On Women’s March, I told you why I march. Today, I will tell you
Why I Fight
As I’ve told you once before, we may all live on the same planet, but we do not all live in the same world, nor do we all share the same reality. So, with this in mind, let me give you an insight into my world and my reality as a woman, as a biracial person, and as a woman of color.
As a girl, the sexual harassment and unwanted sexual attention started early. I was just a kid, barely into puberty, when grown men started hungrily flocking around me like hyenas waiting for their next meal. As puberty hit, I would get inappropriate stares and comments, men of all ages shamelessly leering and ogling me; predatory men — despite knowing how young I was — trying to manipulate and groom my young mind into falling for their insidious tricks. I was only 13 years old when I was introduced to chat rooms. Back then, you would put your ASL in your nickname: age, sex, location. 13, girl, Oslo. It would take mere seconds before I was bombarded and inundated with messages from strange, older men who would proposition me for sex. And when I would answer them NO, they never listened. They would get more aggressive, some even offered me money. «You don’t have to do anything; you can just lie there.»
As I grew older, I developed into a skinny, athletic, femininely well-proportioned, tall girl, and I attracted attention I didn’t want. Both from my peers, and from older men. In high school, in the middle of class and during a casual conversation, I suddenly got grabbed by the pussy by a fellow male student — just because he felt like it. He smiled sinisterly, while he enjoyed the look of shock and horror on my face. Who would’ve known, that in 2017, that would make him eligible to be president of the United States?
At 17, I got relentlessly stalked all the way home from town by a strange man in his twenties, simply for waving at him ironically because he wouldn’t stop staring at me. He said that I loved him, that we were meant to be together, and that it was God’s will. I knew it was a dangerous situation, and that I had to choose my words and actions carefully, and I repeatedly tried to get him to leave without making him violent. He refused to go away until I was able to call a male relative that came to my rescue and threatened to call the police. He hesitated, then smiled sinisterly as he walked away.
At the same age, I went to Turkey with my mother, grandmother and little sister on holiday. We were there for two weeks. During those two weeks, I would get relentlessly sexually harassed every. single. day. From the time I stepped out of the gates of the hotel, to the time I came home. Numerous men catcalling me on the street, touching me without my consent, propositioning me for sex, practically stalking me, trying to manipulate me into sex; asking my grandmother and mother if they could marry me as if my autonomy was non-existent. «I want to marry your daughter! I’ll pay you 100 camels!»
One grown man old enough to be my father, who worked in a jewelry shop we visited, asked me to sit on his lap; which I begrudgingly did, because I had forcibly lost the sense of ownership over my own body. He commented on my appearance, asked if I were a model. It made me sick to my stomach. It was only when he asked me to kiss him to get a lower price on the jewelry we were going to buy, that my grandmother actually got angry and threatened to leave. My mother, who also hadn’t reacted until then, asked him how he would feel if someone did that to HIS daughter. Only then did he stop, and apologize for his actions.
I suddenly stopped eating, I had completely lost my appetite, and I refused to go out. I would laugh it off in the beginning, but suddenly the intensity and frequency of it wasn’t so funny anymore. It was no longer something I could laugh off.
At 20, I was on a vacation in New York. While there, we went out to eat at an Italian restaurant, where I had already caught the attention of the male staff that worked there. They weren’t shy about it, and unabashedly ogled me like a piece of meat and commented on my appearance — despite me being there with my then-boyfriend. At some point, I went down into the basement of the restaurant to use the bathroom, and one of the waiters followed me. He waited for me outside of the restroom, and when I came out he sexually assaulted me, tried to silence me when I resisted, and tried to drag me into another room to rape me — simply because he was attracted to me, and that alone was enough to make him entitled to my body, whether he had my consent or not.
