Kayla Brittan (The Justice Desk's operations manager)
A few days ago I bought a new pair of crisp, flat, white running shoes. I cannot tell you how many times I have been complimented about them. They are the latest style, so it doesn’t surprise me that people have commented on them. However, the reason I bought them may actually surprise you.
It is not merely ‘fashion’ or ‘preference’ that led me to buying these shoes but rather a need to feel secure. I use public transport to get to work and it involves walking as well - at one point along a busy stretch of road that can quickly change into a quiet stretch of road the later it gets. After only 2 days of walking this very 'normal' road, in a 'normal' area - I decided I needed a flat pair of shoes to get to work.
This was because this stretch of road (much like many of the others I’ve travelled on), left me constantly at risk of being catcalled, objectified, followed and laughed at by men, at any visible signs of fear or discomfort. Sadly, in this modern era, being a woman is still synonymous with feeling unsafe on a regular basis.
So why did I really buy my new shoes? I like the way they look but I love the fact that I can run in them. At a moment’s notice I can run. At a moment’s notice I can try and run away at any sign of danger- I can run to or from the office when a group of men start yelling out at me when I’m walking alone.
I can imagine many, if not all, women can relate. Do you know that an everyday occurrence involves scoping out an area I plan to walk in? I assess what a man is carrying (can it weigh him down if we both run?). I look at whether he is alone or in a crowd. I look for exit points and in some cases other woman - our eyes often meeting as a form of silent solidarity and visible fear relief. And that is only the half of it. My ‘paranoia’ as some may call it, stems from 26 years of being a woman. Twenty-six years of hearing stories from other women. Twenty-six years of experiencing men and their derogatory treatment of myself, my friends, my family and the women around me.
Imagine walking with your heart beating inside of your chest and a dry mouth because you are afraid to walk to work or home? Imagine feeling relieved to see another female walking with you (a stranger in most cases) because now you at least have another ally.
It is not an ego boost, it is not a compliment, it is a disrespectful form of objectification that causes discomfort and can often lead to aggression from the ‘catcaller’ if you do not respond or if you respond in a way that does not suit them.
I have ignored it. I have yelled and screamed back. I have asked them to stop. I have introduced myself to remind them I am a human being much like themselves. Sometimes it stops, sometimes I get called profanities - other times I have been told I am looking for attention. In most cases I am laughed at, tormented and there have been times where I have been followed until I acknowledge them and their vile comments about my body.
Let me appease the masses, by all means - ‘not all men’, but those of you who ‘don’t do such things’, CALL OUT YOUR BROTHER’S, FATHERS, SONS, FRIENDS, GRANDFATHER’S, AND ANY MAN FOR THAT MATTER BECAUSE NO ONE SEEMS TO BE LISTENING TO US! Just do something to help change this. Stop justifying these actions by calling us 'attention-seeking' or by saying ‘not all men’ because I can almost guarantee, that when it comes to whether a woman has felt objectified, then yes, we can say ‘all women’.
So to end off with, it is not just a pair of shoes.
It’s a fear-driven response to men and their actions. Gender based violence, abuse and torment is real. It’s happening. And we need you to help us stop it. We need to stop these men! Oh sorry I forgot - ‘not all men’.