To the teenage boys making disgusting gestures at me in traffic

By Kirstin Buick
06 August 2015

You made me feel powerless. And that’s not okay.

|OP-ED|

I knew what you were doing before I even looked. Out of the corner of my eye, a sudden flurry of movement – a furtive glance confirmed it.

You were in a school bus in front of me in the traffic, as I crawled my way onto the N1 in Cape Town on Tuesday afternoon. One of you had your face smashed up against the back window, lips grotesque as you dragged your tongue over the glass.

Another had your hands outstretched in front of you, palms inward, thrusting your pelvis towards them, laughing. And the boy with the shadow of a moustache sprouting on your upper lip – you held two fingers open in front of your mouth, flicking your tongue between them.

My reaction was well-rehearsed. It’s the same thing I do when men catcall me in the street, when a drunken stranger paws my bottom as he brushes past me in a bar.

Ignore them. Pretend this isn't happening.

You were making such a scene that the drivers around me noticed too. I received a sympathetic glance from the woman on my right.

The man on my left frowned slightly, then fixed his gaze determinedly on the steering wheel.

But as I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, eyes darting everywhere but my front windscreen, my blood began to boil.

Why do women do this? Pretend this lewd, revolting thing isn’t happening?

You can’t have been more than 15. But you made me feel small. You made me feel powerless.  And that’s not okay.

So is ignoring you, allowing you to think there are no repercussions for treating a woman in that way, the answer?

And when does it stop? We ignore the catcalls, brush off the unwanted hands – “boys will be boys” – and when things go further than that, we blame ourselves. We blame the women.

“I must have been leading him on.”

“She was wearing a short skirt.”

Or, as in a recent case in the US, in which a victim’s rapist got a horrifyingly lenient sentence: “She was drunk.”

As these thoughts flowered in my head, and you tried to catch my attention by bashing on the window and thrusting your crotches at me all the more vigorously, I did what any self-respecting journalist would do.

I took a photo.

You were all surprised at first. One of you, the initial pelvis-thruster I think, looked scared. Eyes wide, you whipped around and flopped back down into your seat.

The other two of you clearly thought this was hilarious. And you redoubled your air-humping, window-licking efforts.

Unfortunately, the photo didn’t come out great. You won’t be able to make out any of your faces. But maybe someone will recognise the bus, or remember you were coming back from a hockey match or something in the CBD. Maybe someone will know who you are.

And I really, really hope this letter finds its way back to your mom, or your dad, or someone you look up to.

And I hope they sit you down and try to make you understand that a woman is not an object, or a piece of meat. And that you hold no power over them.

I hope that one day you meet a wonderful woman and fall in love, and you treat her like an equal. That you have children with her. That you teach your son that a woman isn't an object, or a piece of meat. And that he holds no power over them.

I hope you have a  daughter, and that you teach her that no man has a right to make her feel small.

And make sure she knows that no man has the right to make her feel powerless.

PS Happy Women’s Month.

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