A couple of weeks ago, I took my car to the garage for it’s annual MOT and service. I had to wait for a specialist technician to be available to do the work so I had to go without a car for a week. I spent a fortune on getting taxis to get to work. The taxi drivers I had were nice; apart from the one driver who insisted that I sit next to him at the front. I politely declined and he didn’t push it much further. My interactions with most of the drivers I had were pleasant. We exchanged the usual small talk, ‘Busy at work today?’ ‘The weather isn’t great today.’ ‘Not much work for us today, you’re my fourth customer in 7 hours.’ I wasn’t surprised. Not a lot of people take taxis because they’re expensive but, I’d rather pay the £100 a week charge than walk, even though I only live less than two miles away.
Someone asked me why I spent that much money when I could have just walked for 45 minutes to get to work. I was afraid of the judgement I would face if I answered the question honestly since I was asked by a man. I knew he would never understand.
Many women all around the globe have bravely come forward to share their very own stories of harassment, discrimination and violence since the kidnapping and murder of Sarah Everard broke the news. Unlike many of those women who have courageously come out to share their stories, I was scared and reluctant to come out with mine at first. I didn’t share my personal stories due to the fear I had of being judged, called a drama queen and worst of all, a liar. After reading women’s testimonies all around the world, it didn’t take long for me to realise that their stories were so similar to mine. I will share some of my stories with you today.
Many of us have been taught to make excuses for boys from a young age. When we were pushed by a boy in the playground or bullied at school, we were taught to say nothing about it. A boy pushed me and ate my lunch once. I still remember the adults I ran to for help saying ‘Boys will be boys!’ as if that was going to be enough to reassure me, ease my hunger or really mean anything at all to me as a little girl. Some of us have had to deal with teenage boys at school who would ask us vulgar and sexual questions (sometimes in front of our friends) just so they could be seen as a ‘badass’ or because they think they’re cool. We’ve been told not to wear tight dresses or short skirts because to dress like that would mean that we are nothing but ‘slags’ or ‘whores’. God forbid you get raped while wearing skimpy clothes; not only would you be suffering from the trauma for the rest of your life but you would also be shamed by others for being the reason why that happened to you because to them, it’s simply your fault- ‘Your skirt was too short.’
#NotAllMen is currently more popular than #saraheverard and I think we need to clarify this for everyone. We know it’s not all men. We are not saying all men are predators out to rape and kill women.
What we are saying is that men don’t know what it’s really like to be a woman in our male dominated society. Most men don’t set curfews for themselves, starting from a young age because they’ve been catcalled, harassed and worst of all sexually violated. Most men can’t relate to these stories simply because they have an invisible gender privilege they most often take for granted. They can’t relate to women putting keys in between their fingers to use as a weapon just in case of an attack. They don’t think twice about walking to the corner shop late at night alone to get some milk. Men can go for a jog whenever they want and not worry about turning their headphones off to listen out for any potential threats. They don’t really think about pretending to talk to someone on the phone while walking alone. I don’t even pretend. I make it a habit to call my fiance even when I’m in the car driving late at night or when I’m left alone in the office and closing up. I tell him, ‘Can you please just stay on the line? I’m alone right now.’ and he already knows what that means so he stays on the line with me. A long time ago, my mother gifted me with a personal alarm and looking back now, I think that shouldn’t be something that’s seen as a usual gift for a woman; yet we buy it for ourselves and other women because we know that we need it. Like many women, I’ve learned to think about all the possible dangerous scenarios I could possibly face and learned to risk assess from a very young age. I’ve even avoided transit vans and alleyways just in case someone grabs and kidnaps me. I saw two delivery drivers park their transit van at my local Chinese takeaway and thought to myself,‘ No one would even see me being abducted because the van is facing that way so it’s better to walk on the other side of the road.’ They were only delivering supplies and produce at my local Chinese takeaway but all I saw was the possibility of them pushing me inside the van and how no one would even notice it happen because of the way it was positioned. If some of you think that’s paranoia, then I’m happy for you. You clearly don’t know what it’s like to be so cautious everyday of your life. I guess you never had to face dangerous situations like some of us have.
A grown man hit me in the face when I was barely ten years old. This happened because I said no when he asked me to do something that I didn’t want to do. It was over something trivial and for him to resort to violence just because I refused to do something was so uncalled for. After the first blow, I tried to run away but he pulled my hair and hit me again. This was in front of his other half who stood there and did nothing. He wasn’t reprimanded for it.
From then on, I’ve always wondered why it was so easy for a man to hurt a girl and for bystanders to do nothing about it. This wasn’t even any type of silly playground fight where kids fight with kids. A grown man hit a child.
