By Gillian Schutte · 10 Apr 2014
This focus on women’s harassment abroad prompted me to ask South African women to share their personal experiences of this occurrence with me on my Facebook platform. I wanted to understand the collective experiences of women in their everyday lives as social actors negotiating public spaces.
“Sexual terrorism is an apt description of street harassment. As a young woman you know it will happen, but you never know for certain when or how it will happen. This makes street harassment hard to define, and difficult to combat. Its insidiousness derives in large measure from its venue: the semi-private, semi-public everyday occurrence of walking, sitting, or standing along city streets, or other public spaces such as parks and shopping malls.”
Black and coloured women and working class women who rely on public transport or the taxi system are most exposed to and vulnerable to aggressive forms of sexual harassment. However, it is also abundantly clear that from the maid walking to work to the madam going out for her morning jog, no woman in South Africa is safe from sexual harassment.
Elise Black Athena Fernandez: I think many coloured and black women can vouch that this has been happening to them from a very young age. Especially when using public transport. My friend and I were about 16 years old when we took a train into town. A man sitting opposite us masturbated right there. No one I know likes walking through the taxi rank in Cape Town because of this. No one really speaks about it.
Mbali MamakaUmi Mthethwa: I once got slapped by a guy who was trying to 'hit on me’ and I wouldn't respond to his advances. The thing about it that was scary was that I was in a busy area at Bree Street taxi rank and a lot of people saw it happen, but not one person did a thing. I just walked off crying. And when you don't return men's advances in town, you get called a whore or a bitch, just because you wouldn't say hello back!
Goitsy Freeverse Lehmann: Yep, Van der Walt Street Pretoria...I have had buttocks grabbed, name calling just because I would not reply to advances...like you owe someone your smile and your 'good' mood. They feel entitled and I think the root of the problem lies with the general feeling that women are objects of pleasure...I mean how can you get harassed because you refused to smile at a stranger.
Barbara Abdinor: I had this gross old guy staring at me relentlessly a few days ago while I was sitting in my cozzie at the water slide park with my kids. My sense was that he felt he had paid the entrance fee and that was why he was there, to stare at women in swimming costumes.
Zimasa Mkentane: I was walking with my little sister to a supermarket around 5pm, and I noticed that there was a car going up and down (following us). We went into the supermarket, came out and I noticed the same car following us back to our place. Then this old white man stopped the car, (got) out with no clothes below the belt and played with his penis while he waved at us to get closer. We ran and took a different route back to our flat...
Liza Jane Shuttleworth: I can assure you that white girls get it just as badly as black women...aside of course from the fact that as a white woman I am lucky enough not to have to use public transport or walk anywhere other than for recreation (in "safe" areas, with a man and a dog in tow). But that said, I do a lot of work in rural areas and it seems that there is never a time or place where openly talking about my body, trying to grab me, talking about sexual acts and insisting I go out with/marry them is inappropriate.
Thank you so much for this article!
As a young black political studies university student, I have to take public transport everyday, and the sad thing is I have to "protect" myself by jamming earphones in my ears during my walk just so I don't have to hear the rude things men are suggesting to me. This thing is even more pervasive than public transport, though. Recently a boy in one of my classes thought it was okay to touch me on my neck. I made it clear to him that my body belonged to me, and that he should never do that again.
The other side of the coin is women who encourage this from men. Yes, we all are afraid, but don't give them the satisfaction that they can control who you are and who you choose to be friendly with. I see young girls in my township now purposefully wearing minis to get male attention, and I know they see their older sisters doing the same.
If the men of South Africa won't get their act together, then we have to show them how.
Great jobs on the movies, ladies.