After the #MeToo movement blew up, women and men everywhere were up in arms and the cry to rally became for once, magnified. With the emergence of social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for once we had the chance to see we were not alone. But up in arms too were the ones against it. Those who called it a ‘15 minute cry for attention’, ‘a disorganized feminist mess’, ‘crying wolf’ and simple hysteria of women.
To be honest the more I read, the more I felt that knot in my chest tightening. These were talented, smart, beautiful, accomplished women. They were more than I was. And yet here we were tied together, horribly bonded and scarred by these disgusting stories of creeps we encountered and fears we buried.
Reading a recent compilation on Buzzfeed about harassment to women brought back all the memories I’d rather not have had as well as news that a friend had been groped as she was leaving work. I kept feeling an unease that wouldn’t go away so I decided to write it all out. Perhaps it’s anger at our lot in this patriarchal society we live in. Perhaps it’s anger at myself for never being stronger, or at least strong enough to have fought when I could.
I kept feeling an unease that wouldn’t go away so I decided to write it all out.
When I was 9,
my mother told me to cover up more and wear less body fitting clothes. Mind you, I was a tomboy with a daily outfit of t-shirts and jeans. Not very revealing is that? The reason my mother feared for me was the fact that at 9 years old, walking in a supermarket with her, she caught sight of several old men, old enough to be my grandfather, eyeing me from across the walkway. And not simply eyeing, they were looking me up and down, the way a predator senses a weak animal in the herd, the way a hawk eyes the mouse from above. Untouchable gaze. Then again, perhaps I could dismiss that. I wasn’t a pretty kid and perhaps they were just looking because I looked sloppy. My mother would swear otherwise for years later and I would deny it for years after – until it happened again and again and again.
When I was 12,
I had my first secret boyfriend. I didn’t even really like him and to be honest the thrill of having one was more exciting than the thought of him. He definitely wasn’t my taste and I went out with him because my best friend then (who I now realise was a queen bee and an absolute bully) pressured me into it. He was her cousin. We were all in the same Sunday school class. I still remember one of the first things I heard about him that sparked a warning sign was when my aunt called up and said that he had talked to my cousins and said something about making me wet. I was 12. So was he. I’m glad now that I never even let him kiss me. When I broke up with him it resulted in his cousin convincing everyone she could to ostracize me and bully me. I still have trust issues to this day and refuse to acknowledge her or him for that matter. Thus I understood, that other women can also be cruel and attempt to subjugate you to the wants of another man.
When I was 14,
I was a church youth leader. By then I had grown somewhat into my physique and had the tiniest waist I could manage. Still bespectacled and frizzy haired with braces to boot, I wasn’t much of a looker, if at all. I was also due to much family pressure and peer influence, anorexic. I had a junior come up to me during a nightly walk of mine during a church camp to talk to me and one thing led to another and he put his hands around my waist spanning it and told me “You have the tiniest waist ever, you’re like an hourglass. Would’ve been perfect if you had boobs the size of C (another girl who was our senior)”. I did not ask to be touched, nor did I ask for my body to be compared to another’s like a cow judged for how much milk she could give based on the size of her udder. Yet that was what would happen over time, as I entered college and drifted in and out of relationships that were more toxic than the waste of all of America combined.
16 and walking home from school.
I cross a pedestrian bridge upon whom the boys of the neighbouring schools have taken to like a crow to a telephone line. Sitting in rows left and right of the railing they milled around the place and narrowed down the available space for me to walk into an aisle that provided little help in avoiding stares at my ass. Some laughed as the wind blew our pinafore skirts and tried to catch glimpses underneath. I would skitter around them and clutch my skirt around my legs as tightly as I could to avoid curious eyes. These same boys would loiter around as we had our physical education classes and catcall us from the same bridge overlooking our school field as we ran in our thin white shirts (whoever designed our school uniform is an idiot). To this day, I wear shorts beneath all my skirts and refuse to wear anything shorter than my knee if I can help it. When we told the adults all they said was ‘boys will be boys’ but we knew it was more than just that. They were simply too indifferent to check their behaviour, the same behaviour that could have been nurturing a predator’s mind.
I went away from home for the first time ever. Halfway across the country I would begin to live my life as a newly independent young adult. However, I didn’t feel like an adult when walking home from university classes one day a bunch of young men sprawled about the walkway started calling me from afar and hooting. One asked where I was going and if he could follow. I took a long detour home to my hostel that day and locked all the doors, even triple checking them before bed. From then on, I would carry pepper spray and a box cutter knife with me wherever I went for the next 4 years.