I still have the screenshots of my fiance’s friends (most of whom I have never met) talking about how they would hire an ‘AIDS’ ridden black man’ to ‘rape’ me (their words). and how they plan on ‘chopping me up and dumping me in a canal’ (their words). Those are just some of excerpts from their online conversation in a chat room where my fiance was also tagged in. If you’re wondering about the reasons why they talked about raping and killing me? Well, they basically think that my fiance has been infected with ‘yellow fever’ (their words too) and that I’ve kidnapped my fiance because he chose me over them.
Still, to this day, my fiance and I are confused as to why they still don’t understand that their bigoted ways, violent and racist threats were just some of the reasons why he decided to cut them out of his life and stayed with me. It seems simple enough to understand but clearly, some people simply don’t get it. It seems the police get it though because they issued harassment warnings against them and they are not allowed to come near me or my fiance at all.
I was walking home from the gym with my fiance one evening when some teenagers who clearly had nothing better to do decided to throw an egg at me. They were in a speeding car and most likely had other victims that night. The egg hit my knee. I honestly thought someone threw a glass bottle at me. That’s how painful it was. My fiance tried to run after them but he had no chance of catching them.
Ten years ago, on a sunny summer day, wearing my favourite sunglasses, I drove over to my friend’s apartment for a visit. On my way, I noticed that a man in an executive car had been driving behind me for quite some time. I didn’t think much of it because I don’t own the roads and I thought, ‘He might just be going in the same direction as me.’ One thing was weird though, anytime I approached a roundabout and changed lanes, he quickly changed lanes too. Soon enough, it became quite obvious to me that I was definitely being followed.
Then, with a cigarette in his hand, he started waving his hand outside his window. He was signalling for me to pull over. He was wearing a nice shirt and I suddenly thought, ‘Wait, what if he’s a police officer in plain clothes and that’s an unmarked police car?’. Panicked and not knowing what to do or think, I went into survival mode and pretended that I didn’t notice him but deep down I knew that he knew I was aware of his signals.
Still to this day, I’m grateful that I quickly realised and thought of something which made me decide to drive away from him even faster instead of pulling over.
The man was smoking. An on-duty police officer in an unmarked car wouldn’t be smoking.
I tried to change lanes a few times and tried to get rid of him but whenever I picked up speed, he came after me even faster. I had this overwhelming fear that soon took over me when I realised this man was aggressively pursuing me. I couldn’t think of where else to go apart from head over to my friend’s apartment. Luckily, my friend gave me the remote controller for the secure electric gates so I could let myself in the apartment block’s carpark. My mind started racing, ‘Where else can I go? I can’t keep driving forever.’ There are automatic gates for the carpark there. He’ll leave me alone for sure when I get inside.’
I still remember pressing the remote controller so much (and so hard that I thought I broke it) as I started to approach the electric gates. I tried my best to stop my tears from falling. I didn’t want the man to notice me crying. Unfortunately, the remote controller signals didn’t quite reach the gates fast enough so when I turned left, the gates were just less than halfway open. As I waited to pass through, I looked up at my rear view mirror and I saw that the man stopped and smiled at me. I looked away.
The smile he gave me wasn’t a ‘Have a nice day.’ smile.
It was a ‘I’ll catch you later.’ kind of smile.
I ran over to my friend’s apartment and shared my story. It was a scary experience but I thought, ‘I’m safe now. It doesn’t matter. I’m safe now.’
At around 9 o’clock at night, I said goodbye to my friend and headed over to my car.
To this day, even after ten years have passed, I still feel the fear I felt from the moment I saw what was on my car.
There was a piece of paper on my windshield. It was a receipt with a hand written note on the back. I’m just going to quote what was written on it from memory but the exact words, I no longer recall.
It said something along the lines of,
‘I’m sorry for following you but from the moment I saw you, I thought you were the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen and I just had to meet you.’
Now, if some of you think that I should have been flattered.
No. I was not.
I was terrified.
The first thing I thought of was,
‘How did he get inside the electronic gates?’
I ran back to my friends house and concerned, we both thought,
‘He must have waited there for ages until someone drove in and opened the gates?’
I also thought,
‘How could he say that I’m the most beautiful woman he had ever seen when he didn’t even see my face? I was wearing my oversized sunglasses the whole time?
Which made me think, was he following me before I even put my sunglasses on? Who knows?
There was nothing I could do about it. My friend walked me back to my car and that night, I drove home on high alert and didn’t even put any music on.
I was petrified.
I text my friend to say that I was home safe. I didn’t sleep well that night.
This incident happened while I was in my car.
