This piece of writing however is reflective action. I was not surprised that so many had experienced violations, and neither was I astonished at how openly occurrences of sexual harassment were being discussed by both men and women.
Wikipedia has documented the facts and figures of the #MeToo movement, whether accurately or inaccurately, I cannot say; and there are innumerable articles in both print and online media discussing its parameters, nuances, and effectiveness. Therefore I hope I am adding a new perspective to the existing literature.
I am not a victim of a violent sexual assault, but I have experienced minor transgressions. To me, the spectrum of sexual violence against women and girls ranges from salacious glances to brutal gang rape. To me all such violations and violence are symptoms of a disease (for lack of a better word) afflicting the human race.
And this is where I question my clarity. I am unable to define or describe what this disease is, but it exists and we women pay dearly for it. (Yes, I am aware of patriarchy, gender bias, misogyny, objectification, male privilege, and so on).
Therefore, a resounding applause for #MeToo. I wholeheartedly agree that we need to have the ‘conversation’ about sexual violence against women. However, I personally feel that we ought to extend the topics of this conversation, as I hold the view that the pervasive disease I mention above, further manifests itself in subtle, yet insidious ways, in our everyday lives.
It starts at conception; pregnant women are sweetly assured they will give birth to male children, they are advised to eat certain foods as the children will be fairer if they do. It is the pregnant woman who has the privilege of an opportunity to alter the genetic make up of her baby.
There is overjoy at the birth of a son, after all it is a triumph. A daughter is a most welcome addition, but not quite the coup. A dark daughter? Well, her marriage prospects? And society’s curiosity about the father and his family’s reactions? How disappointed are they? What leverage does the wife and her family have, if her husband wants a son, but she cannot deliver? He can always marry again.
There is usually a face saving ‘Our daughter/granddaughter will grow up to be a famous doctor’, but therein lies the implication that she has to work very hard and succeed to compensate for her ‘shortcomings’. A dark son can always find a fair wife and alter the genes.
Throughout school and university, “boys will be boys”. And girls? They must be serious, no buts. Fun and frivolity are for the “baje meye”. Parents and extended family look upon the misdemeanors and misbehaviours of boys through an indulgent lens, but girls ‘straying’ slightly has catastrophic consequences, especially for their families maan ijjat.
Additionally girls need to demonstrate their sobriety, restraint and dependability, as boys will eventually tire of the other “baje meye” and seek the chaste ones as life partners.
Furthermore, girls need to display their obedience to their murubbis in public spaces, after all potential and future in-laws must appreciate how well brought up they are.
The obsession with the marriage market illustrates that men are seen as prized possessions, and only the most "pristine" of women are deserving of them as partners.
Briefly returning to #MeToo, it is likely that instances of sexual aggressions are not confronted or reported because the victims will either be blamed, shamed, and/or there will be a severe disruption in their marriage market opportunities.
During marriage, women are blessed to find such wonderful husbands, and their families are blessed to have such wonderful brother-in-laws/son-in-laws. Meanwhile it is the prerogative of the boys families to have dutiful, overtly concerned, self sacrificing daughter-in-laws that must virtuously suffer as they magnanimously place the needs of their husband and his family above all else.
And if the marriage fails? If it is wracked with dysfunction?? The onus is invariably on the wife to sacrifice further, especially for the sake of the children, if there are any, to try every means possible to sustain the marriage.
The woman’s job or career? Certainly, as long she manages the home and the children too.
What if a marriage ends in separation or divorce? The rules of society are such, that it is the woman who pays the greater price than the man. Her (ex) husband on the other hand, is an eligible bachelor once again, and the screening for his future prospects begin.
When the woman becomes a mother-in-law? It is not that her life is any easier. Father –in-laws are usually perceived as more benign and kindly characters than their female counterparts.
Mother-in-laws are usually typecast as being excessively possessive about their sons, jealous of their daughter-in-laws happiness, and general busybodies. Daughter - in- laws and sisters – in- laws and mother- in- laws are always pitted against each other, and the bechara men of the family have no peace.
Grandmothers? In the case of infants and young children, grandmothers play a more significant role than the fathers even, as they help out with childcare.
And finally, there are horror stories of the abandonment of old widows.
I have described the scenarios above in order to briefly illustrate certain attitudes towards women in various stages of their lives in various parts of the world. I feel that such attitudes create a sense of male entitlement to control women and women’s bodies.
I feel that both men and women perpetuate the disease of the chronic devaluation of women, as they negotiate their way through familial and social spaces, both in public and private. If we do not make a conscious effort to change our attitudes, the only course left to us will be an abundance of #hashtags for us to empathise.
Thanks K. Anis Ahmed
Chintamoni grew up in Dhaka, where she will always belong, but never quite fit in. She is an enthusiastic traveller, a compulsive procrastinator, and a contumelious raconteur.