I usually choose what to wear depending on how much stupidity I am ready to handle from men in a given day.
On days I am in jeans and a hoodie, I really have zero strength to deal with stupid men in the streets- and they are plenty still! On days I wear my short dresses, I am in such high spirits that men of the stupid kind cannot get to me no matter what they say or do. On days I color my lips however, I am ready for a fight. I call my lipstick “war paint”.
On the second day of swimming naked in Lamu, it hit me that these are things men don’t even have to think about when the dress for their day ahead. At least not with regards to their safety.
And the thought made me angry.
I have since then began noticing things that in the past I simply brushed off. At the airport, it was crazy hot and one man just took off his shirt and stayed like that for a while; tummy, nipples and all. It wasn’t a big deal. One of the girls I was with actually remarked at that, saying how much she wished she could do the same.
I looked around and wondered what would indeed happen if a woman took off her shirt and remained with only her bra. If the dagger eyes weren’t enough to shame her into putting her shirt back on, security would probably be called on her and someone would cite a reason such as- ‘What the hell does think she showing the kids at the waiting bay?’
When we were leaving Lamu, one of the girls had some very short shorts on, and as we were walking to the ferry terminal, one man in a group seated by the harbor called out and said, “Ni mambo haya yataruharibia Lamu yetu.” (These are the very things that will ruin our dear Lamu) And I thought what foolishness! I could think of a few things that could turn Lamu to shit and none of them included what a girl chose to wear!
Yet again while in Mombasa, on the way to take a bus with one of the girls (different from the earlier one), a number of men made lewd comments about how short her purple shorts were and didn’t she know she could be stripped naked for that?
She was scared; I told her they wouldn’t dare. I said it with certainty because this was Mombasa and I had never heard such a thing happen. Heaven knows Mombasa people have experienced enough skin showing, to simply look upon it with disapproval and mind their own business. In Nairobi though, I wouldn’t have been too sure. Part of me believes the worst scum of the male species live in Nairobi. Those Lamu buffoons don’t come half as close.
It tires me emotionally how free the most insignificant of people are, to comment upon everything a female does as though she is public property to be closely watched and dissected at will. It tires me too that this policing is everywhere! It disappoints me that I have taught myself to expect a war when I dress a certain way. As if I too believe in rape culture.
And it angers me that the male gaze has been given such importance that in this day, a female still cannot dress in what she wants without it being attached to the perception of the male species.
I have been meaning to take self defense classes for quite some time. It’s about time I executed that. I have been actively shopping for small knives, for men in the streets who think female skins in the sun are calling out to be touched by their filth. I will be donning war paint more frequently.
And in the coming year, the stories I plan to write and shoot will have elements of females fighting back, sometimes in the most psychotic of ways. Call it catharsis.