Because it is sexual harassment, your harasser may take your silence for a go ahead at sexual abuse. Granted, you will be shocked and shaken that a random man dared to make such unwelcome sexual advances at you. You might be so shocked you will not be able to say a word to them in protest, or anger. I recognize the presence of the shock induced silence, because we all at one point or another, have had our lips clapped shut even when our hearts are a sea of turbulent emotions rising and not ever falling, because we were appalled and disgusted before being angered at the reality that a thing like that had happened.
But it is in the sequence of those emotions that the trick lies. If you could let the anger be at the forefront, before the surprise and disgust, the possibility of silence becomes ridiculous to you. However, often times, we do not have a say on what we feel and when we feel them, so this might appear a little bit technical and impractical, but it isn’t really. Not when you learn to love yourself in a fierce way. Not when you become completely in love with yourself and your body. For when you have learned to love crazily, for example, the unique shape of your butt, when you spend long minutes in front of your mirror, turning this way and that, smiling admiringly at your reflection, and then you step out of your home and go to school, and a random man or teacher with his possibly unsanitized rough hands dares to touch that butt of yours, you will be angry before any other emotion. That he looked at you in all your splendour and glory, and decided that he was worthy of a touch and meet silence? The anger this will spark in you will last days, and you will not be able to keep quiet about it. This man will stare at you, possibly in shame as you tell him exactly what (not who) you think he is. He will dart his eyes here and there furtively, seeing that people are beginning to form a crowd and that they will probably see him for the pervert he is, he will look at you pleadingly to stop. But you will not. Because you are angry. You will stop only when you want to.
Imagine that this man is unfortunate enough to try this with another girl some day in future, and that this girl has the same mindset as you, she responds to that harassment in the same way you did, he would have a rethink the next time he sees a girl and his hands begin to itch. He will realize that that itch is there only because he wants it to be there. And that now that it isn’t so important to satisfy that itch, (thanks to you and a couple other girls) he will cast it away. And there, we will have our revolution.
I remember once, as I stepped out of my house and waited impatiently for a tricycle or school taxi to come by, because I was running late for my class. I waited a few minutes in vain and decided to walk to the junction to shorten the distance while still waiting for a vehicle to pass that route. And as I walked, looking at the watch clasped round my left wrist, I heard the sound of a car coming from behind me. I turned and saw that it was a proper car, and not a taxi, and so I kept walking. This car drove in a slower pace. Upon reaching me, the driver stuck his head out of the window and said to me, in Hausa,
I lifted my gaze from my wristwatch abruptly, and stopped on my tracks. I stared at this man as he smiled and drove away, sticking his head out once or twice in delight to catch the stunned look on my face. I had never seen this man before. I was not wearing any suggestive clothes, (not that it would have justified that insult, but you must understand that I was frantically searching for a reason, no matter how bizarre, for him to have said that to me), I was, in fact, wearing the hijab. Upon reaching school, I asked my friend if the gown I was wearing appeared too tight, or if the hijab I rolled round my head was too short or stylish, she looked at me as though she was just seeing me for the first time in her life -and perhaps, she was in a sense. Because I do not remember a time earlier than that that I cared what another person thought of my dressing – and said “Are you well?”
I told her what had happened that morning, and it was not until she asked, “and what did you say to the imbecile?” that the anger began to set in me, that I began to feel bad for letting the shock get a hold of my tongue. I resolved then that if a thing like that happened again, I would spare my tongue the shock.
A few days later, with this resolution still firm in my heart, I came across this same man on that same route, and like a movie on replay, he stuck his head out to me and repeated the phrase and drove away slowly, I waved frantically at him to stop. I’ll never know why, but he did stop. And then I walked to him and told him something – a single sentence- that I leave you, dear reader, to imagine. It was the shock and fear on his face, how contradictory it was to the accomplished smile he wore the first time when i was unable to say a word, that made everything click for me. These people prowl earth, looking to make others uncomfortable.
And so I say to you: Refuse to be made uncomfortable. Refuse to let them hurt you. You do not need to sharpen your tongue, you do not even need to resolve like I had to, not to keep quiet. Just love yourself. Love yourself fiercely enough that silence or non reaction to an act of disrespect towards you is not only an impossibility, but violence of inestimable proportions to your utterly wonderful self.
About the Writer
Hauwa is a writer, resident in Minna, Niger state, whose work has appeared on brittlepaper, The Kalahari Review, Expound magazine, Praxis magazine online, and elsewhere. She is a student at Bayero University Kano.