Srabonti Narmeen Ali
happened again, the other day. I was on my way to work in the
stifling heat of the afternoon sun, with no AC to give me respite.
Riding in the midst of Dhaka traffic in the infernal heat is
just asking for trouble. I was fanning myself as my car halted
in the middle of a nightmare traffic jam. Something made me
turn and look at the car directly beside me -- maybe it was
my sixth sense, or possibly, boredom -- when I saw a group of
young men all staring at me.
I would just roll my eyes at such "oglers" and look
away. This time, however, being definitively more annoyed than
usual, I stared back. Childish, perhaps, but necessary at times.
Of course, as soon as I did that, I was subjected to catcalls,
hoots and tongues sticking out.
Ok, so maybe
it was not the best of ideas.
quickly came to my senses and looked away, praying that traffic
would start moving fast. It did. I breathed a sigh of relief
as the car started moving away -- a second too soon -- as I
realised when I looked back and found, to my horror, that the
car of hooligans (that is how I like to refer to them) was following
me. They followed me from Tejgaon all the way to Karwan Bazaar
from where they drove off with a resounding screech of their
tires, no doubt trying to teach me a lesson -- or maybe they
were just flirting?
It is not
unusual for people to stare in Dhaka. Truthfully, my male friends
cannot understand why I find this so disturbing. After all it's
not a crime to stare, they keep saying. If the situation poses
no threat, then why should you be so affected by it? When faced
with such a rational question it is difficult to come up with
an equally rational answer. What offends me every time, is that
people -- especially men -- have no shame and no conception
of how intrusive it is when people stare at you when you are
doing something completely commonplace, like riding in a car
on your way to work.
think it is irrational and hypersensitive to react to something
that they perceive as such a small and insignificant part of
a twenty-four hour day, or a seven-day week. I don't blame them.
How can they understand? Being the gender that is not targeted
with harassment or sexual violence, it is hard for them to fully
comprehend where exactly this fear (or irritation, depending
on how you look at it) comes from. As it is, men already suffer
from the misconception that women have a tendency to cry "wolf"
when it comes to gender-related incidents.
is that when women are stared at in public places, they are
made to feel alienated and isolated. Whether or not they are
in danger, it is simply that feeling that of not belonging,
or of being treated differently because you are a woman -- and
I don't mean in the chivalrous sense! It is an invasion of privacy.
And if one reciprocates by staring back or (God Forbid) even
saying something, they might have to face the repercussions,
such as someone following you, or taunting you, or generally
harassing you. Where does that leave women? We feel helpless
and unable to speak out against anything in fear of having to
deal with the aftermath. A tad bit dramatic, I'm sure most men
are thinking, as they read this.
argue that such "individual" attention should be flattering
to women, and that they would enjoy it if the situation were
reversed, but they are wrong. It is unwelcoming, unflattering
and totally nerve-wrecking. It is not the act of staring that
frustrates women, but the thought process behind it. Staring
at someone unabashedly is often a prelude to lewd comments and
gestures that not only humiliate women, but also leave them
feeling helpless and victimised. If a man spent a day in a woman's
shoes, I would hope he could fully appreciate the way it feels
to be subjected to such uncalled-for attention. Only then would
men finally be able to understand and accept the fact that when
women say that certain forms of staring are violating, it is
a reality that we face every day and not just a figment of our