Trigger Warning: Mention of sexual abuse and rape
On the occasion of Pakistan’s Independence day, as the “azaan” played in the background, a woman was attacked, abused, harassed, thrown, and molested by hundreds of men. The incident took place in a crowded place and hundreds of them, including minor boys, participated in the attack. What’s worse is that plenty of netizens justified the attack by blaming her, her choice of attires, her decision to venture out and have a social media handle.
Apart from the victim-blaming, what made the crime worse is that the survivor was not defended; instead, more came in to attack her. Plenty of women online expressed how they lost their confidence in crowded places.
While violence against women (VAW) is limited to dark spots after 8 pm, this mass attack during broad daylight showed that expecting others to come to one’s aid can end up in disappointment. Back in 2014, I remember watching a YouTube clip taken by a woman in Delhi’s highly crowded market. Several men were seen catcalling, harassing, and eve-teasing her.
Another video titled ‘No Country For Women’ showed men openly expressing how they like to eve tease women and that they go “wherever they can to find women.”
Now, Raksha Bandhan is practiced every year in India. Women tie a talisman on their brothers’ wrists, symbolically meant for protecting them. The main message is that brothers protect their sisters. Recently, I came across a long debate on social media about Raksha Bandhan and its origins.
Some called out the sexist/patriarchal nature of the festival whereas others accentuated the traditional symbolism. Amidst that, I read this one comment from a woman that bugged me. Responding to rhetoric that brought up sexist nature, the lady said, “it is men who protect their sisters, you should be thankful for that.”
My point is that the incident in Pakistan and mentioned instances remind me why I despise the phrase “men protect women.” There are a few reasons for this.
Men standing up for women or ‘protecting’ them is basic human decency. Not protecting women means letting the crimes happen to them. Further, by blaming the victim and accepting the nature of the crime as a ‘normal’ phenomenon, they are perpetuating the existence of the crime.
The entire onus of ‘honour’, humanity, and morality is on women. Women have to follow a certain code to typify their worth. She has to move within the parameters set by her family. She has to dress in a way, act in a way, limit her timings, relationships, and what not.
Women are being overprotected to such an extent that they end up losing their basic rights. Men in their families are given the task to ensure that nothing untoward happens to them by giving them the agency over women’s mobility.
Religious texts have mentioned that “woman is held under man’s arms to be protected.” My question is, from whom?
In a heternormative patriarchal society, men experience privilege at the cost of women. Brothers coerce their sisters to stay indoors, dress in a certain way, restrict their mobility, etc. After that, they step out without any restrictions imposed on them.
There is no doubt whatsoever that men have a lot of advantages over women, both biologically and socially. Men are physically stronger, in terms of muscle density. This alone designed the social structure which made it easier for them access to public spaces and face lesser scrutiny and primarily due to social acceptance as a result of centuries-long traditions and practices.
When it comes to women’s safety and men’s role, idea is propagated is such that people forget both the humane and moral aspects of it. When it comes to morality, actions should promote the general welfare.
Instead, humanity itself is segregated into different forms, based on which an entire section of the human race has to pay the price. We had been and are following a dangerous path, unfortunately.
When it comes to a man’s responsibility, it is not just about saving women who are under attack but also about not committing the crimes themselves.
Since the onus of male violence is on them, women are made to feel sorry for ‘crossing the line’ and thankful that ‘not all men’ commit the crime. Sexual violence is not just one person’s doing. We can easily call the hundreds of men who attacked the TikToker in Pakistan ‘monsters’ and ‘animals’.
Evil is not born, it is created. This incident took place weeks after the country’s Prime Minister Imran Khan blamed women’s clothes for the presence of rape. Several religious fundamentalists have echoed this statement. For the men who attacked her, these words are excuses. Victim blaming is equivalent to excusing perpetrators’ actions.
The older days saw people referring to women who step put after 6 pm or travel alone as sexually promiscuous. These words as ‘excuses’ have been programmed in every individual’s DNA for generations.
Victim blaming is fed by individual or group’s choice to dehumanise women based on her choices or circumstances. As mentioned before, since the moral onus is on women, society sometimes chooses not to protect women who distance themselves from codes and curfews imposed. We see when a politician says, “she deserved to get raped for wearing short skirts,” or that “rape is sometimes right.”
Both the social acceptance of women in all spaces and putting the entire onus of sexual violence on perpetrators alone will take a long time of achieving. It requires learning and unlearning.
A brother can promise his sister that he will protect her on Raksha Bandhan. But, if he will just lock her up then he is just letting the crime that can happen to her, happen to someone else. He is protecting no one.
Currently, men who protect women from physical violence are glorified. Men who say “I respect women” are thanked. While righteous actions should be acknowledged, social responsibilities should not be forgotten.
Unlearning regressive ideas is the only way to protect women. I can write an essay with thousands of words about how rotten or morally decremental it is to blame women’s clothing and circumstances. If #NotAllMen commit the crimes then victim-blaming furthers #possiblyallmen.
Dehumanisation of women who don’t follow social or religious codes should be stopped. Her attitude or lifestyle choices should not become ‘excuses’.
Right now, the world is witnessing women and girls at the helm of the Taliban’s regressive ruling in Afghanistan. The Taliban has attacked and killed women who didn’t follow their codes. Taliban is living the regressive ideas that many fundamentalists have (yes, all religions).
Nothing should stop social acceptance of women based on their skills, motivations, abilities, and rights under the law. Protecting her best interests is the only way to protect her physically. It is not just up to one man but a system that should be built and maintained collectively.