To mark International Anti-Street Harassment Week, we are writing about our experiences of street harassment. For posts by Anouchka, Lola and rashné, please see NYE, 'Are you even black?' and Refusal(S): Street Harassment in Bombay... Under 'Western' Eyes
A man followed me from the tube one winter’s evening in 2005. He was white, middle-aged, non-descript. I had noticed him on the train staring at me. When I got off at my stop, he suddenly darted off the train as the doors closed. It seemed spur of the moment, that it was not his intended stop. As I walked up the stairs, I turned twice and saw him still staring at me, now furtively. I began to wonder if he could be following me. Most people head right, to nearby houses, when they exit the tube station, but my route was left, a few yards down a depopulated stretch of a major road before turning on to quiet backstreets. When I exited the station, I saw that the man had not veered right with the crowd but was still behind me. I slowed to a virtual halt to let him pass by. He did, then stopped steps ahead and turned back to me, as if waiting. After some seconds, he continued walking so I did too.
Now certain that this man was following me and now petrified to walk home, I decided to wait at a bus stop right by the station where, fortunately, there were a few other people. I also called my house and a male friend there jumped on a bicycle to come and get me. The man from the tube remained a few paces away, looking at me huddling as close to the people at the bus stop as I possibly could. After some minutes, he shrugged at me as if to say “oh well,” then casually sauntered away. So, yes, not even a word was spoken... yet I have possibly never been so scared. Who was he? Why was he following me? What did he want? If I walked home, would he stalk me down my quiet route? If I got on a bus, would he also? How would I then shake him off? Where would it all end?
Another man – young and black this time – followed me one evening earlier this month. We had made eye contact as I crossed a busy road toward him, so he presumed to come after me, tap on my shoulder and ‘compliment’ my appearance. I put these two experiences and my countless daily others like them here, in Nigeria, in America, in South Africa, on a continuum of sexual harassment and ultimately violence. Their structural logic is that women and their bodies are always available to men, so they can come after us as they like. The logic follows that if male strangers stop you on the street with a supposedly nice remark or a whistle or a rude catcall, or even if they shadow you from the tube but soon tire of it, count yourself lucky, “nothing happened.” No. I will not accept that my peace and safety as I walk down the street are contingent on some unknown man’s approach.
- Simidele Dosekun