So something happened to me recently, something that angered me to the point that I was almost blinded with rage. I was touched inappropriately on a footpath, a man (let's call him that till I explain that he is actually scum, not a man) touched my thigh.
I know in retrospect that sounds like a very little thing to garner such a big reaction from someone. But let me tell you what went through my mind when this happened … A man touched my thigh and, for some reason, it reminded me of all the men that have ever touched me inappropriately, assaulted me, or made unwanted advances on me.
Ladies, you know who I am talking about: that creepy cousin, the uncouth uncle, that f-ing friend, the pervy private tutor, and, most likely, the disgusting scum on the street. Some of them, and sometimes all of them, have breached our personal space and made us feel absolutely horrible.
At that moment, I felt all of it: the years of pent up anger and frustration. I screamed and ran behind the man saying, "Eitorer bachcha tham!" I screamed at him in a mixture of Hindi, angry Bengali, and English (I live in Nepal). And, at that moment, I took an oath. I promised to myself that never ever again will I let my personal space be breached and not do anything about it. If a person crosses the boundary and touches me inappropriately ever again, I will scream. I will make a scene. I will make them wish that were never born. As the tagline for my blog goes: Hell hath no fury like a Bengali woman scorned.
For my foreign friends reading this, us South Asian women are exposed to sexual assault from a very young age. A depressing example of this is the fact that Delhi is the rape capital of the world. It's not that men are just disgusting pigs (with a minority of them being great human beings) all across the world, but men in South Asia feel entitled to do this: To harass women, to touch us.
I have concurred that there are several reasons for this, one of them is depicted by the cartoon attached to this piece. God made men inferior to women and therefore gave them a penis to think with. Other theories of mine involve the interlink between fascism and sexism and how to some men it happens to be the same thing. Whatever the reason, it is baffling that men, who come from a continent that values family so highly, are so disgustingly abusive towards the very women who gave them life.
We call our country "motherland," and yet we treat our women with so little respect. And when I say we, I mean we, not just the men in our country (although the men are the biggest culprits). Us, the women of South Asia, are brought up with the notion that men and women are not equal. From birth, we are restricted based on our sex, what we can or cannot do. We are cautioned to be careful as little girls and encouraged to be carefree as boys.
Why is this? Why is it that our first reaction is to warn our daughters instead of teaching our sons to not think with their genitals? Why is it that society asks women to dress "modestly" instead of asking men not to rape? Why are we the ones who have all the responsibility? In doing so, we are not only undermining the value of women as human beings, we are also holding men on par to brainless animals who act on the commands of their genitalia, and the need to assert their power as "real men." Don't even get me started on how pathetic that is on how many levels!
How many times have you heard your grandparents or your parents or some other relative say, "You should wear a scarf or cover your chest to protect yourself because boys will be boys"? Let me clarify something, THIS IS NOT AN EXCUSE! It's a pathetic attempt to nurture the pre-existing socio-gender apartheid that is eating away the core of our society – the patriarchy.
Let me tell you a little something about patriarchy in Bangladesh. It's omnipresent in every little crack of our country. Some say it stems from Islam and justify how women should dress, act, and in general, exist as the religion dictates and as a Muslim country, it must obey. You know what else Islam preaches? About how we should not kill others, how we should give zakaat to the poor. How we should not lie or cheat or sexually harass others! How about following that? How about instead of oppressing an entire gender of humans, you try to do some good, like help the poor and not kill people?
On the matter of oppressing genders, I feel that it is important we talk about feminism, shall we? To the specifically unaware humans out there on the Internet reading this, feminism is the theory that women and men should be treated equally. Yes, that's what it means. Well actually, the textbook definition of the word is "the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men." I will let you soak that in for a moment because I am pretty sure you did not see that coming.
No, feminism does not mean women are better than men, it means we are equal. The feminist movement, which is also known as the women's liberation movement, came into being in order to bring equality in terms of work, and education, and sexual, reproductive and other rights. So to those of you who were thinking feminism is some kind of radical view which only fat lesbians with hairy armpits have, think again.
It's for people of all genders, races, body types, body hair compositions and creeds. All we, the feminists of the world want is equality, dignity, respect, and opportunity for all. Now that I have explained that all we seek is equality – and so should you, since you know, we are all humans – let's move on to why I am angry because feminists are always associated with being angry.
You see, we South Asian women (or women across the world) go through hell growing up. We get harassed, teased, sexually assaulted, consistently discriminated, and subjected to glass ceilings all our lives. How do you think it makes us feel? Angry is the word you are looking for. We feel angry, frustrated and victimised as any normal human being would. Despite having great amazing parents who gave me everything I could ask for, I was consistently prey to the socio-gender apartheid called Bengali society.
I was still harassed, often enough sexually, by people I knew and didn't know. And you know what's worse? So very many of us are. I can't say I personally know any Bengali women who have not been prey to abuse and mistreatment. So of course we are angry. We are angry because we are abused, used, mistreated, and stunted in a way that is almost institutionalised and the sad part is we accept it. We bear with it. But I think now, enough is enough, it's time to change this and until we vehemently protest the consistent miscarriages of justice that happen to us almost daily, we will never rise above the evil that is patriarchy.
So I urge you, the feminists of the world, help get this message through! Especially trying to reach out to you, fellow Bengali feminists, it's time to change the course of history. Jaago Bangladesh, Jaago.
Shudha Chowdhury is a Bangladeshi Human Rights Activist.