Ladies, if you live in Bangladesh and you’ve been in public, you know what it’s like to be whistled, catcalled and leered at and sang to by strange guys. Heck, I remember once when I was passing through Katabon, another rickshaw with two guys crossed mine. One of the guys, just before my rickshaw crossed theirs, waved at me and cried, “Assalamualaikum apu!” I did not know whether to put that under the list of ‘my uncomfortable experiences in Dhaka’ or a random dude just being nice to me for no reason.
Now, this was one of the less appalling experiences on the list I just spoke of. I remember once in seventh grade, two of my friends and I were sitting on the school stairs which directly overlooked the main gate of our school’s building. Now usually, our main gate was kept shut, but that one particular day, it wasn’t. We sat there, probably giggling about something, when one of my friends, with a look of utter confusion, nudged me and asked all of us to ‘look what that rickshawala is doing!’ We looked out and there he was, flashing himself at us. And he was smiling.
I know I am not the only one when I say I have been to crowded placed like Gausia and Chandni Chawk, and felt strange men bumping into me for no reason. Strangers grazing past our arms when there’s clearly enough space to walk without doing that, or even trying to brush their hands past our waists - these are experiences girls everywhere in Bangladesh share.
And the best (?) part is, whenever you tell others about these experiences, the most common reaction usually is: “Are chhelera to erokom korbei. Ignore kor” (boys will be like this, just ignore). A close competitor to this reaction is the infamous “What were you wearing?”
It's not what we wear
Bro, I have seen men leer at women wearing burkhas. Do NOT ask me what I was wearing because I know that is not the reason I was made to feel like nothing but an object.
I often have these conversations with my female friends when we talk about ‘the look’- a particular way a guy looks at you and you know something about that ‘look’ is not right. When we describe this ‘look’ to our male friends, they look at us, clueless. “What look? Maybe he just thought you were pretty.” Heck no. Trust me when I say, women know when they are being looked at as ‘pretty’ and when we’re being looked at as mere objects.
There was even this one time, I remember describing one of these encounters to a friend who immediately retorted, “If you don’t like it as a woman, turn around, tell them to shut up, stand up for yourself. Act like a strong woman in 2016.”
Such advice is extraordinarily unhelpful in a country where we frequently see harassment escalate into more aggressive and even fatal attacks at times when women try to protest. When are we going to start focusing on the source of the problem instead of women’s reactions to it? The insistence on criticising and mandating women’s reactions to harassment and abuse continues unchanged.
No, the fault does not lie with us
We will never solve these problems if we are debating how women should act/react/dress rather than tackling the problems at their roots. Whether a woman being catcalled in the street was wearing pants or a kameez is completely irrelevant; whether she chooses to stop and respond or chooses to keep walking is completely irrelevant; whether men are inherently perverts (they’re not) is completely irrelevant. The point is nobody should be harassing women in the first place.
Ever since we are kids, girls are taught how we should ‘sit a certain way’ or ‘talk and behave a certain way’ in public, and not be ‘too loud’ when we laugh so that we come across as decent, well brought up ladies, aka ‘bhodro ghorer meye’. This programming is done so extensively in some of us, that at times even when we go abroad, we find ourselves donning a scarf over that tight shirt.
My question is, why is a ‘bhodro ghorer chhele’ not a concept as well? Why aren’t boys taught how they should act? Why aren’t they taught how they should behave with women? The solution does not lie in telling women to dress differently, and it does not lie in asking women to ‘man up’; it lies in teaching boys at an early age that they should not be harassing women.
The writer is a food enthusiast, avid shower singer, a college student with big dreams, a love for pandas and a major case of wanderlust. To know more, follow her at: https://medium.com/@munzereenshahid