Last night I was walking home through Cipete in South Jakarta, a route I had taken thousands of times, when two guys rode from behind me on a motorbike and grabbed my left boob.
Because I had previously experienced a bum-grab on the way home, my reaction was better tuned this time round, and on impact of the grab last night, my legs automatically started sprinting towards the fleeing bike. They got away, but I was proud of myself for reacting so quickly.
My first bum-grab experience months ago left me feeling so angry with myself, because I had the dumbest delayed reaction. Initially I laughed – as in “Did that actually just happen?!” – but when the guy turned around and smirked at me, I became consumed with anger. Only it was annoyingly too late.
Last night I managed to react quickly, and, as with any shocking thing that will heighten your awareness, I became hyper aware of my surroundings the rest of my walk home. It was dark and whenever a bike passed from behind me, I found myself stopping with clenched fists, ready to swing.
At some point along my walk home, the men came back for a second attempt, but this time I was ready for them. I sensed a bike slowing down behind me and before the guy could grab me, I turned around and grabbed his arm. We tussled for a few seconds before his friend accelerated and I lost my grip. Pissed that they had gotten away for a second time, I picked up 2 large stones and a sharp stick, praying that they would return for round 3 so that I could have my vengeance. Alas, they did not.
Street harassment is a daily occurrence in my life and I’m sure in the lives of many women in Jakarta. It comes in various forms ranging from the “innocent” to the vulgar: the dog whistling, the stares, the shout of “mau kemana neng?” (where are you going, girl?), and, of course, the physical contact. I’ve even had a man pull out his goods and touch himself while looking at me from across the road.
I have always been annoyed by the unwanted attentions I get on the street as a woman, but I am at fault in this, because it happens so often that most of the time I let it happen and don’t say anything to the men doing it. Street harassment is a serious issue in Jakarta, precisely because people don’t take it seriously, and that includes both women and men.
If us ladies don’t speak up, men will never understand that what they do is wrong, but at the same time it would mean that we are shouting and cursing at men in the street everyday for the rest of our lives, and that’s fricking tiring!
As of last night, I am making a stand. I am going to raise awareness. As a former silat athlete, I am perhaps better equipped to deal with aggressors, but my ability to punch and kick doesn’t really matter when ball-less losers make the attacks from the back of a getaway ride. I took to my Facebook to warn ladies about what happened and to see if anyone knew of any organizations dealing with street harassment, because I would love to get into contact with them. A lovely friend showed concern, and suggested I take a cab next time so as not to be disturbed. And this is where I find the main problem.
Why do I have to change the way I live my life just because I have experienced something like this? Why do I have to take a cab instead of walking for 5 minutes? I already stopped jogging in my area in shorts just because it warranted so much unwanted attention. But why should I have to change my lifestyle and live in fear just because men can’t keep it in their pants?
The answer is I shouldn’t have to do that, and I will not do that. If I do, it means they win.
I plan to be vocal and I plan to fight back as I did last night, because women aren’t doing that, and I am convinced that is the reason men think they can get away with it. If you are brave enough to touch me, then you will have to be brave enough to get a punch or a near-lying brick thrown at you in retaliation.
If you shout at me in the street, I will stop and approach you and ask you what the hell do you want. And if you are like those old pervy men at coffee shops in malls who like to look you up and down and gawk at you for far too long, I will approach you and ask you what the hell you are looking at. If I need to shame men publicly, for street harassment in all its forms to stop, then I will.
Meanwhile, if there are any women or organizations out there that are dealing with this issue, please contact me. It isn’t enough for women to fight back, but education is needed from a young age so that men don’t grow up to be sexual predators, and young girls need to know how to stand up for themselves.
And lastly, to the two dickheads who were on their groping-spree last night, unlucky for you, you only got a grab of my smaller boob. But count yourselves lucky you got away, because I will be ready for you next time.
About Hannah Al Rashid
Hannah is, in her own words, a confused mongrel child. Born and raised in London to a Bugis father and a French mother, she studied Indonesian and Development Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies. She moved to Jakarta in 2008 to work in development, but for the past five years has worked as an actress and TV presenter instead. Hers is a perspective of a confused child of all nations, lost in the fatherland, trying to make rent as a performing monkey.