Being a woman is a lot of things and it’s a lot of things to different people. I am a woman, an adult female born with lady parts if we use the universally understood conception of what constitutes womanhood. But I am not just a woman – I am a Nigerian, I am an African, I am a Christian, I am a Catholic. Those are all the boxes I would check on an official document. I am also my parent’s fourth child, and first daughter. I am a sister to four siblings. I am a niece to many, and a cousin to many, and a friend to many. Above all, I am a person; I am a human being and as I choose to define my humanity, one with a soul who is undergoing an experience on this earth for an unknown time and will one day hopefully return to my soul’s home in heaven. But I am a person right now, right here. And yesterday, I took a stand.
There is a man who I presume lives in my neighborhood. Since last summer, while running or walking somewhere comes up to me and says, “You look nice” or some version of a tame compliment. It was harmless initially and I took it as such. He has asked me out more than once. I would always say no and would do so kindly because it seemed harmless. I am an assertive person, blunt, and sharp but when approached by men in what seems like a harmless context, I have always tried to be kind. But yesterday, I took a stand.
What initially seemed like innocuous compliments from this man has led to me going out of my way to take different route when I see him or someone who even looks like him simply because I do not want to interact. From innocently running into him and assuming simply that because we live in the same neighborhood that is to be expected, to now looking over my shoulder when I come across him to make sure that he does not follow me home. Somewhere along the way, these micro interactions went from harmless to something that had me concerned. But yesterday, I took a stand.
I have had experiences of being potentially followed home and have had to go up to complete strangers and ask them to pretend like they know me. I have being escorted by security at a mall because a man was following me into every store I entered until I embarrassingly eventually asked a sales rep at a clothing store to call mall security. And I have been humiliated on public transportation by men making remarks that objectified my body and would get off at my stop just to continue until I turned to officials for help. But yesterday, I took a stand.
As I was waking to catch The L, Chicago’s city trains, this man came up in his car and yelled at me, “You look nice.” I didn’t even have to turn around. I know his voice well enough by now. I ignored him as his car waited there for several moments and I walked to the opposite side of the street. I looked back and watched him make a U-turn. He had made a U-turn solely to come and continue his verbal aggravation. He got out of his car and went inside a store, I started walking towards his car and by the time I got there, he was coming out of the store. Maybe it was the frustration of the day or maybe it was a long and coming moment of strength and it stilll feels like I had an out of body experience but this is what I think I said,
“Do you know me? Do you know who I am? Do you know that I am a person? I am a real person. I am a person who has a family and friends and loved ones who care for me. I am a person with a body and a mind and a soul that does not exist solely for your pleasure. I have done nothing but been completely cordial despite the fact that some people would consider this harassment and stalking. You have gone out of your way multiple times to make me feel uncomfortable and unsafe after I have told you that I do not wish to ever interact with you. I have told you this more than once. This is the last time I am telling you this so listen carefully: If you so much as look in my direction, I will call the authorities and I will find the best damn lawyer in this city to put you away where you will be someone’s prison bitch for no less than a decade. And by the time you come out, you will have no desire to even look at a woman again, much less continuously talk to her when she has told you she would prefer you didn’t. And if you don’t believe me, I dare you to talk to me again.”
Looking stunted, he turned around without saying a word. I walked away knowing I had made hyperbolic statements. Maybe he was really as harmless as his words. But I had grown tired of feeling paranoid and unsafe all while being objectified because I am a person with lady parts. And maybe it’s just one guy and that won’t make much of a difference. Maybe it won’t even make much of a difference to him at all. But I don’t care, finally, as a woman and because I’m a woman but also because I’m a daughter, a sister, a Nigerian, and all the rest of them, but who is first and foremost a person — yesterday, I took a stand.