The first thing I noticed on my tour of Europe last week was the women. Not only were they drop-dead gorgeous, most of them -- from 16-year-olds to 66-year-olds -- could be seen strutting around in tiny skirts or shorts and tops that were barely there. They wore make-up and heels with poise and élan that could put a model on the ramp to shame. To say that I fell in love with their confidence would be an understatement.
But more important than the women, how they looked and what they wore, was the fact that no one, and I mean no one, looked at them with awe, disgust, lust or desire. In fact, no one even turned around to give them another look. Not in the day, not in the evening, not even late at night, or in the wee hours of the morning. Having grown up in a country where not only men but even the women find it impossible to keep their eyes to themselves, it was quite difficult to believe something like this was possible. I will not be exaggerating if I say I envied those women.
It made me wonder if we, in our society, will ever let our girls and women talk about their suffering without labelling them as loose or immoral.
I came back happy and hopeful. Happy to know that it is possible to be a woman and yet not be noticed, and hopeful that someday my girls might also live in a world where they will not be treated like beings from another world and be stared at.
And then I read about the Stanford University sexual assault case.
Turns out that I was wrong. That nothing changes with geography, country, culture. Boys are raised the same way throughout the world. That clothes, appearance, race, colour, religion, do not make a difference. That as long as you are a woman, you can be violated.
Much has been written and said about the issue. There are clearly two sides. The judge unfortunately seems to have been on the alleged rapist's side. Just as his father, and his ex-girlfriend. Not that it surprised me. One is almost used to people who let something as heinous as rape sound acceptable.
What stood out in this whole incident, however, was the grit of the girl. The fact that she decided to let her ordeal be known to the public via a powerful letter. That she had the support of her family and society in doing so. It also made me wonder if we, in our society, will ever let our girls and women talk about their suffering without labelling them as loose or immoral. After all a woman who goes out at night to drink and dance is inviting trouble, isn't she? What right then does she have to complain?
The most unfortunate part is that we, even as women, teach our girls to stay quiet. We tell them to ignore people who make passes at them, to look away if someone stares at them. To cover their body, arms, even face so that they do not attract attention. To stay indoors so that they are not vulnerable.
[T]here is no loss of dignity or honour in shouting from the rooftop and shaming the man or woman who makes you feel uncomfortable.
But we do not teach our boys to respect girls. We do not tell them that the girl on the road is not your property. That any girl, young or old, rich or poor, known or unknown, has the right to her body and what she does with it.
I cannot even count how many times I have ignored the prying eyes and the so called accidental brush of a stranger. I cannot even remember how many times people around me, who I have known, have made me uncomfortable. And I cannot deny the fact that I have been quiet throughout the 37 years of my life because every time I thought it was my fault.
But things need to change. Someone needs to change it. And as a mother of two young girls, it is my responsibility to change what I can for them. And I urge each mother to do that.
It is high time we tell our daughters that their body is theirs. That no one, not even the people closest to them, have a right to look at it, feel it, touch it, or violate it. That if something like that occurs, it is not their fault. That there is no shame in talking about it. That there is no loss of dignity or honour in shouting from the rooftop and shaming the man or woman who makes you feel uncomfortable.
Most importantly, we need to tell our sons to respect women. To remember they are humans with a heart and a mind and not only a body.
And maybe, just maybe, slowly and steadily, we can make this bad world a better place.