When I was about twelve years old, I happened to have worn a short dress for a wedding. Not that it matters what I was wearing, but women have been made to believe that it does matter. So even in the mind of a twelve-year-old, it did matter. I can’t remember the events quite clearly but on our way back home we had to commute using public means and more specifically a matatu. The distance between the wedding location and our house was quite far.
I remember facing so much harassment from the men on the streets that up to date I cannot enter a matatu in a dress. At the time it seemed like something I could just push aside as soon as I got home, but I recently came to realize that this trauma hasn’t quite left me. The worst thing is realizing that ten years down the line you’re still haunted by a past simply because a few men couldn’t keep their unnecessary comments to themselves.
A lot of my anxiety stems from the uncertainty of a stranger shouting “Sema Msupa!” (talk to me beautiful!) , or the most shameless, “Wewe ni size yangu” (you are my size). I have developed several coping mechanisms for it. For starters, I cannot leave the house without earphones come what may. I always set my music on the loudest level to at least bar me from hearing what they’re saying. I soon learnt, however, that I could play loud music but I could not ignore the facial expressions and gestures. I could not ignore the winks and the stares.
So just how many senses do these men want us to block out just to be comfortable in these streets?
Another coping mechanism is crossing the street whenever I see a bunch of men seated together in the same spot. This doesn’t help either, because most times they still feel the need to yell across the street which makes it even more aggravating.
The gig is that catcalling has been excused so many times and in so many ways. Some say it’s just a compliment and that we should take it. Question is, what kind of compliments are forced down your throat? Others have said we should just learn to ignore it but how can we ignore someone yelling from across the street objectifying our bodies in the most manner less of ways?
Many believe that street harassment is harmless because it is so deeply ingrained in our culture. We have normalized catcalling to a point that it is passed off as a joke in most conversations.
The thing is, men know. They know that women don’t feel safe around them. It’s not a new narrative. We have discussed this for ages. They know that we are frightened by them, every single day, and yet they still mock us for it.
We cannot sit back and allow this type of belittlement. It’s extremely sickening that in this day and age women are begging to be allowed to live in peace. Catcalling is more than just the whistles and the winks. It is psychological harassment. Women have walked longer routes just to avoid being jeered at. We have spent money on transport that could have been saved if these men just learnt that the objectification of our bodies is wrong. Some of us have even developed eating disorders, anxiety and depression because of street harassment.
So no, my name is not “Msupa” and no I am not your size. Yes niko na maringo. And when I refuse to turn and pay attention, mimi si mrembo hivyo. But I don’t have to be. Find out the ways in which Street harassment is psychologically damaging
My name is Laura Ayienga, a 25-year-old writer & marketer, experiencing the highs (not claiming the lows) of life. I discovered my passion for writing on this very blog back in 2019 and since then, I’ve been using it to express myself as candidly and authentically as possible.