The article “A Wishful Thinking” written by Dr. Afshan Huma is really interesting and very close to my heart. The article brings two worlds that she and I have experienced as female graduate students in the US, and highlights several forms of harassment a female might have to face. I could relate to the things said with my experiences as a female in Pakistan as well as in the US.
Dressing Harassment: As a Christian female, I’ve heard it so many times “Your religion allows you to wear whatever you want to.” Well, I doubt any Ibrahamic religion to be that liberal. People tend to relate culture with religion. And their judgment is not limited to other religions, they judge all females by their dressing. If someone is wearing a hijab/burqa, she must be very religious, poise, and having a good character (GOOD as interpreted by the society). Women like me who do not wish to wear burqa are shameless women (SHAMELESS as interpreted by the society). Adding to the misery – if along with being shameless, I talk to men, then most probably, I’m a characterless and cheap woman too (as interpreted by the society). The desire to wear what I want to, relates to my basic right as a female to be independent, rather than what my religion and culture tell me to wear. As an adult, I can set my dressing limits based on my religion, but not what the culture wants me to. Burqa or no burqa has to be my choice, not because men will stare at me.
Sexual Harassment: Going out for a walk alone or going to work by public transport should not imply that I’M AVAILABLE. This is the peace of mind I too wish for females. I have never experienced a car stop by and the driver opening the front door and asking me to go with him, even though I sometimes walk late at night in the US. In Pakistan, in broad daylight, this happens. In the US, I have never heard a single remark from either male or female about my physique or as you said, about what I was wearing, let alone the sexist remarks men pass in Pakistan if you’re walking/traveling alone. More importantly, no men have ever tried to touch me, the fear every female has who travels alone to jobs and to do other chores. Sorry to use the word, but I’ve not seen the filthiness in the eyes of men I pass by when I go out for a walk or sit outside to enjoy weather. In last 5 years, I haven’t beaten a man or was involved in a verbal fight because he had passed a remark or had touched me.
It is not because that you and I lived in a university city and I’m not saying that USA is free of sexual harassment. There is but most of the time I feel safe. Of course, there are neighborhoods that are not considered safe, but mainly for everyone, and not related to gender. I have traveled to almost 15 states and so far I haven’t faced a single threat to my safety as a female, even though I smile and greet all males (and females) I meet anywhere. What a lovely experience to be greeted by a bus driver with a smile while getting on to a bus, or a cashier in a grocer shop, or a teller in a bank, or a cab driver, and I smile back. I even ask how s/he is doing. They won’t think that I’m hitting on them or vice versa. This is what I too call “liberty.”
People who argue that sexual harassment law was implemented in countries where it was needed, I think Pakistan is THE country that needs to realize and recognize that sexual harassment is prevailing in the society and laws should be strictly implemented and followed.
Harassment related to being Judged: I loved the idea of “assassinat[ing] one’s character.” People here are actually least bothered if they see me in a theatre or in a grocery shop alone at night or with men. They don’t bother if everyday a male gives me ride to and from different places. Yes, I agree, people might judge because they are humans, but they won’t call me characterless. More importantly, I agree with you that being a SINGLE FEMALE is not a THREAT to me most of the times.
Nonetheless, this kind of “liberty” is a mindset, and as a society unknown to many of us.