When I wasn’t even 5 years old, my mother started to put the fear of men into me. With a vehemence, she indoctrinated me to never ever get into a car with a stranger or talk to them on the street, to best walk away if someone pulled up next to me on the sidewalk and rolled the windows down – or God forbid even opened the door. She told me to say no to them no matter what they offered me or wanted to show me. She told me stories of what happened to those who didn’t.
Almost 25 years later, I still refuse to take a taxi cab alone. Almost 25 years later, I still hold my breath whenever someone pulls up next to me to ask for the way.
When I was 8 or 9 years old, I walked the five minutes it took from my home to my grandparents’ because I was to spend the night there. It was dark already and I was being followed. My small feet picked up pace, the larger ones did too. I all but ran into my grandparents’ yard, the door falling shut loudly behind me, but not as loud as my racing heartbeat.
When I was 11, not even thinking about taking any bus but the school bus, my mother told me stories again, this time about girls and women who had been alone with only the male driver and got assaulted by the very same man who was supposed to get them safely somewhere. Every time I find myself in the same situation, or worse, with one or two other men in there, I remember. I remember and I keep one eye and ear focused on my surroundings. Just to be sure.
When I was just about to turn 13, my mother decided I should take up ju-jutsu classes because a girl my age needs to know how to defend herself (nevermind that when I was 7 and told her I wanted to do karate like my boy best friend she told me it’s not for girls).
When I was 18, my best friend and I walked through the streets of her city right after 8 pm. It wasn’t even completely dark yet, but pedestrian zone was deserted and every guy, no matter the age, elicited a wave of unease in us.
When I went out dancing and drinking from 25 on upwards, I had to fend off various guys who didn’t accept a No that easily, who still leered from the back of the room when I finally got away from them with the old “I got a boyfriend” excuse. I felt dirty every time. For lying, for knowing that the only way they let up was accepting I supposedly was already another man’s possession, for still keeping a watch out for them for the rest of the night.
When I still was that age, I always made sure that my girlfriends and I were on the same page before we headed out. We talked about how far anyone wanted to go that night, if it was okay to let someone go home with someone, what signals to look out for if interference was needed.
When I was on my way home from those nights out, I sat alone in a booth on the night train and a guy saw me, abandoning his seat in another booth to take a seat in mine even though every other booth was unoccupied. When he didn’t get my attention, he started to touch my knee. I jumped up with an angry face and changed booths, hyper aware if he was following or not. Fortunately, he let up.
When I later told a friend about the incident, she matter-of-factly told me to shove my phone with an already typed in 911 right in their face because ‘usually that scares them right off’.
When I was on my way home in the dark whenever and from wherever, fists in my pockets, I kept my keys sticking out from between my fingers. Just in case.
When I was 27, a guy two steps up on the academic ladder from me noticed my thigh tattoo was sticking out from my pants. He told me once I’ve graduated he wants to see the rest of it.
When I was 27 as well, a man approached me on the street in broad daylight as I was Pokemon hunting just a few 100 metres off my home. Finally getting away from him and keeping up a brisk pace, I realised how both brave and reckless I was to not go with the age old boyfriend-excuse but the truth that I’m a lesbian.
When last night at 1:42 am, a friend called me awake, terrified, because she was on her way home from a uni party and a guy was following her, again, she told me the only thoughts over her racing heart were ‘I’m gonna die’ and ‘I haven’t even written down who gets what of my stuff’. No 22 year old woman should have to worry about leaving a will when going home.
When it was 3 am, I was still lying awake, rage flooding my veins and the reminder, to tell her next time it happens (because we both know it will), she should also casually mention the street she’s currently in so I have the chance to maybe do a little bit from 500 km away just in case, made me feel sick. Because it shouldn’t be like this.
When I’m sitting here, 29 years old, writing this, I don’t even bother mentioning all the catcalls and wolf whistles and sorting them chronologically.
I’m tired and angry.
Angry, that I had to have these experiences.
Angry, that all of my female friends had these experiences.
Angry, that there are girls and women out there who weren’t as “lucky” as I was.
So tell me again that we’re over exaggerating, that it’s not all men.
It isn’t. We know that.
But as long as there are men like this, we have to be aware, we have to fight, we have to make crude generalisations to shake you awake.
Being female in this world should not come with a big red target painted on my body.
But it does.
So be afraid of my anger, the blood on my teeth and fists, because I am ready to fight. Now more than ever.