I have gone out on social occasions alone long enough to know that a woman, who goes about her life solo, is its own kind of oppression. I have always enjoyed my own company and want to be by myself the majority of the time. This, of course, is not to say I don’t enjoy the company of others. I have great companions from my place of worship, work, etc., but will always have picked my own company if it was presented on a scale of preference.
It was one of those hectic days at work. I had resumed before 8.am and barely had ten minutes break the whole day. I was on my feet half of the time and my toe hurt badly from pressure from the heels. I had to deal with a lot of finicky clients and could literally feel the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) symptoms coming down.
Swamped as I was, pleasant thoughts of my planned evening made me smile to myself from time to time. Okay, one of my resolutions for the New Year was to always give myself a treat, at least once in 2 weeks. See a movie, have a drink by self or attend a concert.
This particular Friday was my first planned outing for the year. My neighbour had been going on and on about the spiced snails in a particular joint in town. “It is to die for ‘’ she had said as her face lit and then suddenly turned solemn like she was literally ready to give her life for those snails. The snail was not the only reason to visit this joint, the live band was classic, I learned my folk songs were a regular and since I was away from home, I longed for things that give me the home nostalgia.
As the clock chimed and it was 6; pm, I heaved and started to clear my desk. I was going to have a wonderful ‘’ me time’’ and could not just wait to have my evening.
The traffic was not particularly heavy this evening, and in less than 30 minutes I had reached my destination joint. The car park was jam-packed and I had to wait for about ten minutes for someone to pull out so I could park. I smiled and waved at the astonished driver who could not understand what my excitement was about. It seemed as if space was for sale and I had just been given one for free.
I securely locked my laptop and other personals in the car booth and with a leisurely stroll went into the garden.
There was a security screening point with some huge agelastic looking security guards. Good evening, I greeted trying a quick smile out of curiosity to know if those faces could ever smile. The face position seemed sculptured as it will never bulge. Hi, one of them responded, while searching my bag like I had a bomb the size of a mustard grain hidden therein. Who are you with; he continued without even looking at me, still fixated on the contents of my bag, looking at every bit of make-up item like it had some bomb laced on it.
I honestly did not understand the question, I looked around and when I did not see anyone else around he could have been referring to, responded ‘’ I am by myself’’.
Sorry, we do not admit unaccompanied ladies here, he retorted, stretching back my handbag to me with a look of “you just wasted my time with the search.’’
The first retort that came to heart was not a pleasant one. Always count to five in your mind before you respond my dad has always advised. 1, .2, 3,……4………5, Why? I ask instead?
This place is not a brothel, we don’t want young ladies like you coming here unaccompanied to attract men, you have to come with your husband or boyfriend to gain entrance here.
Patience is a virtue, I agreed that day. Count again, I said to myself. 1..2…,3….4……,5…….but I am single, I responded calmly. I neither have a husband nor boyfriend to escort me, but seriously need to unwind and calm my nerves, I’ve had a long day, I said, almost pleading.
Young lady, leave this place, another guard shouted from behind. Do not make us throw you out.
I was getting angry, my voice was not so calm again, throw me out? What will be my offence? Did I ask with sincere surprise?
I did not see his response coming, your offence is being ‘’Mrs Nobody’’.
There are days when I could have had my way or disrupt business activities there for the rest of the evening. That particular Friday was not one of such days. I was sapped of all energy. I collected my bag and walked back to my car with a thousand thoughts flowing through my mind.
I will be back, I told myself, I will still come back here alone and will gain entrance, have my drink and peppered snail, watch entertainers perform my folk songs, and unwind before going home.
Not just today.
As I got home and discussed this incident with my friends, I realized it wasn’t new and not just the place in question was guilty of this harassment to unaccompanied ladies. I was rudely surprised and decided to look up ‘my rights’’ pertaining to this issue. Guess what I found? Nothing.
But in the course of my reading, I discovered I was not alone.
A lot of young women have faced this kind of harassment and have suffered discrimination based on their relationship status.
According to an article found on Arab News; the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (Haia) has officially prevented women from visiting medical clinics without male guardians. Haia members recently issued orders to employees working at a nutrition centre not to admit women patients unless a guardian accompanies them during their weekly visits. This decision caused huge losses to the nutrition centre in a single week, according to the source.
In defence of their stance, the proponents of the law stated that male guardians or company must not only be husbands but could also be any male relative like, sons, brothers, fathers or even uncles. Hmmm, how thoughtful.
What this means is that, I have to wait for my elderly father or my brothers who all live 10 hours away from me to get checked medically or like was the case with me, hire a male or call an unwanted male friend to accompany me before I could relax, unwind and spend my own money.
I tried a different venue the following day and was admitted (Thankfully), but I had to wait for about 10 minutes and when I did not see any waiter coming my way, I beckoned on one and placed my order. Just one? He asked with a sincerely curious voice. How do you mean I asked back, curious to see where the drama was leading? Ermmm, I thought you will want to order for ‘’Oga” (Male partner) at once so I do not have to go back and forth when he comes. Hmmmm, there is no “Oga’’ I responded, please can you get my order? Sorry, ma he murmured as he jolted away.
I could see people looking at me with condescending pity because I was unaccompanied. Paradoxically, I look at them and feel pity too that they needed to have company in order to enjoy themselves. Why would I want to pay for my much-hyped “Spiced Snail’’ or get to pay for a movie ticket if I have to try to hold up a forced conversation that distracts me from savouring the reason I’m there?
I have been alone in public places long enough to note the different treatment I am given when I am with “someone and when I’m not.
These are small matters.
How about the bigger stuff like strange men trying to have forced conversations with you and getting really rude when you show no interest or strange men following you when you depart? It gets harder.
Being a woman who goes about her life ‘’ solo’’ is its own kind of oppression.
Why are women expected to be accompanied in spaces where social activity occurs?
This has so become the norm that, when you are not accompanied, even kind, well-meaning people find it hard to address you respectfully.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Who else has had bad treatment in a social event for being a “Mrs Nobody”?
What should be done about this? Are there legal rights or bodies for complaints in cases of such harassment?
Thoughts and opinions are welcomed.