“Sudanese Diplomat Accused of Rubbing against Woman in Subway Walks Free” -NBC New York (Jan. 10, 2017)
“Silicon Valley’s Dark Side (tales of sexual harassment and wrongdoing)” -The New York Times (Sep. 13, 2017)
“Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein Paid off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades” -The New York Times (Oct. 5, 2017)
“Another Sudanese diplomat arrested for groping woman in New York bar” -Al Arabiya English (Oct. 11, 2017)
“An American actress working in a Saudi sitcom, accuses fellow Saudi actor of sexual harassment” –Almarsd online newspaper (Oct. 13, 2017)
“American comedian Louis C.K. Is Accused by 5 Women of Sexual Misconduct” -The New York Times (Nov. 9, 2017)
“In the Wake of Harvey Weinstein, Bollywood Stars Are Speaking Out About Sexual Harassment”-Time (Nov. 13, 2017)
“#MeToo Floods Social Media with Stories of Harassment and Assault” -The New York Times (Oct. 16, 2017)
Source: Gizmondo Australia
I have been trying to write an article about these stories for a while now, but each and every time I start writing; I find myself overwhelmed either with rage or sadness. It’s not because I have nothing to say, on the contrary; my fear is that sometimes saying too much can be as harmful as saying nothing; but finding the balance, using these emotions to see through the facts, and asking the right questions to find logic amid chaos, that’s what I am trying to do.
In a world where the everyday news is about terrorist attacks and Presidents are declaring potential wars on twitter, your head would turn grey before knowing your country’s allies from enemies. In this crazy world “sexual harassment” dominates the news for more than a month, not only because it’s associated with public figures or powerful people, but because it’s EVERYWHERE; in the entertainment industry, politics, military, even in religious institutions. This epidemic is certainly not new; but the culture of systemic abuse of power against women (and in some cases men) is finally under the limelight.
So let’s ask simple questions here; why is this happening? Is this an issue of speaking out? Will this problem be solved if all victims came forward? Or maybe this is an issue of vulnerability, and women need to learn how to defend themselves, or is it an issue of obscenity? Does this only happen to “liberal” woman?
Do you see a pattern here? Why do we keep targeting women with questions and solutions, why is it always something a woman has to do differently? Who decided that this conversation should be by women to women?!
Let’s take another look at how the media portrays these stories.
In an article by the Huffington post titled “Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Harassment” the writer says “Telling a prospective employer that you left because you were being sexually harassed does not make you an attractive hire.” And the article goes on to quoting one woman’s experience by saying “Unfortunately there’re times in life where I have to play dumb. Saying that I know what you’re up to and what you’re insinuating just puts me in a bad position. It exposes me. Sometimes it’s better to pretend that I’m not catching on so that I can keep those cards close and use them when I need them”. And this disturbing quote from another woman “When you counter, or try and shut it down, you are made to feel like it’s the woman’s fault for not having a sense of humor.” Do you see what happened here? Is the line between holding men accountable for their behavior and brushing the issue off as women’s responsibility being blurred in your eyes too?
The sad thing is that this happens in a place where they can actually write about sexual harassment!
So what happens here in Sudan? What do women and society say about sexual harassment?
To understand this part you have to open your mind to two very different realties, one with men in the picture and the other without them. When men can hear us, the stories we tell tend to be different; suddenly the creeps we meet on regular basis on public transportation are afraid of us, they are still annoying but they also can’t approach us because of our magical “banat nas” powers. In the other reality where we discuss the same experience with our girlfriends; we are exhausted from using needles to fend off strangers’ hands, we are mad because we couldn’t help a very shy girl sitting next to another creep and we are blaming ourselves for not avoiding all of this by always hanging out in groups.
That’s our reality and not just in public transportation, but sometimes from our early school days, we would always turn to each other for help, starting with our mothers and how they tell us to avoid creeps on the streets or even in the “Dukkan”, to our friends telling us to avoid a certain teacher or not to talk to this school bus driver. We learn the art of avoidance from a very young age. Using the power of shared experiences, we learn to ignore the lingering bitterness that comes from knowing that we know what to avoid because one of us had a bad experience.
And most of us try to do all of this without making the men in their lives feel uncomfortable. That is -in my opinion- our biggest problem; pushing men out of this conversation made it a one-sided conversation that only offered short term solutions.
Many times in my life I have been told by women that men’s “disturbing actions” are part of our reality and that the “smart” thing to do is to learn how to avoid it. Every time I refused to accept this I was brushed off as “naïve” or too “sheltered” to understand reality. Maybe they are right to some extent, but if all of us women took responsibility over protecting ourselves and other women, who will hold the men accountable? Who will question the fundamental base of a society that channels all of its criticism and reform efforts to one part of the equation?
Disclaimer about other disclaimers: every opinion article I read about sexual harassment had a “not all men” disclaimer; the idea that decent men should be applauded every time we talk about indecency baffles me, and should offend men more than women!