This story contains information about violence which may be triggering to survivors.
My neighbour, an outgoing, friendly lady in her thirties ALWAYS jumps in fright each time I emerge from my apartment or from the other end of the corridor of our apartment block. It is often when she is trying to work the lock of her front door. I have been in this apartment block for 2 years. I can guarantee you that every time I come in and out of there and meet a woman who doesn’t know me well or is meeting me for the first time, I feel their fear. You can almost bet your life that they will either shut the security gate as they see you coming so they have a safe distance between you and them, or they will hurry into the lift or up the stairs before you get close. This used to upset me greatly. In fact, it still upsets me, although for a different reason of late.
I thought that they were being prejudiced/offensive towards me because of my appearance. I felt offended because I spend a lot of my time worrying about my looks. I have to look presentable at all times so that I don’t look menacing as a man of colour in the spaces I find myself in. I have to be careful of my gait at all times. If that doesn’t get me seen as a non-threatening male at first glance, what will?
Women are so used to being assaulted on all levels known to man. Even those that have not been assaulted before already anticipate that it is round the corner. Our track record as the male species has done that.
This means that my neighbour’s knee-jerk response to a male figure approaching her is fight or flight.
I grew up in a society where if a woman did not do as her husband demanded, expected or conditioned her to do, he would belt her. Or he could scold, slap, punch, kick her into submission. I was used to hearing my neighbour’s screams as her husband pulled her by her braids and smash her face repeatedly into the wooden cabinet. I remember the countless times she would leave a trail of uprooted braids on the floor of wherever the abuse took place. Her scalp would be stained with gentian violet the next day. She would carry around a bust lip and black eye the next day. Not once do I remember my family especially the older men standing up to her very violent husband. They would drink with him at the beer halls and pubs, but never there when he would get home and beat his wife because the meat wasn’t cooked the way he liked. Or because she asked for money to help her through the week or month. The most common was when he would accuse her of being a slut and looking at his friends or dressed in a way he didn’t approve.
I remember the comments from the neighbours being about how there was no smoke without fire and how she needed to run away. It was always about the woman. Never about the man’s behaviour. I remember the night she drank more than half of 500ml of Jik bleach and locked herself in the bathroom. It was late at night and he had left to go to a bar and warned that he wanted answers about something when he got back or she would get it. She couldn’t bear it and attempted to end her life. She didn’t succeed. This all happened in the 90’s. They have both passed away now…
I used this couple as an example of the many people I have come across and how they have existed in communities that have not stood up and spoken. I have also come across great initiatives that have given a voice to violated women. I take my hat off to them. Most of these are led by women. Where are the men? They seem to only appear when they feel threatened by hashtags to tell the world how good, sweet and kind they are.
Come on, guys… We can have a war on all the hashtags in the world or we can prove them wrong by stepping it up. Yes… Some women do not need protecting and are self-sufficient and have the confidence and that’s great. They are a minority. A minuscule one at that. In the same vein, some men are trash. And they’re bad news. Bad news travels at the speed of light. If we do nothing about the bad apples among us, we are all a bad bag of rotten apples. There are no two ways about it. Until then, the hashtag #MenAreTrash remains gospel.
Frank Malaba © 2017