Let’s face it, #MeToo is real. We women have been facing it at different levels and forms for as long as we can remember. Let’s make it clear that sexual harassment is wrong and together we can raise awareness against it.
There are countless times when we women feel uncomfortable around certain men in our lives who may even be a major part of our lives. No matter which part of the world we reside in, how old we are or which time of the day it is, we have to always be on the lookout!
No matter how independent women may be today, we are still afraid… Afraid of being stared at, followed, favored, spoken to or touched inappropriately.
I have covered a number of social issues on my blog but this is the first time I am talking about harassment.
Before we start talking about this touchy topic, it’s important to know how it is defined:
“It is an uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature.”
Harassment in public places is defined as: “An intent to insult the modesty of any woman, uttering a word, making a sound or gesture, or exhibiting any object, intending that such word or sound shall be heard, or that such gesture or object shall be seen by woman, or invading women’s privacy.”
Girls meet up
I’m pretty charged up after coming home from girls gathering today. It was a perfect night out and we chatted over molten lava cake and covered a range of topics. Among the topics discussed was also the #metoo movement.
Once we started discussing sexual harassment, we remembered so many random stories which each of us had experienced in our lives.
We shared stories from our childhood/teenage/adult years which we had chosen to hide all our lives. We remembered how bad we felt at the time such incidents took place. But we hid them because we thought its best to just brush them under the carpet. We decided to just move on and not tell anyone except for our sisters/girlfriends. Now I feel cynical about why we silenced ourselves! If all of us girls continue to keep quiet about such incidents, do you think all this will stop for our next generations? I think it’s great that #metoo is creating awareness. Unless we talk about an issue, we can never resolve it. Right?
Common culprits from our stories were:
- Molvi Sahibs
- Guy friends
- Passengers sitting next to us
- Random strangers on the road
- Sports coaches
The stories ranged from being stared at, talked to, invasion of personal space or being touched inappropriately.
And of course, there are different levels of each of these categories. We started remembering how so many of our friends/cousins had faced harassment and some had even been abused.
We women have been facing minor forms of harassment everywhere. Our drivers, gatekeepers and house-help almost always stared at us. It was common for our drivers to adjust their rear-view mirrors so they can look at us whenever possible. While sitting on an airplane or bus, invariably, the guy sitting next to us would touch his arm/hand as if it’s by accident. Anyone handing something over would touch our hands inappropriately. Thinking of all this makes me sick!
We remembered how there was always a pressure to stay silent.
There may be a thin line between being hugged & touched inappropriately; also between being harassed & abused as some lines may be blurry. But a woman instantly knows the difference between a good and a bad touch. We need to trust her judgment!
The difference between what’s okay and what is not is pretty clear to everyone! It is never right to behave inappropriately and get away with it just because she chose never to talk about it or she was too scared or confused to create a scene right when it happened.
Some common forms of harassment
The most frequent forms of harassment include:
- Stared or whistled at
- Approached with inappropriate/vulgar comments
- Received dirty/inappropriate phone calls
- Received dirty messages/notes
- Invited to someone’s car or home
- Invasion of privacy and space (standing too close to her)
- Being asked/given undue favors
- Display of indecency
- Touched inappropriately
Our flawed reactions
- We have become so used to sexual harassment in our lives, that even though we dislike it, a part of us accepts it.
- We have been taught that anything sexual or abusive towards us is just a part of being a woman.
- We’ve grown up to think that it’s just something that we have to live with.
- Interestingly, many of these culprits otherwise seem like good people; They have just been accepted to be that way with women.
- It is our fault that we tend to give them a benefit of doubt sometimes.
- At times, we are puzzled and doubt if it was really that big a deal.
- Other times, we’re too embarrassed to talk about it as if it was our fault.
How we deal with it
As a result of harassment, we are on the guard 24/7 and try to keep a safe distance from such boys/men wherever we are. This seems to be our only defense. We try to avoid them and choose different paths. Even though my mom had educated me at a very young age about inappropriate touch. She had also told me to say ‘No’ loudly if I ever felt uncomfortable. Every big crime starts with a smaller crime. If a person gets away with a smaller crime, he will then attempt a bigger one. Making a big cry at the slightest indication can be a good policy.
In my professional life, I have tackled staring differently in a few cases. An office guard and a colleague used to stare at me a lot in office (SO ANNOYING! Right?). So I called them separately to my office and talked to them directly about how inappropriate that is. Thank God, the issue was resolved and I decided not to report the harassment to the HR department or higher authorities.
Working abroad has been a completely different experience. There is a huge difference in culture which one needs to adjust to. Initially, it takes some time. I would like to give the following examples from the time I worked in Slough, UK :
- During office breaks, all the colleagues used to go outside for a breather. So one of the colleagues stood really close to me with his arms around me while I stood with the others one day. I looked at him strangely and he said ‘You alright?’. I was like ‘Yeah, I’m not feeling too comfortable with you like this’. He giggled and said ‘don’t worry about it’. He took no notice of what I said and continued hugging me. I had a harmless vibe from him and we were all in a group so I didn’t make a big deal out of it and let it go. But I used to make sure I didn’t touch any guy myself to make sure no one gets a wrong signal from my side.
