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     Volume 6 Issue 28 | July 20, 2007 |

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Violating a Woman's Space

Srabonti Narmeen Ali

I don't know what it is about being a woman in Dhaka that makes me feel threatened all the time. Perhaps it is the disturbing number of rape cases and acid throwing incidents that I read about almost every day; or maybe it is the obvious discrepancy between a man's rights in our so-called civil society and a woman's. Mostly I think this feeling of being vulnerable because of my sex comes from every day occurrences -- just those day-to-day incidents that we, as women, have learned not only to swallow, but also accept as a part of our lives.

The most unnerving and humiliating thing we face everyday is the way certain men stare at you -- as if they are undressing you with their eyes. Nothing you do will stop this ogling. If you say something to the person, they will probably get even more encouraged and try to strike up a conversation with you. If you stare back, the person does not have the grace or the shame to look away, but rather licks his lips in what he thinks to be a provocative fashion, or worse, make disgusting long kissing sounds with his mouth. What I don't understand is whether these men actually think that harassing a woman and violating her sense of privacy is attractive in any way? Do they expect us to make kissing noises back? Do they want us to lick our lips in response? Do they expect us to fall in love with their so-called declarations of amour? Or does it run deeper than that -- do these men think that just because we women are out in public that they automatically have the right to act with us as they do? Are we fair game because we deem ourselves worthy of living lives parallel to our male counterparts? My friends always tell me to ignore them and pretend that they don't exist. And although it is not fair, and I am always fuming about such incidents I have to admit that it is easier to accept that I live in a nation full of perverts rather than waste my energy fighting a battle that I know can never be won.

On the other side of the coin there are the men who have accepted that women are a part of our supposed modern day society, but are not happy about it. Rather than violating us with their eyes, they completely ignore us. If they are forced to acknowledge our presence or speak to us, they do so without looking at us and by communicating to us through the other men in the room. To them, we are invisible and if we deign to make our presence known, they snub us with an indifference that makes one feel smaller than a fly being squashed. I don't know whether these men are just not used to female company and therefore act this way, or whether they are actually resentful that a woman should even be in the picture at all. Whatever the reason I always feel the urge to be at my most obnoxious when around men like this. It takes a lot of self-control not to give way to this urge because at the end of the day, I will just be justifying their misconceptions about women and validating their unacceptable behaviour towards us.

Then there are the phone stalkers. There are many different types in this category: there are those that dial wrong numbers by mistake, and then decide to chat a woman up anyway because they like the sound of her voice; there are trial-and-error types who continuously dial random numbers until they come across a girl who they decide to pick on; there are the weirdo stalkers, who have gotten a woman's number from a receipt that she has filled out in a store, or have found her number in some other disturbing way; and finally there are the missed callers. The problem with all of the above is that they are all desperate, lonely and utterly pathetic -- not to mention that they have too much time on their hands. I wonder why these men think it is okay to pester women that they have never met. Do they do this on the off chance that the one of us will actually fall in love with them -- and that too because their conversation is so scintillating? Do they really think that lines such as “I want to make friendship with you” and “Ami tomar shathe ektu kotha boli” will make us go weak at the knees? Rather such lines usually make most women cringe and hang up. But there is no stopping these men. They keep at it in case they can break down our reserve. Perhaps if they expended this energy on more productive things I would be able to commend their doggedness. However, it disturbs me that these men suffer from the scary misconception that the more they harass a woman, the stronger their chances are at breaking her down and convincing her to be with them. This aggressive strategy speaks volumes about how our society views man and woman relationships: keep pushing a woman even though she does not want you to and eventually she will bend to your will and do your bidding. And if she doesn't then there are ways to destroy her spirit; throw acid on her face, for instance.

One can say that there may not be that much thought behind the actions of these men. Instead their actions are probably either knee-jerk reactions to the presence of women, or, as is in the case of the phone stalkers, they are just having a good time. However, the fact remains that whatever these men do is at the expense of a woman's peace of mind, be it staring at her in a vulgar fashion, not acknowledging her, or harassing her over the phone. And whether they mean to do it or not, this disregard for a woman's space, self respect and privacy is a strong indication of our society's attitude towards women.



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