Every day, women live with fear. It’s not paralyzing, but it’s omnipresent – whether you’re walking out of work in the dark or asking a friend to watch your drink.
Dr Poloko Ntshwarang, senior Social Work lecturer at the University of Botswana says, “Many women have said that if they are jogging and see a man behind them, they will move faster. Many women can attest to that. If you ask why they do this, they might tell you they suspected that the man was a thief that wanted to snatch their phones or purses or worse. And sometimes, they are right. For some reasons, it is hard to attach a feminine face to robbery. Some of us do not enter public transport when it is occupied by only men even though we know that anyone can be a robber. This is just to say that when women think about thievery, they think about men, they fear the crimes men do to them. In addition, experience taught women that they cannot fight men, at least not physically. Women know that they wouldn’t want to challenge or stand to experience any physical attack from any man. Women are not afraid of the man but of the pain he will cause them.”
Women learn to pacify men whenever possible. They tell them that they have a boyfriend rather than saying they are just not attracted to them. They avert all eye contact with people catcalling them from their cars so as not to encourage them. They certainly don’t yell that they are being inappropriate back at them. Women laugh at men’s jokes, even when they aren’t that funny. They sit politely while they explain things to them, things they already know. Moreover, on topics they might be experts in. This is in part because it is kind. But partly, women are very gentle with men, because, to a great many women, male anger is very frightening. They are polite in part because they know that if they make men mad, things might get very violent, very fast. Many women can attest to the fact that they were raised to see men as the stronger sex. Women were taught to stay away from men so they don’t get hurt. Women were taught that they are no match to men in a physical fight. And the majority of them have experienced that feminine “lack” of physical strength. Although it is tempting to say most men are wonderful, some are. Except, of course, for the ones that are not. One in three women are victims of domestic violence, and in 55 percent of cases where women are murdered, domestic violence is involved. In 93 percent of those cases, the perpetrator is their husband or boyfriend or an intimate partner. The threat of male violence is very real. It is a consequence women realize can follow when men get mad. There are women who have experienced the more extreme ends of the spectrum of that anger, but for those who haven’t, they have moments in their lives where they feel that if the situation had escalated farther, if they had not made it home and shut the door just when they did, if the man had one more drink, if…
Dr Sophie Moagi, clinical psychologist in Gaborone says, “By the time women reach sexual maturity, pretty much every woman has learned that you don’t want to make men angry. Ever. The fear is a low hum beneath the music of women’s regular life, implanted in their teenage years. They are afraid a strange man will attack them. You don’t enter an elevator already occupied by a single man. You don’t leave a party without your friends. Violent crime victims are more often men than women. Women are more scared – likely because of their fear of rape bleeds into their fear of all crime. Women feel like “it’s all my fault if something happens to me. Because I wore the wrong clothes or went to the wrong place or didn’t take a friend with me.” Maybe nothing would have happened with the women being followed, or receiving unwanted attention. But women still fear the encounters. And they are not about to call out men on their behaviour because they don’t want to make them angry.”
Ask a man about his worst date and he will tell you a funny story but ask a woman to tell you about her worst date and she will tell you about a man who followed her home shouting that she was a whore and a tease. The threat of violence is something that women consider when they walk home alone at night. It is also something they consider when they walk home with a man on a first date. If a woman as much as hesitates to go home with someone she will be called paranoid, if something bad does happen to her, she will be called reckless. Or she will be told something bad happened because she “made him mad.” Women don’t walk around feeling safe, they keep their drinks pressed tight to their bodies at parties and bars. They fake phone calls to keep strange men at bay. They take longer routes home to walk under streetlights. They text friends from bus stops and after they have locked their front doors. They turn on location-sharing lest a date turns ugly or violent. They reconsider wearing running shorts when it is blazing hot just to keep the catcallers silent. Women do a ton of the work to keep men from touching them in ways they don’t want to be touched. Frankly, it is exhausting. Men don’t seem to realize that if a woman does not seem to be having fun—if she tells you to slow down, if she moves away from you, if she suggests you should wait until next time, if she does not seem to express enthusiasm about having sex with you—that means stop. That does not mean try harder. The grim reality is that as a woman, once you realize that a man is ignoring your discomfort, the situation immediately becomes more fraught. If a man has made it clear that he sees sex, not a connection with you, you as a woman then standing between him and that goal might make him mad. And if he gets mad, who knows what will happen. He might yell at you. He might slap you and accuse you of being a tease. He might pin you down and have sex with you. One of these definitely happens. Women generally have at least one friend this has happened to and for those who it hasn’t they pray it doesn’t come to that and say that If I’m just nice, I can diffuse the situation and it won’t ever come to that.