- Every other Friday, all the colleagues used to meet at a pub. So once when I was there, I saw a completely different side of my boss. He was so drunk that he suddenly came and sat in my lap. I was shocked beyond belief. But it was very funny seeing him in that condition. My best friend and I laughed about it. On Monday morning, he was back to his serious self and asking us to work well. We looked at each other and smiled thinking ‘We haven’t forgotten how you were on Friday night’. Of course, he was drunk and it was harmless when he came and sat in my lap, so I just laughed about it later.
- Once something disturbing happened. So after lunch break was over, I was climbing up the stairs along with a lot of colleagues. Suddenly, someone slapped my butt behind me. I was shocked! I literally stopped there and looked at the flock of people who were all looking at me and I had blocked their way. I looked at the culprit right behind me in the eye and said ‘What the hell was that?’. He was laughing like crazy and said ‘I couldn’t resist doing that. Don’t get so serious about it. Isn’t it funny!’. I was like ‘You’re sick! It’s not funny at all and don’t you dare touch me like that ever again’. Then he said his sorries but still kept laughing. I stopped talking to him that day onward.
I understand there are differences in culture in every country. I’m sorry but being BLATANTLY WIERD is never acceptable in any culture!
The #MeToo Movement
I feel like the #metoo movement is a great initiative to create awareness that sexual harassment is REAL. It happens and has happened to us at so many levels and in so many forms, so many times in our lives!
After our debate, I felt bad how we kinda ignored it and accepted it even though we always knew it was never okay! We all have grown up surrounded by sexual harassment, we have experienced it to certain degrees, if this movement is becoming popular today, I highly doubt it is a stunt by women to defame men. All I know is that it is a real threat. It has been happening for centuries. And I think we need to trust the gutsy women who are speaking up against it. Rather than finding reasons to degrade them, we should keep an open mind and appreciate their guts which we never had.
We need to realize that we women face it so much more than men and I really believe every single girl in the world HAS personally faced sexual harassment at some level.
The only difference is that we have all felt it in different forms and different levels at different times of our lives. Harassment has degrees. We have thankfully faced a lower degree of this issue as compared to the less fortunate ones who have had to suffer its worst form i.e. rape! Rape is an extreme consequence of sexual harassment.
According to RAINN, an American is assaulted every 98 seconds, one out of every six women will deal with rape or attempted rape in her lifetime, and 90 percent of rape victims are women.
Where is it common
I really don’t believe that harassment is something that happens only in Pakistan or other developing countries. I have had crazy men trying to harass me in public on bus stops and roads in Paris, Canada, and London also. We have also felt uncomfortable around certain men in our friends, families and relatives even inside our own homes. So it happens everywhere!
The truth of the matter is that unfortunately, we live in a really dirty world which is full of perverts! They are the main reason why parents have to be over-protective. Honestly, the percentages are really high. It’s really alarming how it’s happening everywhere around us! Men really need to put themselves in our shoes and realize that we’re not just making up stories for publicity. I dislike how, without knowing the truth, Meesha Shafi is receiving so much hate.
- Beware of your surroundings and people around you.
- Always trust your instincts.
- If any look or comment makes you uncomfortable, confront the person. Many of such harassers are cowards.
- Let others you trust know.
Thank you Aunty Rubina for these points.
What Quran says
What I have an issue with (and the reason why I argued with a shopkeeper sitting next to me on a flight) is that men’s Islam starts and ends with women’s clothes! I agree women should be decently dressed (and so should men) but all this harassment isn’t about how us little girls (at the time we were first harassed) wore revealing clothes. It has almost always been about all those sick minded men trying to make an attempt at every girl they can find (irrespective of her clothing).
According to the Quran (24:30-31) – Translation by Yusuf Ali:
“Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do.
And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may attain Bliss.”
- I really do believe there are all kinds of men and women in the world
- Not generalizing. Just stating some facts!
- Some of the personal stories from my friends contained explicit content which I didn’t have the guts to post here
- In my opinion, women are not safe anywhere in the world today! I hope one day women will be able to walk carefree wherever they wish without any fear.
- By being quiet about all this, we are letting the oppressors win.
- I feel #metoo movement is a great initiative to create and raise awareness on this important social issue.
- I think we need to realize that if and when a girl says something about this sensitive issue, we should trust her and not suspect her of fraud/lies. Harassment is hard to prove anyway!
- The most recent time I faced harassment was by a drunk guy at a public bus stop in Halifax. I was very new in the country and was too shocked to react when it happened to me. A random stranger (girl) walked up to me and helped me out. I thanked her and I loved how she said ‘We girls have gotta stick together’. I have really started to believe that now. If harassment can happen to all of us, why can’t it happen to Misha Shafi?
- The #MeToo movement and its evolution explained
- Sexual harassment: How it stands around the globe
- Sexual Harassment Laws for Women in Pakistan
- Know your rights: What to do if you have been sexually harassed in Pakistan?
- Girls at Dhabas: Reclaiming public places
- Is there anyone (girl) of you who has never faced sexual harassment of any kind in her life?
- What kind/form of sexual harassment have you personally faced in your life?
- Who were the common culprits? Did you know them or were they strangers?
- How did you feel when you were touched inappropriately by men in your life?
- When you faced harassment, did you ever raise your voice/report it or stayed silent?
- God forbid, if you face harassment, do you think you should stay silent or take action?
- What actions do you think one should take after facing harassment?
- What is your opinion on #metoo?