Even then, because I had been taught so early in life that making men angry by directly rejecting their sexual advances is dangerous, the rape-induced paralysis set in, and I weren’t able to get angry or aggressive. As he held me tight, groped me, complimented my appearance, asking if I were a model; I was trapped in my own body, feeling all my physical strength dissipate out of pure fear. I had been here many times before, and I knew exactly what was at stake.
I tried to pacify him by not showing anger; I repeatedly told him «no», «I can’t», «my boyfriend is waiting for me upstairs», with a fearful smile on my face, while trying to wriggle myself out of his tight grasp, and clearly resisting while he continuously tried to drag me into another room. I knew, that if he got me into that room, it would be game over. I knew what his plans were, and I refused to let that happen. I refused to get into that room, so I fought as best as I could without wanting to make him more violent. But he was too strong, too dangerous and too aggressive. As he tried to drag me into that room, another waiter came down the stairs to get something. He finally let go, and I was able to escape. That was my saving grace.
At 21, I was on a vacation with two of my male friends in Italy. One day, we went to buy some ice cream in an ice cream shop. I had to use the bathroom, and one of the male workers there offered to show me where it was. It was in a secluded part of the shop, and I instantly knew that he was up to no good. When we got there I strategically placed myself in a way that wouldn’t let him trap me inside of the bathroom as he had planned to do. He immediately sexually assaulted me, grabbed me in a forced embrace, started to grope my buttocks and asked if he could have «a kiss». Again, trying not to make him angry or violent, I calmly refused. He of course didn’t listen, but eventually gave up as he realized I wasn’t going to relent.
I have been sexually assaulted while waiting for the tram, standing outside of a mall, walking home from the cinema, walking out of a cafe, standing at a bar, being at school, and being at work.
I’ve been sexually harassed in a taxi, at school, at work, while just walking outside; and even while just sitting at home in my apartment by a strange man, who knew that I lived there and deliberately opened the unlocked door to my apartment to harass me. And those are just some of the experiences that I’ve had.
I am only 29 years old, yet my accounts of sexual harassment, assault and violence are numerous. To the point where it’s no longer surprising, just a part of my reality as a woman. It has become something that I expect, that I’m always preparing for, and something that I fear.
As I got older, although I have always been both masculine and feminine, I veered more and more away from my inherit femininity. I internalized the constant sexism and misogyny that I was exposed to, resenting how femininity made me «weak» and vulnerable to the misogynists around me. I had learned, that as a woman, I was prey.
I was prey, because for whatever reason, men felt entitled to my body and my space — whenever they felt like it, whenever they wanted to, and at any given moment.
I fight, because even when I purposely gained weight, stopped wearing the little amount of make-up I used to wear, and started exclusively wearing baggy, masculine clothing, to protect myself from the attention of predators, it had little to no effect. Even if the attention I received diminished, it did not end. It did not stop them. I fight, because the notion that what you wear, how you look, the time of the day and where you are can elicit or prevent an attack from a sexual predator, simply isn’t true.
I fight because, every day, before I go out, I make sure to tie my pants so tightly that it will make it difficult for a potential attacker to pull it down. I fight, because I always make sure to be on birth control, just in case I wouldn’t be able to prevent a possible sexual assault.
I fight because, although I am not transgender, I genuinely and seriously as a teen contemplated transitioning into a man. I thought about the freedom I would have from the constant sexual harassment and sexual assaults, and the relentless sexism and misogyny I encountered on a daily basis. I fantasized about having my breast removed, and my vaginal opening sown shut, so that it wouldn’t be possible to rape me. Not because I hated being a woman, but because being a woman is hated. I was essentially fantasizing about mutilating my own body in a desperate attempt to make it all stop. Make it stop!
As girls, we had to endure unsolicited scrutiny and comments about our bodies, and being told how we should behave as women — as ladies — and what was expected from us. Don’t sit like this, don’t talk like this, don’t walk like this, don’t look like this, don’t act like this and don’t dress like this. Don’t do this, and don’t do that. We were introduced to the societal double standards that exist for men and women; if you’re a girl and you sleep around — you’re a «whore». If you’re a guy who sleeps around, you’re an «alpha male» and a «player».
