• Saturday, Jul 04, 2020
  • Last Update : 12:28 am

Taming of the shrew

  • Published at 07:52 pm May 4th, 2020
harassment women
Photo: BIGSTOCK

It is despairing to see the increased misogyny during the Covid-19 pandemic

Ramzan (I am an old schooler, so Ramadan doesn’t appeal to me) came during lockdown this year. I thought that with (most) offices shut, with people having more time on their hands, the excessive domestic workload women face every Ramzan might be a bit less this year.

The first few days of Ramzan brought with it culinary skills in almost every home in Bangladesh. Who would say we are facing a crisis? Homemade jilapis (oh sorry, you prefer jalebis?), bundies, dahi-boras, were proudly showcased online. I have seen many families having about six to seven different items on their iftaar table. It seemed nice, as if a bit of normalcy returned to the otherwise cooped-up lockdown life.

But what bothered me is the other side of this iftaar spread. Replacing store-bought food items with homemade ones is an excellent health choice, but a little background check will reveal that this extra cooking is coming off the women’s service time in the family kitchen. I have even received reports from female friends that their proposal to forgo the deep fried savoury items during this lockdown has been met with vehement protests by senior male (and female) members of the family, who consider it a woman’s holy duty to toil on in the kitchen preparing iftaar, because that is supposed to bring them sawaab.

I have read jokes about how “the wife” is nagging more than ever, daring the husband to do dishes. I have seen my male friends and acquaintances showing off delicacies from their “mom’s kitchen.” I am yet to see (save a rare few exceptions) any such mouthwatering dishes by fathers. Add to that, the rare male species who are in their mid-thirties and just beginning to explore the uncharted territory of the kitchen, cooking a handful of meals, boasting with photos, and remembering their wives and mothers whose tasty food remains unchallenged.

From the onset of Ramzan, I have seen no dearth of misogynistic posts on Facebook calling out women for observing piety and submissiveness during this holy month. It appears that while it is unacceptable to monitor the women’s unpaid labour, it is extremely vital to monitor their newsfeed and jump at the first opportunity. How dare women accept the #SixSareeChallenge? Do they not remember that burial shroud (kafon) is white and simple? How dare they post beautiful photos all dolled up? Do they not remember that these photos are enough to lead men astray?

And it only gets better. Allow me to draw your attention to the fact that recently, Facebook has been flooded with posts that suggest stalking women as a safeguard from Covid-19. Whoever cooked this up deserves an applause.

It amazes me that most people can’t make a decent reference or example without dragging women into it. Be it the radical religion-sellers who blame women for bringing in the Covid-19 pandemic, or the overzealous preachers who are hailing the safety measure of wearing face masks as the ultimate triumph for imposing niqaab and hijab. How do they conveniently forget, that while all genders have to wear face masks to keep off the virus, we are yet to see hijabi or niqabi men roaming the streets?

The ultimate wife jokes come from the online meme activists who remind women not to drive their locked-down husbands crazy with their female banter. What of the wife who has stopped being economic because apparently all cheap things are made in China? 

The Malaysian Women’s Affairs Ministry actually started an online campaign to curb domestic violence with the hashtag #WomenPreventCOVID19, telling women to dress up at home and avoid nagging their husbands. Why?

Even well-meaning posts are rarely free of habitual attacks on women. I saw a man posting on Facebook, calling out women to give charity to tailors who would otherwise be busy preparing Eid orders. A laudable reminder. Yes, tailors and beauty salons are definitely suffering. But why only remind the women? I know a good number of men who only wear tailor-made shirts, who frequent barber shops, and even men’s beauty parlours to get occasional facials.

As men are showing off their luxury beards and untrimmed long hair due to the lockdown, they must remember the napit bhai who is going without an income. And let’s not forget the trans-women. I saw a meme using Sohel Taj’s facebook video on how to encounter hijras demanding money. How can you turn anything and everything into trans-phobic jokes?

And it is not just about jokes or objectifying women. This breeds a prejudicial mindset which affects women when they need emergency services. When society teaches you that women complain unnecessarily, or women are fun objects, you learn to ignore and normalize the crises they face. 

We see those law enforcement officers telling off a victim of domestic violence who called the emergency hotline that her torturous husband is “safer” than the virus that is looming outside. In this misogynist world, a police officer said something like that to a battered wife who wanted to escape her husband.

As a woman, I cannot remain a silent observer. And like clockwork, most of my protests have been met with a friendly chiding: That I lack the fun spirit. Sorry, I can’t see the fun in something that dehumanizes me. As a woman, we shall remain shrews when we demand our dues. It is time we owned it, for voices are meant to be heard, especially when self-righteous people around us forget that genders suffer equally.

Arpeeta Shams Mizan is a sociolegal analyst. She is a Global Shaper at the WEF, and an Assistant Professor of Law, University of Dhaka.

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