By Myra Mitha
Since starting work at my new workplace, I’ve had the convenience of public transport; an LRT station is a five minute’s walk and my workplace a mere three stops away.
During the mornings I do still rely on Grab, but during the evenings I choose to use public transport. It’s faster, cheaper, and quite honestly, I welcome the short walk back home after having sat on a chair for eight hours during the day.
However, it took just two days of this routine for me to begin dreading the walk home. My level of dread and anxiety escalates the minute I step outside my office building and start walking towards the LRT.
Why, you might ask?
When I’m On The LRT
I wear my earphones at all times while walking, regardless of whether or not I’m listening to music or a podcast.
I pick my path carefully, to avoid close contact with certain people. I keep my head down or look straight ahead at all times, to avoid eye contact with certain people.
What they fail to realise, however, is that human beings are built in a way that one can see from the corner of their eyes, even if one is looking straight ahead. Instances where I make eye contact, I may need to fret about it being taken as an invitation.
Once I reach the LRT platform, I contemplate over the spot to stand and wait, to avoid certain people. I can’t usually take a seat on the benches where they sit, legs spread out, watching as I approach the seat next to them.
So I wait for the LRT, my face buried in my phone to, again, avoid eye contact from those on the platform across. But I can feel their eyes on me. Their stares at me.
In the LRT, I pick an empty spot to stand in, so I’m not near certain people.
At times, of course, it can’t be helped if the LRT is too packed. If the LRT doesn’t have a ladies-only compartment, I constantly shift about while standing, avoiding my body pressing or my hand brushing against certain people’s on the metal bar I’m holding on to.
Once in a while, certain people attempt to talk to me or shift near me, but I ignore their hellos, hoping that they eventually give up, seeing my earphones and assuming I can’t hear their approach.
It’s Never ‘Certain People’ — It’s The Men
The difficulty, anxiety and frustration brought about by their inappropriate and perverted ways during the daily, simple activity of walking back home from work.
Two days of this daily routine and I remembered why I absolutely despised walking to and from college everyday, back when I was still a teenager. You feel drained, mentally, doing something as common as this.
I’m really not exaggerating one bit.
The discomfort of just walking on the street after a long day of work, the frustration at men for being how they just are, the helplessness you feel as you realise you may just need to accept this as a fact of life.
I dread rush hour timings in the LRT.
When I’m Walking On The Street
Upon exiting the LRT and walking down the steps, I’m careful of how my body moves, if my chest is too prominent.
I make my way home, a very brief 5-minute walk, all the while pulling at my dress to avoid garnering attention. I’m very aware of how my body moves, my legs, my chest, my arms.
Many pass by me and I continue to look straight ahead as I see their eyes gazing at me, my body, my existence. Looking down at my phone to avoid eye contact isn’t an option, due to safety reasons.
Crossing the two-way street with cars zooming past on either side, the anxiety grows as I worry about the drivers and passengers in the cars, looking, gazing — hooting, honking at times as they pass by me.
I cross the street and look back, in case I’m being followed. If I am, I start walking briskly, rushing towards the safety and security of my apartment building — out of breath, my mind a fluster of despair and frustration.
It Can Ruin My Whole Day
If I’ve had an all-around decent day, if I’m feeling upbeat about things, about life in general, I hope against hope that I don’t come across any incident (more than the usual, of course) which may put a damper on my entire day.
By ‘incident’, I mean a man attempting to approach me while I try to avoid him; a man catcalling me; a car slowing down and honking at me, as the male passengers inside grin, laugh or make noises with their lips; a man following me on the street while I walk to my apartment.
Men don’t realise how this experience can ruin any woman’s day — I can never seem to brush past any of this and move on nonchalantly with my day. It’s uncomfortable, it’s violating, it’s embarrassing and it’s downright frightening.
Honestly, what do men even hope to gain from humiliating you or poking fun at you like this?
It’s a hostile environment for women, everywhere they go — outside or inside.
Men Are Clever — About The Wrong Things
Unfortunately, even something such as a 9pm curfew may fall short. Men can be clever too, you see. Clever about the wrong things.
Allow me to paint you a scenario.
It was 12:45am on a Saturday, and I’d just wrapped up a night out with my coworkers, one of whom dropped me at the building right behind my apartment.
Yes, there were cabs waiting, but how silly would it be to have a cab drive just 200m for you? Or even pay for such a thing?
So I chose to walk. It was a cool night, my head the perfect amount of buzzed. I walked around the building and stood on the pavement, waiting for some cars to pass by before I crossed the street.
A green laser light appeared at my feet, then my arms, then my chest. I was confused, and started crossing the street, my anxiety peaking as I saw the light following me.
The first thought that passed my mind was that of a gun (credits go to all the action films and series I’ve ever watched for this) and, to be honest, I was scared.
So I whipped around to see the direction from which the light was coming from, while shifting side to side to avoid it being pointed at me.
Playing A Sick ‘Prank’
I turned around and looked up — the light faded away as three brown men from an apartment unit dashed behind the curtains of their balcony, bursting with laughter which reached me in the quiet of the night.
I stood there in fury and fright, and when they came out a few seconds later, I put up my middle finger, turned around and rushed towards the guardhouse of my building, now 50m away.
The green laser light came back to shine on my body, and I willed my feet to walk faster without looking like I was running. They couldn’t see me now, but I continued rushing, through the lobby of my building and to the lifts.
I was breathless, but I couldn’t stop. I was frightened out of my wits. I felt so unsafe. Hot tears pricked my eyes out of anger and helplessness. The feeling didn’t go away once I entered my unit, either. It stayed with me, and it’s still with me.
It may not seem like much of a big deal to men — but it is.
Because, really, how, how can you possibly gain pleasure and joy from humiliating, violating and making women feel unsafe, scared, helpless? What kind of a man do you have to be to use that as a manner of enjoyment on a Friday night? How?
You’d be surprised to know just how often such occurrences happen to me, to other women. And as I type this, I’ll be experiencing this once again, on the way home in about half an hour or so.
What If Men Had A 9pm Curfew?
One of the better tweets I came across recently was asking women what they would do if men had a curfew of 9pm everyday.
I hadn’t thought about such a scenario before — but thinking about it, I realised just what a good idea (albeit sad that it was even an idea) that may be.
Image via @DanielleMuscato on Twitter.
Looking at the replies, I ached even more, seeing myself reflected in the replies of women wanting the most simplest of things:
Taking a casual night stroll, going for a run outside, going to the park, walking to the nearest convenience store with no concerns. It’s a dream, the possibility.
How silly, and yet how drastically needed.
Suffering The Daily Consequences Of Men
I remember the day my dad bought my mother and I a can of pepper spray each.
I remember when my male housemate went overboard with me and demanded what he wanted of me.
I remember all the many times I’ve had to experience the consequences of men, along with every other woman out there on a daily basis.
And I’m going to remember them as they happen in the present, and in the future.
Of my coworker’s inappropriate stares at me over the past few weeks. Of my other female coworker noticing it and coming to speak to me about it. Of how she saw him stare at my behind without any form of subtlety, and how another male coworker laughed along with him as he did.
Of what I should do about this new situation, what would actually work to stop me from being uncomfortable whenever he enters the room or I pass by him in a hallway.
Plausible deniability is always on men’s side, you see.
I guess, then, it’s just another typical day in the life of a woman.
For more stories like this, read: Men, No Always Means No. Here’s My Experience of Being a Woman in Malaysia and I Was Betrayed and Assaulted by a Male Friend One Night. Here’s What I Wish People Didn’t Say to Me After.