VOICES

My Mother Didn't Allow Me To Go To Sleepovers Because Men Are Trash

This is not new. And we still don't know when it will end.

18/05/2017 16:10 SAST | Updated 19/05/2017 06:32 SAST
Elizabeth Sejake/City Press/Gallo Images

When I was a young teen I remember asking my mum what her worst fear was. My biggest fear at the time was snakes and, so I was asking her as a random question, expecting her to say heights or something equally banal. Her answer shocked me and awakened me to the reality of the world we live in.

My mother's biggest fear was and still is for her daughters to get raped.

It was a big deal in primary and high school to be invited to a sleepover or slumber party but I was never allowed to go. Every time I would ask my mother the answer was a standard "no". At some point I stopped asking, thinking my mother was cruel and just did not want me to have fun like other children. When I was 16 it dawned on me why she was so adamant that I rather invite my friends over to our house.

My mother explained that she feared sending me to a home with a father, uncle or older brother. What would happen to me in an environment she had no control over? She didn't know those men and so she wasn't going to risk it especially because puberty had hit and I was starting to develop breasts and my curves, though limited because of my small frame, were also starting to take shape. We can barely trust men we do know.

I was aware of the dangers of being a young girl in an environment where men seemed to feel they had ownership over my body. As a scrawny kid when my mother sent me to the local Spar about 300m from our flat, I would get catcalled over and over again, to the point where I started wearing hoodies and tracksuit pants in the Pretoria summer to avoid or mitigate against the calls, arm and breast grabbing and constant comments on my figure.

It didn't help. Covering up was not the solution. They did not care.

In 2012, I wrote this blog post called "Woman: Created as Man's possession". In it, I was recounting an incident at Noord taxi rank where two young women in short skirts were harassed. The aftermath included men and women both saying "they should have known better", it was Noord after all.

I was hurt, that in 2012 we were having this conversation. That in 2012 we were fighting for a woman's right to dress as she wishes, to walk around freely without fear of what will happen to her. I was hurt that I could not walk without fear of a man brushing his hand against my breast and then sneering after that. I was also hurt that it was women who were tasked with telling women how to behave.

Sadly, here we are five years later having the same conversation. Here we are begging and pleading for our lives. Here we are asking to be left alone and asking for men to own up to their indecency. We're asking them to call their friends out in their huddles and WhatsApp groups where they call women sluts and whores. We're here, in 2017 crying about our experiences with men we know closely, men we are intimate with, men we trust and believe to have our best interest at heart when they tell us they love us.

We are tired of talking about this. We are tired of pleading.

In the words of activist and filmmaker Beverley Palesa Ditsie: "If women were a country under siege, then we would long have called a state of emergency."

A war is being waged against our bodies.

When I heard about Karabo Mokoena's death, I was sitting in my mother's house with her and my grandmother. I told them the news and they were shocked. We spoke about other similar incidents we had heard of, and how often they were accompanied by an "if I can't have you, no one will" attitude we've often been exposed to. Soon after the shock subsided they both tried to give me advice on how to spot the bad men from those that aren't.

"Just don't date," my grandmother said.

"Get to know him first," my mother warned.

"I can't not date. How will I get married and have children? Even if you know him, what if he never shows you his dangerous side until it's too late? We only know what people show us," I said to them.

And so we concluded: when you put your trust in a man, you just have to hope not to die.

There it was, the startling reality of being a woman in our world.