TREVOR Noah, a successful South African comedian based in the United States; posted a triggering video of Ariana Grande, a tiny bodied 25-year-old American pop star at Aretha Franklin’s funeral the other night. Imagine my horror when I witnessed the reverend who was officiating at the funeral, a full-grown man called Bishop Charles H Ellis, molest a squirming Ariana in front of the whole world.
He had his arm around her at breast level and had her pulled close to him with what looked to me like a like a firm grip. There was no escape for the visibly uncomfortable Ariana as the man dug his fingers into her breast like it was the most normal thing to do.
For how long shall women have to suffer the indignity of having our bodies invaded and violated, especially by men? This touching of our bodies without our consent happens to us on a daily basis in all spheres of our lives. It starts from childhood. People seem to have normalised the groping of girls’ “new boobs” to check their size, tease them or whatever; the same way we play with babies’ chubby cheeks. All that little girls can do when uncles, neighbours and classmates touch them is to run away as if in play so as not to offend the perpetrator; or plead pain so that they stop. Only the “feisty” ones can just outright call it out. What upsets me about this is that from a tender age, we are groomed to protect ourselves but only to an extent that does not “cause problems”.
In adulthood, touts at bus ranks grab us and shove us into their taxis. They touch us wherever and however they like, in full view of everyone in the vicinity and everyone pretends it is not happening. Most of us find it easier to ignore it to avoid trouble and only when they get aggressive or groping our buttocks do we complain. But only just enough so they stop. Some women make a scene but they are generally frowned upon by most for being too loud, too “brass” and for being attention seeking drama queens.
This also happens in the workplace, in our homes, and like in the Arianna case, on television. We have been socialised to protect the reputations of our abusers and to accept or downplay abuse. Instead of screaming and shoving the reverend away Ariana chose to giggle and wriggle nervously, but only just enough not to make a scene. She clearly was not enjoying the intimacy but she chose not to make the reverend uncomfortable, not to make everyone else uncomfortable, and not to cause “drama”.
This breaks my heart. It is ingrained in our subconscious that some blame will fall on us whenever we “overreact” to anything that makes us uncomfortable. I imagine her mentally calculating her options. Mentally weighing just how bad the treatment was and whether it was worth the trouble of an outcry. What if I’m seeing things? What if he’s touching me accidentally? What if he doesn’t even realise it? How will he feel if I cause a scene? Will people blame me? I shouldn’t have worn a short dress. But he’s a reverend, let me just suck it up it will pass.
Every woman has felt this. Gone through this. The burden always rests upon us to “contain” the situation. The Reverend in question has “apologised”. This is what he said in an interview: “It would never be my intention to touch any woman’s breast…I don’t know I guess I put my arm around her. Maybe I crossed the border, maybe I was too friendly or familiar but again I apologise.”
What kind of apology is this? He “doesn’t know”… he “guesses” he put her arm around her. “Maybe” he crossed the border. “Maybe” he was too friendly. This man takes no responsibility for his unacceptable actions whatsoever. He refuses to acknowledge how badly he treated Ariana. His apology does not even address her. It focusses on creating doubt in our minds that the incident ever occurred. I am sure by now he has watched the video.
Assuming his actions were genuinely innocent this would have been the time for him to come out and say, “I am terribly sorry. It was wrong of me to touch her so inappropriately. I didn’t mean to and I am sorry for the discomfort I caused her”.
At some point we have to hold molesters accountable. We cannot allow people to break little girls and women under our watch. The trauma of abuse lives with most women all their lives. It transcends into every aspect of our lives. It affects us in our careers, in our marriages and all other forms of human interaction. We are afraid to go for the positions we want at work because we might be accused of being abrasive, too competitive, and “forward”.
We second guess ourselves at every turn: Should I go in? Is my dress too short? Am I wearing too much make up? Are my boobs showing? Am I laughing too loud? Am I dancing too provocatively? Should I also raise my hand? Am I talking too much? Instead of forcing men to control themselves, the world says we must shrink ourselves, become shadows, so as not to attract unwanted attention and thus invite abuse.
The world witnessed a man molest a woman, intentionally or not. There is video evidence. But the man comes out and says “maybe” it happened; and we accept his apology and forget about the incident. If people have room to wiggle out of crimes they commit in public, what hope is there for justice for crimes committed behind closed doors? We are just but guests, objects and ornaments, in this the world of men.