On February 5, Kosovo 2.0 published a blog called “The Carnivorous Men of the Albanian Street” by writer Nina Cara. Almost immediately, there was backlash on a blog called Peshku Pa Uje. I want to address a few glaring issues that I saw among the responses on that site. I usually think of Albanians as people who are proud of their heritage — sometimes to a fault — but it seems that I forgot that this mutual, common heritage-based respect only exists for male Albanians, if that.
This is what I have to say to all of the people who made those hateful and disgusting comments. May my voice be an ally to women everywhere who live under such dehumanizing conditions.
To the people who said Cara should feel flattered because she was getting attention: Being harassed on the street does not make women feel beautiful. It makes us feel scared. It makes us nervous to walk through our own neighborhood, even in broad daylight. It makes us fearful that one day this misguided sexual attention will turn into something worse than words, and we won’t make it home to our parents that night.
To the person who told Cara to put in earplugs: Why should she have to go buy earplugs and stuff them in her head every morning to have a peaceful walk to work while men don’t have to be held responsible for their disturbing behavior? And by the way, earplugs can’t block the way they leer at you and suck their teeth like you’re a piece of chicken being pulled from the bone. Should we purchase blinders too?
To the person who said that attention should make Cara feel like a woman: No. Just no. Male attention is not a prerequisite for being a woman. And let’s just pause for a moment before we mistake harassment for attention.
To the person who said Cara should avoid this sort of attention by simply not walking the streets: You’re right. What was she doing out of the kitchen anyway? (Please sense my endless sarcasm for your ridiculous comment.)
To the person who said that “gender equality” is to blame for making men into rapists: First of all, we are far from a state of gender equality — not only in Albania but also in Kosovo, America, and the rest of the world. Women are not responsible for men raping them. Let me repeat that until you understand: Women are not responsible for men raping them. Women are not responsible for men raping them. Men are responsible for sidestepping the functions of their higher brains and acting like animals, like ruthless predators going for the throat.
To the person who said feminism is an incurable psychosis: Where do I even start? Feminism is not the disease: misogyny and patriarchy and male dominance are the disease. Feminism is a part of the cure.
To the person who said women are teases who leave him with his “guitar” in his hand: Do you blame them when you talk like that? What do you expect? And for that matter, we are not merely somewhere to put your guitar. I can suggest a few other places.
To the people who said women deserve it because of how they dress: This sort of logic only exacerbates the idea that men are not responsible for their actions once they find a woman attractive, which is not only delusional, but dangerous. And by the way, do you think that this only happens when we wear skirts? I can be covered from head to toe in the winter and still be the subject of objectification. Again, stop blaming women for “inciting” men. Start blaming men for tormenting women.
To the men, Albanian, Kosovar, and otherwise who endlessly disrespect, harass and terrify the women walking your streets: You should be ashamed of yourselves. It is because of you that I’m scared to walk through the beautiful cities of our countries by myself. It is because of you that I watch my little sister from the balcony when she goes down the street to buy bread. It is because of you that my mother tells me to take cabs once the sun is setting.
We are not inciting you. We are not asking you to say what parts of us you’d like to eat while we’re just walking to work. We are not asking you to rape us.
We are existing. We are humans.
You, on the other hand, are responsible for planting fear, mistrust and even hatred in us; hatred toward all men who look at us with eyes full of lust and mouths full of sexual slurs meant to demean us.
If this hasn’t hit home yet, let me add an anecdote to make it very clear to you that catcalling is not only disgusting, but dangerous.
I visited Kosovo in the summer of 2009 when I was 16 years old. By that age, I was used to the verbal abuse hurled at me on the streets of Prishtina and took every possible precaution which family members warned might lessen the problem; dressing modestly, not wearing much make-up, not walking alone.
One night, my brother and I were walking home together. Once we were across the street from my sister’s apartment building (he had to go down a different street to go to my halla’s apartment where he was staying that summer). My brother kissed me on the cheek and watched me walk across the street before turning the corner and heading for my halla’s apartment. I was crossing the street to enter my sister’s apartment building when I first heard the taunting.
“Where did your boyfriend go? Did he leave you for me to have?”
I put my head down and walked faster, entering the apartment building with fear growing like a tree in the middle of my chest. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the man follow me from across the street and enter the building behind me. Then, the whispering started.
“Don’t go upstairs. Your boyfriend left you. Come back. Come play.”
My heart stopped beating. It was 1 a.m. and I was alone in a staircase with a man who was following me… and I had only been alone from the sidewalk to the apartment entrance. That’s all it took.
I started running up the stairs and the man chased after me, laughing.
“Come on, don’t be like that. Let’s play. I want to eat all of you. I bet you’re so sweet. Stop running.”
I was tearing up the staircase, out of breath and terrified, heart beating like a drum in my chest. The man was only a few steps behind me and as we were getting higher and higher, I realized that I was running out of strength and he was only getting closer. He was going to catch me.
So I did the only thing I could. I screamed for another man.
“Babi!” I screamed at the top of my lungs, my voice reverberating through the empty stairwell.
The man stopped for a second, trying to gauge whether or not my father was actually waiting at the top of the steps.
We were on the ninth floor now and he was only a few steps behind me. If he didn’t believe my pleas for my father, I didn’t know what I would do next. Would anyone hear me yelling?
“Babi!” I screamed. “Babi! I’m home! It’s Fortesa, I’m home, open the door!”
I reached the tenth floor and pounded my fists on my apartment door because my hands were shaking too much to fit my key into the lock.
With every pound, I screamed for my father.
“Babi!” Pound. “Babi! Babi!” Pound, pound.
The man laughed again, only three steps below me.
“Say hi to your dad for me,” he said and finally, to my bottomless relief, turned to head back down the steps.
By the time my mother opened the door, I was sitting against it, crying hysterically. I couldn’t breathe or calm down enough to tell her what had happened for hours. I didn’t sleep well the next few weeks, awakened by constant nightmares of the man who had chased me and horrific imaginings of what might have happened if he’d caught up with me.
And guess what? My father wasn’t even home. I knew he wasn’t home. He wasn’t even in the country. But apparently being a woman means that the only way a man will stop harassing you is if he knows another man is protecting you.
Do you understand what that means? Men only respect other men. That man did not respect me as a person. But he feared my father, and that was the only thing that saved me that night.
Catcalling is not just catcalling. It is harassment. It is degrading. It is demeaning. It is abusive. It is wrong. And when it happens at night, there’s an even higher chance that it can turn into something more dangerous.
Stop blaming women. Stop turning a blind eye. Stop telling us to be more careful, less pretty, less desirable. You are only enabling these men and proliferating the idea that to stay out of danger, women have to take every precaution possible while men can behave in any manner they see fit.
One last note: to all the men lurking in doorways, sitting on steps, and standing in the street who hurl words at us like stones: you may have scared us and you may have ruined our morning and you may have chased us up ten flights of stairs, but you will never ever get the best of us.
Fortesa Latifi - To All the Men Lurking In Doorways