Monday, November 26, 2012

Powerpuff Girls, not damsels in distress

This picture was taken before one of the older men asked me to stand right next to the crowd for clearer images
Imagine passing through a huge crowd of men without getting harassed. I squeezed past through hundreds of men today at the Ashura procession, which I attended after 10 years. Not a single problem. Nobody tried to grab my breasts, nobody touched my thigh, nobody pushed me intentionally, neither was I ogled at in a lecherous manner, I heard no cat calls accompanying those stares. I wish men can behave in this manner every day in Pakistan.

On a regular given day in the biggest metropolitan of Pakistan, I cannot go on the streets without being apprehensive of what I will face today, and before people start commenting about hijab, niqab etc. Been there, done that, makes no difference at all.

During my university days I used to wear a huge dopatta, making sure my whole body was just a wisp of cloth and nothing else. Still fingers were poked at me in G17, W30, Shiraz Coach, Khan Coach etc. Cat calls were made while I crossed the road. Men flashed their d**** at the girls standing on bus stops. And before the elitist jump up to say, those must be the uneducated, poor people, who have had no exposure, sorry to disappoint you. On the streets, a lot of these educated and uneducated are the same. Savages, for lack of a better word! There was hardly a day which passed without a single incidence of sexual harassment. Er, despite the huge dopatta. Result? I stopped denying myself the right to move about freely and comfortably because some men cannot control their hormones.

Being a shia I never used a niqab, except while traveling in the desert. However, the recent influence of the theocratic Iranian regime, some shia women have started covering their faces in Pakistan too. (I protest – this was one of the things I appreciated in Shiaism) A lady who received a gift of a niqab from Iran experimented with the idea and decided to come back from her teaching job at 3pm in the niqab. Not to be forgotten here is her black full-length abaya. While she was walking home from the bus stop, a man on a motorcycle stopped ahead of her, and invited her to sit behind him. She entered the shop nearby to avoid her assailant. Result? No more niqab, at least during day time.

At this stage, we might have to deal with the argument that it is still better in Pakistan, and on one complaint all the guys, who earlier were sitting chewing paan and enjoying a lady’s discomfort, stand up and become the caretakers of the woman’s honor. Hogwash! It doesn't happen as often as it might have happened during your mother’s days. How I know this? Because I still use public transport.

Although I have no problems if some women do ask men for help, in my opinion we need to be trained in self defence, and realize that ‘men’ cannot be relied on all the time to come to our aid. The whole damsel in distress idea is not only clich├ęd, but out of fashion now. You show vulnerability, there will be 10 more lechers to take care of.

PS Just to set the record straight, same sex harassment is also increasing in public transport. It is not very common among women yet, or I haven’t heard of more than 3 or 4 cases, but among the men it already should be a cause of concern.

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