Let me start with a few statements to set the tone for this post.
- I am a feminist.
- I believe in gender equality.
- I am tired of being harassed and having my friends share their experiences with me #stopstreetharassment.
Since I moved to Dakar, I have encountered a number of men who have insisted on participating in the act of harassment. This harassment is not specific to Africa as unfortunately it has happened to me on other continents however I do believe that it is more blatant here. Perhaps I just feel more vulnerable being foreigner… My harassers while in Senegal fall into 3 categories: the street idiot, the service provider and the co-worker.
Category I: The Random aka Street Idiot ( this category ranges from the jobless loiterer to the guy driving by in his car).
I love walking. God gave me legs with very strong calf muscles and my way of appreciating them is by using them. As such, I walk everywhere. If I can walk it, I will. Unfortunately with this, I tend to walk by a lot of street idiots who decide to yell something at me. I have had times when I am running and a random idiot will make a comment or offer to join me. There has been the man that follows me around the market either silently or offering to sell me something. There has been the man who grabs my hand while I am walking to comment on my physical appearance. There has been the man that yells at me from his car insisting on giving me ride. Then there has been the man that waits until I walk by and says something very creepy sounding.
I am usually able to successfully ignore them as they often make their comments in Wolof and given that I don’t speak Wolof, I just carry on. Each time this happens, I tell myself I need a witty comeback… I really want to stop and ask: Why do you insist on harassing me? What have you achieved? How would you feel if you were walking down the street and some street idiot did this to you? Would you be comfortable? The truth however, is that I am a bit afraid. Afraid that any response will encourage them to continue and they will be more aggressive; afraid that it would turn violent; afraid of being cursed out; and afraid that if anything negative happened, I would be blamed for it. Sadly, this fear is not new but by being out of my comfort-zone, I am more afraid.
How do I cope? I have (successfully) tried to look less attractive in my everyday life. I no longer wear makeup (with the exception of my much-needed eyebrow pencil) however I now look about 23. I wear loose-fitting clothes. I walk fast especially when approaching a group of men and in general I either walk with my head down or looking straight ahead. The look on my face is now what I call pissed off RBF.
Unfortunately I cannot say that this has been 100% effective but at least it is my coping mechanism.