Can you imagine what other women face when they are walking all alone?
I’ve been harassed while walking alone and my fiance can even tell you that I’ve been approached and harassed by men even when he was around.
I asked my fiance, ‘You wouldn’t ask me to go to the shop alone at night would you?’
‘Of course not!’, he replied.
‘Why not?’ I asked him.
He said, ‘It’s not safe for you to go out alone at night.’
Women and men all over the world know, whether consciously or subconsciously that there are present dangers, discrimination and abuse out here in the world that only women face. What some people don’t know is that these threats are present no matter what time of day. In all parts of the world, some people see women as nothing but commodities to be bought and sold. In war torn countries, women are enslaved, raped and used as weapons. Right here on our shores and abroad, women and girls become victims of honour killing and fall victim to genital mutilation. In the west, female abuse and harassment can also be found in establishments which are deemed professional. Some women have experienced sexual harrassment in the workplace even when there are policies in place to combat these types of issues. From male colleagues who make snide remarks about women’s clothing all the way to asking for sexual favours in return for career progression. I know of women who have shared stories with me in the past who felt that they didn’t get the job because they wore too much or not enough makeup. I’ve also personally experienced what it’s like for my bum to be touched without my permission by a stranger in a restaurant on my way to the bathroom. For some reason, this seems to be an experience so many women have also faced; and so much so that we have all become desensitised to it. We think, ‘A quick touch on the bum isn’t as bad as getting raped and murdered in an alleyway‘. We don’t say a word about how uncomfortable we are in certain situations for the fear of being labelled ‘difficult’ or a ‘diva‘. The truth is, us women are always in fear; not only for our safety but for how we are seen. We are in fear of being labelled things which we are not. See the problem here? If a woman is too nice, she’s open to being abused because she’s a pushover. When she’s not nice and speaks up against any abuse, she’s often called a ‘drama queen’, ‘menopausal’ or a monster.
I’m now at a point in my life where I would rather be labelled as a monster than stay silent. A bit of harassment and abuse here and there may seem like nothing but if left unchecked, it can snowball into something bigger. The cost of turning a blind eye to all these things will cost lives, as we have seen with Sarah Everard’s brutal kidnapping and murder. Just to also note, Sarah wasn’t wearing skimpy clothes. She was just walking home in a well lit area of the city in high visibility clothes after a phone call with her boyfriend. ‘She was just walking home.’
I don’t drink, smoke or take drugs. It’s a personal choice that I made as a young girl. When I get asked to explain my choice whenever I’m in a party of discussions with friends, I say ‘I’m a singer. I have to protect my voice and make sure I’m always hydrated.’. I’ll be honest and say that’s one of the reasons and really, I don’t like the taste and the effects of alcohol on the body. I still think, Why drink alcohol when we can just share and eat some good food and eat ice cream after? ‘Why go through hangovers?’. There’s another reason that I don’t often mention and it’s this- ‘I don’t want to ever put myself in a situation where I’m under the influence of alcohol and vulnerable.’ There are so many cases of women’s drinks getting spiked and that’s one of my biggest fears. I’m afraid that might happen to me so I was never a party girl and even when I did go to clubs to join friends for celebrations, I always ordered my favourite Coca-Cola and held my drink with my hand on top of it.
There are so many more stories I could share in this post but this post is long enough already. I’m writing this today in the hopes that somewhere out there, someone who has their eyes closed to these facts will hopefully be enlightened.
Victim shaming is rampant in our society even to this day. Some religious groups are often guilty of pushing this ‘It’s the woman’s fault for not covering up’ narrative out there. No one seems to understand that if there were no perpetrators, there would be no victims. Women have called for our society to educate boys so that they learn to respect women instead of teaching us, girls and women how to better protect ourselves. I hope that this message rings loud and clear for all people to hear.
Women are at breaking point. What happened to Sarah Everard has ignited the anger that we all carry as women. There is a collective trauma that all of us share and we must work together as a global community to heal now and protect the future generations from this. There are many Sarah Everards out there in the world. She isn’t the first victim and sadly, she won’t be the last. We must end this cycle of toxic abuse against anyone, not just women- anyone. It is up to us to teach all our boys and girls, the future men and women of the world to treat each other with love, respect and dignity. Everything has a beginning so we must sow good seeds now. For me, it all started when I was hit by a man and no one said anything. This event made me believe that I’m less than a man. I am blessed to have been given a chance to undo and break those core beliefs that our society has pushed upon us, but how about others? We need to give everyone the same chance.
Only broken men and women hurt and break others. It is time to start raising strong children now for a better and stronger future.
As Frederick Douglass once said ‘It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.’
Let’s start building now.