beautiful,’ ‘Gorgeous’ or ‘Pretty’ are meant as compliments, the contours of our faces are not all that define our beauty.
The truth is I find most Guyanese men I encounter drab in their approach to women. But I have also encountered the same type of men in other places I have visited. Perhaps because I consider myself a sapiosexual, it is difficult to find many men who interest me. I am not saying that most Guyanese men are not intelligent, but even some intellectuals have the same brash attitude in their approach to women. Generally speaking, gaining the attention of a woman does not have to be a grand gesture or loud declaration of interest. What matters is that we are approached in a respectful manner. What matters is that a man is not only confident in his approach, but can accept when the interest is not mutual and can retreat without fight or scorn.
Many of us women are turned off by arrogance. We are turned off by the sense of entitlement. We are turned off by the inanities. We are tired that we have to continue to fight these battles in this sexist society.
Perhaps it is too demanding for the average man to look beyond the physical appearance of a woman and try instead to stimulate her mind. Perhaps it is too much to accept, respect and praise that she is a force to reckon with and of equal importance.
Sisters Who May Be Ignorant:
Some women believe that it is acceptable to be viewed as an object exclusively for sex. The humiliation stimulates them and convinces them that they are wanted and needed, it makes them feel powerful and, therefore, they crave it. It is some of these same women who believe that if a man does not beat them, he does not love them. I do not understand them. It is a clear indication that something went wrong in their upbringing. Maybe no one ever instilled any values in them. Maybe it is how they saw their mothers and other women being treated. Maybe if they are approached with respect or are treated like a queen should be, they would not know how to process it. What will such women teach their daughters?
There is hope because there are many good men who do not harass women. There are men whose approach is respectful and dignified. There are men who love not only the physical attributes a woman possesses but are concerned about her hopes and dreams, can stimulate her mind and appreciate that she can stand by his side as his equal. We need more of such men.
And in the end:
It is this culture that we live in where harassment of women has been made normal that makes people brave enough to defend predators. It is this same culture that feeds into blaming victims instead of shaming the offenders. Recently, with the death of Kescia Branche and the allegations against Bishops’ High School teacher Coen Jackson, it has been further revealed how wretched our society is and how many do not care about the women who are victims or possible victims.
Until all little boys are being raised in circumstances where they are taught that respecting women is an obligation, not much will change. Until those misguided women recognise their worth, own it and demand their respect, men will continue to feel empowered to treat women like garbage. As long as boys continue to witness older men behaving in such a manner with no apparent consequences and as long as role models are absent, the fight will continue.