Women are not free. People in bodies with breasts are not free. Femmes are not free. It is not yet 9AM on the island of Gozo, and already I have felt the way that my body makes me prey. I wake early and go for a walk to explore the area around my Airbnb. On my way to the grocery, I meet no one. It is peaceful outside, and warm. The Mediterranean Sea sparkles. I purchase a few snacks and breakfast for the next day. On my way back to my rental, I come across a man in a horsedrawn buggy. I smile, amazed and delighted to find such a thing on the street. He stops. After granting me a photo of him and his equine friend, he takes one of me with the horse too. It is a nice interaction.
We shake hands. He holds on a bit too long, asks how long I am staying, offers me a “free” ride to the ferry the next day. I tell him I have already ordered a taxi. He does not take no for an answer. I lie and tell him I have already paid for the cab. He lets go of my hand but lingers. The fact that I am a woman traveling alone is an invitation. This man does not intend to rape me, but he does think that if he pushes on my boundaries, asking the same question over and over again, that I will eventually give in, that he will get what he wants, whatever that might be. Finally, he allows me to go on my way.
I can’t shake the feeling of being ‘less than.’ I return to my sparse but affordable airbnb, put my groceries away, and venture down the hillside toward the sandy beach of Marsalforn Bay. I am relaxed, my legs swinging loosely in their hip sockets as I jaunt down the narrow, empty street. A male driver, an approaching car. He slows, tries to make eye contact, smiles in a way that is not at all friendly. Shoulders tensing, my face grows hard as I quicken my pace. The car passes, does a U-turn, stopping just ahead of me. I look straight ahead and speed my pace, every cell in my body on the alert, ready to defend itself. Thankfully, the car drives off. My heart take a while to stop pounding.
My being in the world, occupying a public space while not on the arm of a man seems to signal my availability. My body is an invitation. I do my best to shake off my armor and enjoy the day. I roam the hills, the wheat fields, and the beach. I meet a friend who has moved from Berlin to Malta some months prior, and take a short swim in the sea.
In the evening, I drink Pilsner and eat Margherita pizza on the concrete boardwalk. Sprayed by the salty sea, content, I watch the sun set. Inside, I pay at the bar. It’s decorated with ratty bamboo, colorful signs that say Happy Birthday and a monitor playing a Bob Marley playlist. Suddenly, a man I smiled at earlier that day is next to me. His name, he tells me his name is Hassan. He begins to chat me up, offers me a beer. “Alright,” I acquiesce. “ I will stay and speak with you for one beer.” During this beer, Hassan tells me he likes white women and asks me to take off my pink flamingo head scarf so he can see my hair. I tell him I do not exist to please him, that I like my head wrap, and that I will keep it on. He talks about how we will go to a reggae bar later and smoke hashish. He assures me that he has a home and a job, as if this should be all it takes to make me want to stay with him forever. “I like you. You don’t make problem.” The evening goes on and on. It takes me forever to finish my beer. I have to constantly remind Hassan that I am leaving after I finish my beer, and that I am leaving alone. And one point, I have to pee. I assess the situation and decide that these two men will not drug me before I excuse myself to the toilet. When I leave, Hassan tries to come with me. Once more, I say a firm “No,” and exit quickly. I am not followed.
Even as I am sitting outside of my airbnb waiting for my taxi to the ferry, the host of the airbnb comes over and starts talking to me about his failed relationship with his son’s mother, as if listening to him is more important than whatever I might be doing. It is almost as if there is a widespread belief that, “if it has boobs and it has ears, a man’s voice is the most important thing around.”
I am disheartened, saddened and angry that the time I had set aside for myself to relax and rebuild was instead a time I had to carefully navigate my way between men, ever alert to the potential violence of any situation. It appears that, even in 2017, my body occupying a public space is read as an open invitation for men to approach, with little regard for who I might be and what I might want for myself.
I am not free.
Women are not free.
Harvey Rabbit is a warrior, writer, performer and filmmaker living in Berlin. Her short film “Slowdance” has been shown extensively in Europe, North, Central and South America. Harvey Rabbit does not care for pronouns of any sort, but engages you to use what you see fit.
Illustration by Kiona H. Niehaus & Lo Pecado