Mouthing off- Anita Kunz

Mouthing off- Anita Kunz

Yesterday I was in the elevator about to leave the office, I pressed GF to go down but instead it went up. It opened on the 5th floor and there a man was waiting. He was a construction worker and it was clear he thought that because of our varying class difference he should wait till I was done and call back the elevator. I thought that was silly, we both want to go down to the ground floor, and what a waste of time and energy. We are both human, what is this silliness of class and gender! But it seems the invitation to the ride the elevator meant that it was an invitation to harass. He looked me up and down, his pelvis made the slightest move closer and with a sly look on his face he winked. I shouted at him in the angriest and most assertive of my voices “NO”. His body crumbled and his demeanor became that of shame, he looked away and mumbled “Istagfur allah”, god forgive. We left the elevator.

This is the latest incident of a lifetime of incidents. I have normalized, and for too long, the harassment I endure at the hands of men. Growing up I have been stared at, touched, called out at and, and, and… but I learned to ignore, and become oblivious to it. I lived in a bubble where, in my mind, I was not objectified. Two years ago that changed. A friend of mine came to my house and started a conversation; she asked me “what do you do when you get harassed?” And I immediately said “I don’t get harassed.” What a farce, I get harassed on a regular basis, everyday is an assault of some sort, I just became very good at using defensive tactics that made me invisible, protected me, or just allowed me to disassociate from the stares, the following, the “accidental” brushing, the catcalling…etc.

Throughout the last two years I have worked with my dear friend on an initiative to combat this assault and take a more assertive stand on harassment. We are still working on it. While on this journey I have taken myself out of my bubble and taken notice of every transgression on my body, my being, my soul and I have reacted. I no longer disassociate but instead I engage by being more vocal, more aware and more assertive. Not just with the offenders but with other women too, learning from them and exchanging with them strategies, ideas and tools for dealing with the abuse. For example, last year I was walking down a street in downtown Amman. This man looks at my breasts lustfully and says in the sleaziest of tones “Shu hal ibizaz” (look at those tits). Had I been in my bubble I would have just kept walking without even hearing or acknowledging what he said. That is not what happened. I stopped in my tracks and turned around. I filled my lungs with air and started to tell him off in my loudest of voices, the point was to turn the shame towards him and attract attention to him (shaming the offender and exposing him was one the strategies we talked about and it worked). Being the coward that he was he quickly lowered his head and with a fearful and stricken look on his face he scuttled along quickly like the rat that he is, people were looking at him rather than at me and wondering what did he do, rather than what did I do. I walked away head held high knowing that I stood up for myself and countless other women. I knew that next time, as I am sure there will be a next time, this lowlife will think twice and maybe thrice before calling out at a woman.

These daily acts of violence and aggression, whether physical or not, mean that I have to change how I deal with the world and I hate it. I hate that men like the two I mention leave within me a bad feeling of distrust, anger, and aggression towards mankind. I hate that every time I try to be nice to a man he takes it as invitation to assault my being or body in some way or form. I hate that I have to always be on alert, on guard, suspicious of acts of kindness and withholding acts of kindness. But I have decided to turn that hate, anger and mistrust in to an act of empowerment.

I have experienced firsthand what the power of sharing, talking and exposing these acts of harassment can do, and so I am going to write, talk and expose these acts every time they happen. I will not be silenced, I am not a victim. It is my right to walk down the street with the respect and rights due to me and my body. And when those rights are taken away I will not wait for someone to “rescue” me or fight on my behalf. I can do it myself.

Freedom of movement is a topic that has been on my mind for a while, especially when put in the context of checkpoints, borders, airports, security checks, bouncers and doormen even. . But a conversation with a friend put it in a slightly different light. We were talking about walking and how I take late night walks here in Amman, Jordan , whereas in her neighborhood in the U.S. that is impossible.

We always think of our freedoms on a large scale and where and how we can exercise them. Passports, identity, self expression, representation, politics, religion and so many other grander things we want freedom in. But this conversation brought to head the simple freedom of walking in the street, late at night, with a sense of security and safety. Being able to make that decision and executing it is not something I think twice about. Nobody stops me, nobody bothers me, I fear no one in doing this. On the other side of the globe in the “free” world my friend can’t walk out on her own at night without risking bodily harm. No one will stop her from going out but the uncertainty of what happens after dark does.

Our perceived freedoms are so different. Our social fabrics and constructs mean that we have different ways that our freedom of movement is impeded or facilitated. I don’t think one of us has more freedom than the other, just different expressions of freedoms.

Living here I have seen, and experienced discrimination, especially along lines of gender, that took away some of my freedoms. I fought them slowly but surely. I worked the system to my advantage and made it happen for me. I believe in being here and slowly gaining ground. Being a part of the change and the solution. I don’t want to, or feel the need to, move to another country to gain freedoms. I should be able to live, to be in my own country.

Going back to the freedom of movement issue, I thought about trading places with my friend. I quickly came to the conclusion that I would much rather be rejected for a visa than be held hostage in my own home at night unable to walk in my neighborhood freely.

There is a ritual to opening a new pack of cigarettes. You unwrap the box, after packing the cigarettes hard, by tapping the box on your wrist. You opening the box, pulling out the foil wrinkling it and throwing it away. You taking out the first cigarette, lightning it and with that deep first drag is a look of satisfaction and a smile of bliss on your face. I know this because I used to be a smoker. But I quit nine years ago and I enjoy being smoke free. But it bugs me when smokers think they have more considerations than nonsmokers.

Let me explain, if there is a smoker in the group then we have to sit in the smoking section. If it is a nonsmoking environment, like a mall or office building, then the smokers will light up. If the smoker wants to go to a designated smoking section then some will light up on the way, not willing to wait the few minutes it takes to get there. If a smoker on a nonsmoking bus wants to light up they will, they cant wait the 4 hours to get to the destination (think Aqaba Trust bus), even when the bus attendant and bus driver ask them to refrain from smoking. The examples are many and I would like to know why do smokers think its OK?

As a nonsmoker I have the right to enjoy our outing as much as smokers. If I want to sit in the non smoking section and smokers want the smoking section why does the compromise always happen on our part? Is it a desire that we all suffer and that we all become passive smokers. A lot of the smokers I know light up without regard to those around them and it is only after the cigarette is burning and the smoke is in my face that they realize of wait here is a non smoker that doesn’t like this. I can’t wait for the day that restaurants and bars becoming non smoking places, and we can walk in to places without their being a great foggy cloud of smoke hanging in the air.