My story does not need to be told; my narrative is false and it should not be trusted. Just as rape victims are accused of lying. And not those who really lie: the rapists.
I recently had a meeting with a small group of friends. Among them was a friend of mine from fifteen years ago. We haven’t seen each other for a long time, and we have obviously grown in different directions in the meantime, so now we do not have many shared interests to talk about, except for what TV shows we have watched. Two other friends were with us, both men. At one point, while I was talking about myself and my fears and limitations in public space, I mentioned the challenges women face when they walk outside the home, and how we are almost used to the constant tension we feel when we go out. The friend of my early youth rolled his eyes and sighed contemptuously. The other two were silent and waited for the unpleasant moment that I supposedly created to pass.
It is not the first time I have received such a reaction when I share an experience of my everyday life as a woman. “You are pushing feminist propaganda again” or “To hell with the feminism” are common phrases of attack in response to remarks that disturb the sense of comfort and well-being of men, who, imagine, are facing what it means to simply live as a woman in a patriarchal society. In fact, the feeling of comfort, or its deprivation – meaning the feeling of discomfort – seems much more valuable than the constant feeling of discomfort, fear and threat that women face in their daily lives (if you feel uncomfortable and do not know what I am talking about, check out the confessions in #сегакажувам#каденеодам in Macedonia, as well as the Croatian counterpart #ženeujavnomprostoru).
I confronted my former friend about what he did to me: that he put more value on his momentary feeling of discomfort at that moment, than on my constant feeling of discomfort (by the way, that same friend bought me tear gas many years ago, in case I was attacked by a maniac when I come home in the evening, given that it has happened before. The tear gas is in my backpack, which is placed behind me as I write). I told him that he was actually trying to silence me and he is not allowing me to tell my story. He was not comfortable, but he “allowed” me to continue creating an awkward situation by telling him what had happened to me two weeks earlier.
It was a hot evening and my friend and I had a 20-minute-walk through the city center to our favorite bar. The city was rather empty due to the pandemic. However, my friend and I walked along well-known paths, avoiding dark places and corners where we have had inconveniences with shouters or maniacs in the past. However, during those 20 minutes in the city center, we were whistled and shouted at four times, by hordes of men or men behind the wheel (in one case, a public transport bus. We have many experiences with bus drivers and driving in bus). In case anyone was curious, we were both dressed in long black loose dresses.
My friend of the early youth said something along the lines of “sorry, but I do not know such people”, wanting to say that he does not know and has not met people who attack girls on the street, verbally abuse them, or physically abuse them . Again, this has put me in the position of someone who either a) lies b) exaggerates to get attention c) is crazy. That way, my experience as a woman is simply worthless. My story does not need to be told; my narrative is false and it should not be trusted. Just as rape victims are accused of lying. And not those who really lie: the rapists.
Fortunately, the narrative is already in the hands of women and this process is irreversible. The friend of my youth, who thinks he has good intentions and has forgotten that he bought me a tear gas canister to protect myself from the same people he claims he does not know, has methods that are already known to us and do not silence us. Therefore, the “shut up so that I do not feel uncomfortable” method no longer works. So, I sincerely hope that I made someone uncomfortable while reading this text.
Rumena Buzarovska is a literary translator from English into Macedonian and an associate professor of American literature at the Faculty of Philology in Skopje. She is the author of four collections of stories, which have been translated and published in Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovenia, Italy, Hungary and the United States.