Oratile is your average 25-year-old — ambitious, with big dreams and hopes. Due to the nature of her work she attends many conferences, imbizos, indabas and such gatherings. She is painfully aware that for many, these gatherings mean “sexual fun”. She has often had to deal with suggestive remarks and people attempting to kiss her. She developed a strategy to handle these unwanted attentions — leaving just before the day’s proceedings end to avoid any run-ins with participants. She also generally does not socialise at these events, preferring to stay closed up in her room, away from everyone.
She was sent to yet another conference last month. Upon arriving she found that many of the delegates had not yet arrived and would not becoming. She was the only woman among a group of men, all older than her. The usual suggestive remarks were made which evolved into jokes about who would be sharing a room with her that night.
A man, who held a senior position at the organisation which had arranged the conference, entered the room. It was clear that many of the males present felt somewhat intimidated by his presence. He sat close to Oratile and after bemoaning the poor preparations made for the conference went on to boast about his power and connections. He went as far as saying he had ministers’ cellphone numbers and looked at her as if she was supposed to be impressed. He went on and the silence of the men made it seem as if the matter of who would be sharing Oratile’s room was settled.
A clearly uncomfortable Oratile decided to leave the conference venue lest she shoot off her mouth at the men. But as she walked away, the man holding the senior position grabbed her arm and asked where she was going. Her top shifted slightly revealing a bit of the tattoo on her back. The man attempted to look into her top, asking if he could see her tattoo and she moved away, giving him a piece of her mind while doing so. The other men watched this exchange, which had now become very awkward. He pulled her again and she graciously crushed his toes before walking away. As she left she caught him say something about “playing hard to get” to the rest of the men.
When she got to her room Oratile thought about how she would be expected to give a presentation to these people knowing that none of them would be listening to what she was saying. It was clear that their main concern was who would be sharing her room and nothing else. As she sat there she remembered the many other exchanges she’d had at conferences — all “powerful” men who offered her a “real job” and a host of other things for sexual pleasure.
Eventually more delegates arrived although less than half of what had been expected. The conference got under way. Oratile’s admirer had taken her number from the register and kept sending her SMSs throughout. He seemed to be lurking in every corner. The man kept giving her “special attention” almost as if to suggest to everyone there that they were “together”. The SMSs became phone calls. He even entered her room while she was in the bathroom — having foolishly forgotten to lock the door. Unfortunately leaving was not an option. Not only was she far from home, in a town she did not know, but also had no transport. The area was secluded with no public transport.
Oratile considers herself an empowered woman. She is assertive, knows her rights and stands up for them. I should know this because I am Oratile and this was my experience. Judging from the responses to my tweets about the matter, there are many other Oratiles out there and even more people who know of them.
“Why didn’t you report it?” From experience, reporting is not as easy as it’s made out to be. Who do you report it to when he is “the man” or the “big boss” as I heard him being referred to? Even those who witness these exchanges remain silent, fearing marginalisation — be it professional or otherwise. Considering the position he holds my allegations would be rubbished off as he is a “happily married man who would never do that”.
No matter how empowered we are, we still work with and marry men who don’t respect a woman’s no. We still live in a world with men who believe they’re entitled to a quick f**k and use their work status to get it, no matter how forcefully.
Men and women need to speak out against this sort of behaviour, to smash the patriarchy and misogyny so entrenched in our society. Men need to know that violating our rights and bodies does not only do us great harm but also demeans masculinity as a whole.