South African Women and Public Space

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Imagine a morning when you can wake up and go to the wardrobe and wear whatever you felt like wearing.

An average South African woman, has to be mindful of what she has to wear before she departs from her house… be mindful of her point of arrival, the routes she will have to traverse and the modes she will have to take. A South African woman has been conditioned to adjust and evolve her wear to suit and protect her in her journey of life.

Just to give you a practical example, there was a time I needed to travel from my home in Soweto to Braamfontien for a language course.  As I stared in the mirror before I clothed myself these are the thoughts which ran through my head:

 as a South African woman

I had to consider to take 2 taxis even though the 2nd taxi distance I could have walked.

I had to be mindful that in that short walk from Bree taxi rank to Wits Language School on Empire road, I may provoke some random man to touch me or attempt to speak to me then diss me if I didn’t reciprocate.

I had to consider what I would wear that one fine spring day. Cover my legs, cover my chest area and shoulders. While we at it… cover my arms in case someone tried to grab me, flat shoes in case I need to run, no bright colours, and nothing flashy to make me stand out.

I had to be mindful not to provoke a stranger, a man, who might want an easy target:

to “holler at” and tear down when I ignored him,

to be made an example of,

to rob me,

to beat me,

to be taken advantage of… dare I say.. to be abducted or raped.

I had to be invisible. Invisibility does not provoke a man to act a certain way towards me.

If he says hi – it’s my fault.

If he belittles me in front of his friends – it’s my fault.

If he touches or grabs me – it’s my fault.

If he robs me – it’s my fault.

If he abducts me or rapes me – it’s my fault.

I provoked him. Provoked him into attention.

It’s my fault I should have known better. A man is provoked. He can’t control himself. He had no choice. I need to be more invisible.

Imagine a morning when you can wake up and go to the wardrobe and wear whatever you felt like wearing.

— Vera

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