As a woman, I’ve had to make myself smaller to make men more comfortable with my intelligence, strength or stature. And I’ve constantly found myself in situations where I’ve had to compromise my integrity by not being allowed to show anger, or to protect or stand up for myself when men have overstepped my boundaries, disrespected me, patronized me, or simply just failed to treat me as an autonomous human being. Because if I did, I would either be deemed problematic and dramatic, or find myself in actual danger.
I fight, because every woman sitting in this audience right now, cannot only empathize, but personally relate to what I’m sharing — and that’s not acceptable. That’s not okay.
Studies have shown that children’s self-esteem is already established by the age of 5, and that girls lose faith in their own talents by the age of 6. That «girls emerge from adolescence with a poor self-image, relatively low expectations from life and much less confidence in themselves and their abilities than boys». Studies have shown that girls believe that brilliance is a male trait; and that even when they are more capable and more suitable to be a leader of a project, women will choose to pass that role over to a less capable and suitable male.
Now, let me share some inconvenient truths about the world and the reality of women today:
- 1 out of 10 women have experienced rape
- 1 out of 5 women have experienced attempted rape
- Between 8000 and 16.000 people are raped or attempted raped in Norway every year
- 90 percent of all rapes are committed by a perpetrator known to the victim
- 80 percent of all rapes are in closed rooms
- 70 percent of all rapes are committed in private homes
- 90 percent of all rapes and rape attempts are never known to the police
- 80 percent of all rape charges are dropped
- Under one percent of the perpetrators will be sentenced
- 20—25 percent of them will rape again
- It’s almost exclusively men who are perpetrators, while the vast majority of victims are female
- In Norway, contrary to what the media would have you believe, the ethnic profile varies within the different types of rape, but for ALL — except for public attacks — Norwegian perpetrators are the largest group
- More than 1 out of 4 women states to have been exposed to violence by her partner at least once during her life
- 1 out of 11 women have been exposed to potentially life-threatening violence from a partner
- 1 out of 2 Norwegian men believes a woman is wholly or partly responsible for being sexually abused if she flirts openly
- 3 out of 10 Norwegian men believe that the woman is to blame if she was dressed in sexy clothing or was obviously drunk
- 1 out of 5 Norwegian men believes the same if the woman is known to have had several sexual partners
- 1 out of 3 Norwegian male high schoolers believe that rape victims can enjoy being raped
I fight, because these are the heartbreaking and unacceptable facts of women’s reality; yet there are still men, even liberal, progressive men who proudly proclaim to be a feminist, who will dismiss and mansplain these facts and the experiences I, and others, have had as women.
Now, as you may have noticed, I am not just a woman, but a woman of color. And in this world, that makes things just a little bit harder and little bit more complicated. Because as a biracial woman, I have experienced and observed racism and ignorance that shouldn’t be present today.
I was born and raised in Oslo, to a white Norwegian mother, and a black Gambian father. Racism wasn’t that much of a problem in Oslo, although I of course had experienced it on rare occasions. I was mostly just perceived as another person, another individual, just another human being. I thought that would be the case for every large city in Norway, and I was so proud of that. Proud to be Norwegian, and how progressive and liberal our society was. But some years ago, some of my friends and I moved to Bergen, and the nice little bubble that we had lived in burst. We were no longer just Norwegian people who just happened to be of color, we were suddenly foreigners. Foreigners in our own country.
Suddenly, I often got denied the experience of being perceived as anything but a «black person». Strangers would touch my hair without my consent, ask me invasive and personal questions related to how I looked and «where I come from». Compare my hair washing routines to that of a dog. Being surprised when they found out that I was in fact born and raised here, and that I was half white.
I experienced biracial erasure, where my Norwegian heritage, nationality and ethnicity got denied and dismissed by total strangers. «Do you speak Norwegian?» «Where are you from? No, where are you really from?» «No, you are NOT Norwegian.»