At 20 too,
I would have my first university boyfriend. He had an ego bigger than himself and thought the world of his non-existent capabilities. He would often make fun of my friends and compare my body to his sister’s, who in his own words “has boobs bigger than yours even though she’s so much shorter than you”. He would try to grab mine and fondle them whenever he could. I hated it and told him to stop. He would never listen. Whenever he got turned on he’d also claim it was my responsibility because I did it to him and I was a cock tease if I just left him be. He wouldn’t stop berating me about not ‘helping him deal with it’ and would often sulk if he didn’t get his way. He’d regularly talk about doing demeaning things to me to ‘prove that I belonged to him’ and try to pressure me into trying anal. I still hope he never again gets another girlfriend because I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through the shit I did with him. He was sexual harassment personified.
I was glad when I left him and thought the next boy would be better. But as I said, he was still a boy in every sense of the word. He would demand I cuddle him regularly as if I was his mother. And when I got tired and decided to no longer entertain him, he turned angry – and then violent. Just like that in the briefest of moments, his mood and personality changed. I still recall the one time he made me angry and I refused to kiss him because I didn’t feel like it. He pinned me down on the bed by my wrists and no matter how much I struggled and kicked he tried to force me to kiss him. I ended up with bruised and sore wrists for a week after. He never apologised. When I went to break off things with him and demand my room key back, he looked shocked that I would do such a thing over him ‘just getting angry’. He justified his threat against me (“Just you wait! You dare?! I’ll make you regret it!”) as him being jealous that I said I was tired of him and going to talk to another senior of mine. Again he tried to pull me into a vice-like hug/death grip as I tried to leave his room so as to prevent my leaving. My best friend who came along with me fearing for my safety (after the ruckus she heard from him yelling at me and slamming my door) had to claw him off me. He continued to come to my room daily to cry and ask if I would let him in. I should not have but I did. I would regret it for a while after.
Eventually I ended up with a senior. He was matured and worldly. I fell quick in what would possibly be a rebound. On one of the first few nights when we became official, he would try to pressure me into letting him put his dick in me. Without a condom on. “Just one time, just this once and I’ll never ask again,” he’d say pleadingly. He kept trying to pressure me into doing so and say his previous girlfriends were prudes who wouldn’t even let him touch them much. A year later he would try to quietly do so without the condom on yet again. We broke up.
That same year itself
I was out for a meal with my best friend and we were wearing shorts and a dress that just skimmed the top of my knees. In a crowded coffee shop an old man kept turning and twisting in his seat to catch a glimpse of us every time we got up to order food or drinks. He caught me glaring at him and smiled lecherously. That smile still creeps me out every time I remember him. There were plenty of other university students there, lots of other girls, but he zeroed in only on those wearing skirts or shorts, obsessively turning around in his chair and swivelling his head to stare as they walked.
Today, I’m 25.
I work as a writer and frequently attend night events where I’m required to dress up fancy and often only come home in the late hours of the night, the latest being almost 2 in the morning. Walking home to my apartment after getting down at the LRT station often gets me unwanted attention. I’ve been followed, hollered at with a “Cik adik pergi mana? Pakai lawa sangat!” (Young miss, where are you going? You’re dressed up all pretty!) to an “Amoi, cantik paha you! Pergi mana? Abang ikut boleh?” (Girl, nice thighs! Where you going? Can I follow?) or just plain whistling and hooting. I’m an average looking girl on a regular day, kind of auntie-ish even. On a good day, I still look the same but with lipstick. And yet they can’t leave me alone.
It doesn’t matter what age you are, what you wear, what you look like or what you do. There will be a demon spawn out there who will still try to take you down as many notches as he can, make you a notch on his bedpost or think he has the right to your body.
Fight as much as you are able even if you’re uncomfortable, fight back anyway. If you don’t manage to, it’s alright too. It isn’t your fault. Because I know how debilitating the fear of being killed, raped and assaulted can be. And I still know it to this day because walking these same streets, staying in the same apartment complexes are creatures that disguise themselves as men who are governed by nothing but ego and lust. I will not call them men for they don’t deserve such a noble title. They are scum. But I also know the regrets of not doing more although I know that what I faced is nothing compared to what countless other women face every day. So the best I can do is let it all out.
I’m glad I got to talk to you. Community service message: nobody owes you their body and harassment is not a compliment.
This post was submitted anonymously.
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