Nothing is more alarming than when women do the work of the patriarchy for it
Illustration: Nahfia Jahan Monni
Illustration: Nahfia Jahan Monni
A few days ago, a video that went viral showed a young student beating up her stalker on a bus, tearing his shirt in the process and making him ask for forgiveness. He had touched her inappropriately as she rested with her eyes closed. Most of the passengers chose to remain silent, reminiscent of Dante’s words: “The darkest places of hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.” Some passengers asked him to let the attacker go instead of creating a scene. She was told that she should expect such events and that it was not so bad, in other words, to normalize sexual harassment and strangle the voices of protest against such harassers.
In fact, this student was told she shouldn’t have resorted to physical violence, but she claims she wouldn’t have if others had protested in some way . She probably knew that an abuser is unlikely to be brought to justice. Professor Ziaur Rahman from the Department of Criminology at the University of Dhaka claims that 97% of sex offenders go unpunished (Dhaka Tribune, 2020). According to Sheepa Hafiza, Executive Director of Ain O Shalish Kendra (ASK), the reason these offenders remain unscathed is the culture of impunity and the indifference of the state to eradicate said culture. A glaring example of this is that victims often face additional harassment when seeking justice from the police. No one stopped this girl’s stalker from getting off the bus, so she did everything in her power to make sure he would think twice before assaulting anyone else.
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A few days after seeing the college girl’s act of bravery, I came across another video where a woman on a bus was yelling at a much younger girl, who was wearing a black T-shirt and jeans, blaming her for why two-year-old babies being raped. One man can be heard blaming the girl’s upbringing, while another tells the stalker that his claims are correct, i.e. the girl’s choice of dress is the reason the rape is in increase. Ironically, the girl’s character was called into question around the same time the government banned questions about the “immoral character” of rape victims in criminal cases by amending the Evidence Act, a 19th century British law.
What struck me the most was the way the girl put up with everything and remained silent. In the comments section of the viral video, I saw a significant number of people wondering why the girl didn’t say a single word in protest, while another large percentage commented on the stalker’s clothes . I found both types of comments problematic:
While it’s easy to say we should have raised our voices in protest or ‘slapped’ the ‘psycho’, keep in mind that unlike the college girl on that passenger bus, who was with her mother, the victim in the second story, was alone on a bus full of men siding with a stalker who seemed intent on physically assaulting the girl if prompted in any way. Or, maybe she was wise enough to stay calm in this situation because some battles cannot be won, especially if you’re up against someone who is beyond logic and reasoning. After all, according to a Persian proverb, silence is the best response to a fool.
The stalker was dressed in a pink salwar-kameez; her orna was wrapped around her head. People snapped a few photos from the video, focusing on the tightness of her attire and the curves of her feminine form. Additionally, the fact that she was not wearing a real hijab or was beporda or had her neck exposed was also pointed out. I understand where these types of comments are coming from. People just wanted to point out that the stalker was in no position to be the moral police because she herself was not dressed in the most Islamic way. However, why comment on the hypocrisy of the bully? The real problem here was a woman shaming another woman. When women put other women down in this way, they also give men the right to shame women. They facilitate the flourishing of patriarchy and rape culture and hinder the achievement of gender equality.
That being said, the root of the problem lies in the traditional form of hegemonic masculinity, which promotes stereotypical male heterosexual traits. This type of masculinity places men in a dominant position in a patriarchal society in a way where women are not forced to become the subordinate sex; on the contrary, the women themselves consent to being dominated by their male counterparts. Therefore, the stalker on the bus is, in essence, a victim of hegemonic masculinity. She not only advocates slut-shaming, which is deeply rooted in patriarchy, but also believes that women should have a certain “station” – or “sthaan”, as she put it – in a world dominated by men.
Noora Shamsi Bahar is a writer and translator, and senior lecturer in the Department of English and Modern Languages at North South University (NSU).