Let me make this clear, I am not just black, and I’m not just white, because the two are not mutually exclusive. Either I am neither, or I am both. I am biracial; and no one’s ignorance, whether well-meant or ill-intentioned, will ever erase that.
I’ve experienced being prejudged, and made to feel like an aggressive criminal and a suspect person. Being told by two white girls that they felt «threatened» by me and that they felt like «victims», in a situation where they were the transgressors and aggressors, and I was the one being attacked; and where I defended myself in a rational and mature manner. Being denied a seat next to someone, solely due to the color of my skin. Experiencing an older woman being openly and utterly disgusted by my presence when I sat next to her on a bus. Being made to feel less than because of the way I look. Men fetishizing my perceived «blackness». Being told that «black women are great in bed». New people trying to «bond» with me by «acting black» and showing that they’re «down». [Snap] «Mh-hm! Guurrrl!»
Waking up to neo-Nazi propaganda in my mailbox and printed all over my neighborhood — regularly. Meeting people who refer to those who look like me as «negroes», and who react with indignation when they’re told that they can’t use that word because it’s offensive. Overhearing a white girl with bleached blonde hair making fun of her biracial friend, who wasn’t present, for bleaching his hair and how ridiculous it looked on him because he was dark-skinned. She said this while I was visibly sitting next to her, a biracial girl with bleached hair. Experiencing very obviously prejudiced farmers at the Farmer’s Market not knowing how to act around me when I’ve come up to them, spoken in perfect Norwegian, and been an actual pleasant human being.
Experiencing my male friends of color being mistreated for being non-white or dark-skinned. My best friend having to cross the street at night if he’s walking in close proximity to a girl, because he doesn’t want her to fear or think that he might rape her. Not just because he’s a guy, but especially because he’s a dark-skinned male. The same friend being asked if he sold drugs, because of the way he looked — by a fellow medical student at uni. People not wanting to sit next to him on the bus or on the tram, and going out of their way to avoid it, simply because of the color of his skin.
Him being deliberately ignored by one of the sellers at a food festival; who took one look at my friend, with his brown skin and urban clothing, and very obviously decided that he’d rather give his free food sample to the more “wholesome” white guy walking farther behind us instead. Not knowing that my friend would probably be one of the most good-hearted people he had ever met, and who, on top of that, also happens to be doctor. My friend experiencing patients asking him if he was the cleaner, because he was brown. Him telling people he’s from Sri Lanka when they ask him where he’s from, because he knows that they won’t accept his answer if he tells them «Norway».
So I fight.
I fight, because being biracial and a brown-skinned person is something that went from being far in the back of my mind, to being something that I’m constantly aware of. Constantly reminded of. I fight, because racism is still a problem among progressives and liberals. I fight, because I was called a «nigger» by an anonymous stranger on social media — who also happened to be a part of the LGBTQ community. I fight, because someone I was friendly with, who viewed himself as staunch liberal and progressive, hurled a racist comment at me in anger in a group chat, and only one other person came to my defense. I fight, because things that are associated with any black culture, goes from being perceived as «ghetto» to «high fashion» once it’s embraced and appropriated by white culture.
I am not a costume. I am not a gimmick. I am not a laughingstock. I am not something to gawk at. I am not an exotic zoo animal. I am not an object. I am not something to appropriate. I am not something to be fetishized. I am not something to be sexualized. I am not someone to brutalize. I am not someone to violate. I am not someone to dismiss. I am not someone to oppress.
I am not yours.
So what am I then? What do you see?
Am I what’s here: [showing the back of my hand to imply skin color]
What’s here: [holding my hand in front of my crotch to imply gender]
Or what’s here: [holding my hand over my heart to imply who I am on the inside]
I fight because I don’t want my future kids to grow up in an environment like this.
I fight, because if I don’t, who will?
That’s why I fight.