I’m walking in Cape Town. He winds down his car window and shouts in Xhosa, “Come kiss me, slut.” Is it because I’m wearing shorts, because he’s broken, ignorant and angry or a mixture of both?
I write this exact paragraph and question on both my Facebook status and Twitter. It sparks a bit of a debate. Generally, people are horrified, rightly so in my opinion. Someone mentions that it’s largely down to him being in a car and him being a coward. I agree for the most part. I’m not stranger to catcalling, but more often than not, the “hello hello baby, hello sisi, wait wait, can I talk to you sexy,” and those annoying kissing noises.
One answer on the Facebook sticks out to me.“How bad were the shorts?” It’s from one of my acquaintances. I quietly note the use of the word ‘bad’, decide against launching into a feminist rant (feeling it will fall on deaf ears) and reply, ‘of ordinary length’ and ask him if he feels it makes a difference. He laughs it off, saying something along the lines of ‘maybe the guy saw too much’ and then started saying something about the quality of legs making a difference, or words to that effect. Sigh. There is nothing more to say there, really.
My best guy friend Dali makes a valid point. He believes that the biggest task in thwarting street harassers lies with other men. He notes that it is a mixture of
“boredom, insecurity and the need to accrue kudos or manliness points in front of others.As long as men choose to avoid taking an active role in discrediting people who catcall it’s probably still going to be a part of the culture for a while to come.”
I resist the urge to become completely and utterly depressed, but it’s true. I consider the guy’s friend in the passenger seat, who was seemingly amused. I think about crowd behaviour, and the responsibility we all have to each other as human beings. The responsibilities that men have towards women but also to other men. I think about the sexual assault at Noord taxi rank. I think about the Soweto gang rape video. All of those men, all of those men involved and no personal responsibility. I wonder if any of them were thinking, “What the hell I am doing? What on earth are we doing? Who am I?” I wonder how many were thinking, “This slut deserves everything that she gets.”
I’m a black British born woman who has been working in Cape Town for the past two years. As an individual I’m pretty thick-skinned when it comes to ignoramuses, but the S words are always tricky. When situations like this do arise I am left not feeling hurt (as the person doesn’t know me from a block of wood), but rather bewildered and saddened at the state of things. In this place and this time one has to remember it’s a cultural and social issue and it needs fixing. You have to try not to internalise. I did my best, but this day is just as hot as yesterday and I’m wearing jeans.
Nobody called me a slut today, which is nice.