I miss a lot of things during lockdown – being cat called and groped on the street is not one of them

Alutho Mbendeni (PHOTO:ALUTHO MBENDENI/FACEBOOK)
Alutho Mbendeni (PHOTO:ALUTHO MBENDENI/FACEBOOK)

I miss seeing my friends, heck, I’m sure we all do. The coffee dates, shopping and painting the town red are things I find myself longing for when I get tired of staring at walls and talking to my parents during this lockdown.

But while all these things have been a sad loss for me, I find myself thankful – and extremely relieved – that for the past two months I’ve had a much needed break from being  cat called, groped or harassed by men on the street.

Most, if not all women, can affirm that this is not an exaggeration on my part. This extremely deeming act by creepy men on – what often seems to be – every street corner in the world is something most of us have had to live with since puberty. And honestly? Its crazy that it took a pandemic, and everyone being forced to stay in doors for some of us to finally catch a break from the harassment.

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On an ordinary day I would leave the house and walk to the nearest bus stop or taxi rank when travelling either to school, work or to run errands. The nearest bus stop is roughly 15-20 minutes away from home depending on how fast or slow I walk. On the way I would pass dozens of men who would either whistle at me or say stupid things like: “ Yoh, baby can I have your number” to “Baby girl let me walk with you to the bus stop” and of course comments about my body or what I’m wearing, ladies, you know how the story goes.

Some days, things would be worse, and I’d have a strange man randomly put his arm around my shoulders and pretend to be someone I know. Although this is terrifying and often leaves me terrified, being from the township, I know that making a scene is not a good idea because you never know if the person harassing you is capable of attacking you if you try to fight back.

I live in a township where you cannot tell a man that he is “harassing you”, you smile and try to be as calm as possible so that you do not make him angry or give him the impression that you “think you are better than him”.

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A lot of the times when I was out on the streets I would greet every man that greets me to avoid violence or being sworn at or have derogatory terms  thrown in my face simply because I did not smile or greet back or laugh at a joke – often ones that made me feel uncomfortable.

The harassment does not end on the street, I would experience it in the bus or in the taxi too. Any given opportunity where I would have an encounter with a man, it was likely that I would end up feeling uncomfortable.

Being at home has saved me from all the draining encounters that fall part of my “normal life” and it is the one aspect I am not looking forward to getting back to once the lockdown is lifted.

Although the coronavirus has left the entire world devastated and social distancing has robbed us our social lives, it has been great for my mental health in this aspect.

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