I have a friend -- she is white. A pretty girl, young, and by lieu of being my friend on Facebook, it brings her into the friend suggestions of a large assortment of brown skinned men from all over South Asia.
Every couple of weeks, she sends me a screenshot of some bozo propositioning her for sex, asking her to marry him, or professing their undying love for her feminine visage, and this leads to much laughter between us.
It also leads me to ponder why this is the case.
Let me hit you with an interesting fact -- the number of men who have propositioned Google Assistant from India is 450,000. The number of men (most definitely men) who have propositioned Amazon’s Alexa is 250,000.
In our neck of the woods, the female robot Sophia was propositioned as well. Ask any girl (or young guy with a fake female profile on Facebook) and they will gleefully recount their sordid tales of horror and incredulity about the number of weird requests that they receive on an almost daily basis.
The question that I am trying to unravel then is why -- what is it about our collective social order that permits us to believe that randomly propositioning women, sometimes to the point that the women are in fear for their lives, that resorting to physical violence and intense psychological manipulation is okay?
We live in a country where rape is a daily occurrence, where female abuse happens all around us, in our homes, on our streets, and behind walls which we think can cover up the muffled cries of pain and suffering.
The fundamental reason that this happens is that, in our societies, men, young boys, future leaders are treated in two diametrically opposite and equally damaging ways throughout their development.
A boy grows up with the intense belief that girls are something which are quite different from them, not to be trusted, not to be associated with -- we see this most profoundly in the behaviour of students in all-boys schools -- they grow up not knowing how to associate with girls and this leads to problems later on in life.
Early in life, a young boy grows up with the unspoken belief that to be feminine is evil -- we are taught by our elders and our peers to find the feminine within us and to crush it. Boys are taught that to be sensitive is a sign of weakness, that to be creative, to stand in a certain way, to be disinterested in sports is a sign of weakness and it must be crushed.
Things change as the child enters puberty and starts to notice girls sexually -- due to the serious lack of sexual education, not to mention the fact that sex is the most taboo subject in our country, you end up with children who get their sexual education from shady merchants who sell porn DVDs at New Market.
There is very little negative punishment on a societal level, regarding abusing women
The adolescent learns what sex is through the lens of pornography and women are nothing if not objects there.
Let me posit you a simple statement: The reason South Asian men feel they are entitled to women is because we grow up believing that, once we reach a certain age, do well in our studies, get a Bachelor’s and then a Master’s and maybe an MBA on top of that, our mom and dad will find some pretty girl and marry us off to them.
Women are nothing more than a prize that is won at the end of a long life on the straight and narrow and everything will be sexual bliss after that.
It also brings us to realize that, as a society, we have a serious case of the Madonna-whore complex. Simply put, the MW complex means that, a vast collection of men will believe that women fall into two archetypes: The saintly pure mother archetype or the wanton archetype.
That is why you will see, when a lover gets his advances rejected, he will start verbally abusing the object of his affections enough to make her cry. It is because the pure archetype that he envisioned has transformed in his eyes, from mother to whore.
This is also why, whenever we hear awful news of sexual violence, we look to the woman’s behaviour as an indicator of whether she was living righteously -- was she adhering to the first archetype, saintly, pure, following God’s will, or was she doing abhorrent things -- wearing jeans, makeup, going out past 9pm?
The final point that I would like to make is that, in our society, there is very little negative punishment on a societal level, regarding abusing women. Let’s say your best friend comes up to you tomorrow and tells you he beat his wife because she was getting uppity. Let’s say you saw a man on the street catcalling passersby -- what would you do? 99% of you would do nothing, and hence this behaviour perpetuates further and further.
If we are to take Bangladesh forward in any meaningful way, to try and transform it into a country worth being proud about, we must take our blinders off and stare into the mirror at the monster that we all are and try to make amends.
Zubier Abdullah is an engineer and a short story writer.