I have seen men in dreadlocks stroll around the streets of Nairobi with confidence and no one dares to bother them. But as a woman with dreadlocks, I have had to vigorously pull my hand away from strange men grabbing me to ignoring catcalls and hastening my pace only to cross over to the other street and to walk into the same scary glare. Cynthia Mukanzi
shares some experiences women with dreadlocks (natural or faux) undergo
1. Street harassment
Having dreadlocks is beautiful, but it also attracts dangerous attention from street bullies who in many cases are always men. From boda boda guys to random idlers, everybody wants a piece of you and some will try to follow you.
Play blind to this or respond, they will still take a swipe at you and it’s an everyday nightmare. You just learn to be numb to the taunting and hope it doesn’t escalate to physical violence, especially at night.
2. Invasion of personal space by people who want to touch your hair
Nothing gets to me like people who touch my hair without my consent. Even my close friends or family do not do it, at least not without asking. I’m always alert to that and I could break an arm that reaches for my locks.
My hair is sacred, not a forest that people can freely take walks in. It’s an intimate aspect of my being and only gets touched by a special few, including my barber.
3. Thought to be obsessed with all kinds of drugs
I wouldn’t really care if I was accused of doing weed on a daily basis, but for people to judge you as a crook who is probably a hardcore junkie isn’t cool. They say, “It doesn’t suit women”. This is such a close-minded attitude.
4. Expected to speak to everybody
For real, people including strangers expect you to fist-bump them and actually stop to give them a history of your hair among other time-wasting nothings. They expect you to be generous to a fault and think just because they call you ‘Ras’ you will gladly stop and chat. No.
5. Police harassment
I don’t know about other women, but I have gone through this. Not once or twice. I was once walking to my friend’s place a few minutes after 8pm and a bunch of cops in a vehicle pulled over to harass me for no reason.
I wasn’t going to let them intimidate me, but I was trembling inside. Because being a woman is worrying about your safety around men, I was trying to stay calm and firm to show them I wasn’t shaken and so they couldn’t take advantage of me. If anything had happened, it would have been my word against a bunch of cops. Thank God my press card saved me.
6. Ignorantly called Rastafarian
People have asked me if as a woman, I believe in Haile Selassie’s teachings. I don’t even know them and can’t claim to be Rastafarian. Just because I or anybody else has dreadlocks doesn’t mean we practise Rastafari.
This is actually an insult to the real Rastas who believe in this religious movement. There are people who don’t have dreadlocks but are Rastafarian.
7. People don’t see you, just your hair
Have any of you noticed that some people see your hair first or it’s the only thing they see? They may not be interested in unravelling the things that make you, such as your character, but will focus on your hair and erase the rest of you.
In my experience, this tends to come a lot from men. And what I usually do is shut down such conversations because they are not real.
8. Men hitting on you with lame vibes
Those people who still use ‘I love my women natural and rebellious’ are the dumbest ever. You might as well buy hair and date it. Some of us don’t care about what pleases men.
We do our thing and make sure we are happy with ourselves. We are not here to entertain. People who truly matter will still see you, no matter what you have on.
9. Everybody has an opinion on how you should style your hair
Unsolicited advice on how to care for my hair has been overpouring. People tell me to get my locks waxed, which I never do.
I thought the whole point of me keeping it natural is to just give my hair the freedom to be with occasional haircuts on the side without interference. I only have to make sure it’s clean and oiled. I have never understood why people get bothered by what is on someone else’s head.
10. Makangas literally drag you into matatus
I know this happens to a lot of women, with or without dreadlocks, but I have noticed that since dreadlocks make you stand out, touts will come for you first.
Have you ever been walking past matatu stops in the midst of other people and all the makangas come running to you amid calls of ‘Ras Ras Ras’ and fight each other to get you into their mathrees? You can easily get robbed or even hurt in such instances. It is mortifying.