Tuesday, 2 February 2016

The Guys in the Beamer

Violent crime is something that we implicitly accept as South Africans. It is part of our social contract - what that means is that it is simply the price we pay for having so much in a country that has so little. This does not justify crime when it does happen, but it is an (unfortunate) reality of where we live.

This post is not one about the traumatic experience I had being followed home, hijacked and having had my partner assaulted about a year and a half ago. But rather about the trauma that ensued thereafter... and how patriarchy fits into all of it.

I am no stranger to violence. This does not mean that I want violence to be inflicted on me, just that it takes higher than average levels of violence to illicit a response from me (see: walking the line between two worlds).  The episode that ensued surrounding the day of my graduation - the day I was hijacked - was exceptionally traumatic. It heightened my sensitivity to the way our shamefully male entitled society functions as follows:

Given that it was graduation season I had  a couple of obligations on campus. This particular obligation was a prize giving ceremony. Unfortunately I was hijacked the night before and could not get out of the ceremony that was taking place that day. I was up until 4 a.m, after waiting with my partner in the waiting room of a hospital until he was admitted and kept for observation. I should not have been driving. I was sleep deprived and shocked. In either case I borrowed a car and made my way to this prize giving ceremony...

On my way, I could barely focus on driving, and was expectedly shaken up. As I got closer to campus I decided to take the road that goes behind Baxter and behind Graca Machel as a shortcut to upper campus (as opposed to the main road that boasts a lot of traffic). Driving on this secluded road I passed by a few guys in a BMW. A blue BMW. They hooted as I drove passed them. I kept driving, and as I looked into the rear view mirror I saw that they were driving behind me.

"They can't be following me" I said to myself out loud. This can not be happening. Not after last night. I speed up. They speed up too. I take a short right, they follow, we find ourselves in the parking lot of the girls residence Graca Machel. I drive up to the gym, they follow. I start hyperventilating. Maybe they were coming to the gym. I stop dead and pull up the hand break. They stop dead next to me. My heart is in my chest - this exact situation played out less than 12 hours ago, and ended poorly. My partner's bloody head flashes before my eyes. I get out of the car, choking on my tears and lack of air and shout out to them:

"Please stop following me, I am not a racist, I was hijacked last night, the guys... followed me home, they followed me, I have a prize giving on upper, I am not a racist..."

They start laughing and get out of the car. The driver gets out last and asks me if I need help, why I am driving and if they need to escort me to upper campus. I vehemently decline.

"No, no, I'M FINE." I repeat.

Tears streaming down my face and heart palpitations a bit calmer I get into the drivers seat and make my way to the prize giving.

After the prize giving I have to drive back home, on the exact same route I was followed on less than 24 hours ago. I can barely breathe. I start wailing and the tears are endless. I make it home. When I narrate my story to the people I am staying with I am met with much sympathy but also the response that I could have "manifested" the guys in the beamer following me...

I have thought about what happened that day at least a thousand times since it happened. Riddled with guilt at the fact that I thought these men did something wrong and my cringeworthy defense that I was not racist. I knew that these were "good" guys, I mean it was obvious that they were definitely not going to attack me in broad daylight. So then why did it affect me so deeply? Why did them following me shake me up so much? Was it a pure projection of my trauma from a mere few hours ago? Why did I feel so violated?

Fast forward eighteen months and I am sitting at a dive bar in town next to a friend of a friend. This friend of a friend - Andile* - says that he has been meaning to ask me for a long time if I recall an incident that happened around upper campus the previous December. Apparently his friends narrated to him that they followed this pretty girl who pulled over and turned out to be really frantic and a total mess and also happened to have been hijacked the night before. Of course we come to the conclusion that they were talking about the same girl because her exotic description matched up with what Andile suspected would be me.

I apologised frantically to Andile, and asked him to please let the guys know that I was really traumatised and was not racially profiling them.

On the way home I still felt uneasy... Why was I apologising? Was I really feeling so bad that I hurt these guys' feelings by profiling them because of my traumatic response? And then it occurred to me.

It doesn't matter that these guys in the beamer were not going to assault me with a machete or steal the car I was driving. What mattered was they they felt that it was completely within their rights to follow me.  In what world is this okay?

On any other day I may have laughed it off, or ignored it. But not that day. My heightened awareness and vigilance did not allow me to "brush it off".

I now understood why that incident gnawed at my psyche for so long. These mother-fuckers thought that it was totally okay to follow a womxn whom they thought was attractive. To keep following her when she sped up clearly indicating that she was not interested, and then to laugh, and as an after thought offer to be "chivalrous" and escort the poor soul to where she was going.

These mother-fuckers harassed me, violated my space, then insulted me by asking to "escort" me. Did they not realise that had they just left me alone I would have been alright? Did they not see that they have no business intimidating a person in that way? Aside from the fact that I was outnumbered what they did was so wrong, on so many levels.

This makes me sad. It also makes my blood boil. As a womxn I have come to put the feelings of men above my feelings. I wonder now how many times I have let incidents like this slide by me unnoticed. Coming back to the social contract under which we live, I am saddened that criminals are only identified as gangsters who hack people open with their machetes - not people who violate our space and cross boundaries because of their sense of entitlement awarded to them by their genitals. These microagressors walk around unnoticed and are constantly among us.

*Andile is obviously a fake name
**I feel like this post is controversial but I am unapologetic for writing it. More than willing to engage on it though.  

No comments:

Post a Comment