‘What’s the problem?’ he asked me. ‘I see people walking alone on the beach all the time. It’s not like you’re walking on the beach laden with tech and valuables.’
I didn’t want to tell him that my fear about walking on my own on a deserted beach was not about being mugged. I didn’t want to tell him about our universal fear of being raped. That as women we have been made so keenly aware of all the potentially threatening situations that we ‘place’ ourselves in.
Like walking on the beach alone. Like wearing a short skirt. Like going to the bathroom in a shopping mall. Like going on a date.
In the brief silence that ensued, he clicked. ‘But I guess it’s different for you. My girlfriend keeps telling me that I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman.’
You don’t. I thought. But I appreciated that he admitted it.
Because men don’t know. Not really. I have been blessed enough today to be surrounded by good men. My dad, my brothers, my life partner, my friends.
But they don’t know what it’s like to be thought of as an object, a possession, a ‘thing’ that can, more easily than not, be taken and overpowered, and torn open from the inside.
I live in a place where my younger sisters have a bigger chance of being raped than they do of being educated.
I live in a world where I cannot go for a walk without being harassed by men. Where if I smile at a stranger who happens to be a man, he thinks it’s a written invitation for sex. Where if I wear a short skirt men think I’m asking for it even if I say no.
It means if I stand up for myself I am a firebrand, a militant, a man-hater.
In my world, the matron of honour’s husband shoves his hand up my skirt and tries to grope my ass, thinking nothing of it before he’s ‘picture perfect’ the next moment on the dance floor with his wife and their twin flower girls.
In my world, men grab my breasts at a Sunday picnic, thinking it’s just all just a bit of harmless fun. Because it’s ‘the same thing’ as touching my arm.
I live in a world where young girls who show strength are still too often labelled as bossy while boys of the same age with the same strength are admired as being born leaders.
It’s a world where my contributions to a conversation are dismissed as nonsense because I have a vagina.
Where any emotion I express is attributed to a monthly cycle that most men don’t even really understand in the first place.
Where men think that if they buy me dinner, I owe them sex. And if they don’t get that sex, they demand their money back.
Where I am ordered by corporate policy to wear high heels, even if I’m on my feet all day.
Where I can create little humans, but if I want to, my career options are dismantled, and when I don’t want to, I’m judged as being a cold and empty woman.
I live in a world where my pores are always too big, my breasts are too small, my ass is too flabby, my tummy is too round, and I am old before I even hit 30.
But what it really means to be a woman is this …
I am stronger than you think.
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