Ogling through Vacant Eyes: Street Harassment

I was just talking about this with my Indian friend the other day.

It’s amazing how blatant misogyny can actually be sometimes. My usual wardrobe consists of shirts, pants, dresses, tights — you know, the works. And I can understand that in foreign countries, there are specific types of clothing that are accepted. I get that. But a plain white tee and jeans are pretty much across the board in terms of being completely standard.

I went to Pakistan a few summers ago for one of my uncle’s weddings. And I remember that going into the outlets to shop for clothing was essentially like playing minesweeper, replacing the bombs with red flags for street harassment.

I was around 16 years old at the time, and for some ridiculous reason, I decided to wear a yellow dress. I did this knowing what would occur — but I was so frustrated of not being able to wear what I wanted that I just did anyway. This practice is a dangerous one, and I would not recommend it in a country where there’s more than one occasion for religious fundamentalists shooting you through the head and rapists having their way with you.

So anyway, my mother, my aunt, and I were crossing the street to get to this one boutique, and had stood at the median strip for about 5 minutes to wait for oncoming traffic to slow down. I noticed something from the corner of my eye walking towards me, and I assumed it was just another pedestrian wanting to cross. I moved my head looking straight ahead again to ignore it, as any normal person would. But I noticed the same thing happened on the other side. When I finally looked to my left and right, there were literally groups of men from both ends encircling us. They were moving closer and closer — and had what I call: “the smirking jeer” on their faces, the one that they commonly display as finding a new piece of meat to throw catcalls at and touch.

I began panicking a bit, and within the same minute, the three of us ran across to the other side with the oncoming traffic — composing a symphony of horns and swear-words heard at a bold crescendo. It was better though, to hear that coming our way instead of the men.

That was only one incidence, yet it exists throughout the city with so many other women. When I revisited last year, I had to be given a black shawl to cover up my clothes.

You might be asking, “why not just wear the traditional clothes that everyone else wears there?”

And you’re right. I wouldn’t mind under any other circumstance, but for some reason, this traditional clothing is only expected to be worn by females. It’s not a religious thing, nor is it a cultural thing — it’s literally just for sexual objectication reasons. Men wear jeans and shirts 99% of the time. So why should I have to give up my ease and comfort in order to not be harassed? The whistling and wide-eyed stares might simply be that, and nothing more — but it excuses them from nothing.

No one wants to be objectified and catcalled. It’s not about how harmless the words they say are, it’s about the rape culture they promote. It’s about having the victims change their ways to suit these men’s eyes. What’s worse, the men might have nothing — no money, no home, no job. But they still manage to think they’re god’s gift to women of the world.

A similar situation happened when I wore tights and a shirt (fully covered!) to the beach there once. Amongst my 30+ other aunts and cousins wearing the traditional shalwaar kameez, I single-handedly was responsible for attracting men over to our private beach-area. They made excuses like, “Oh sorry! Our frisbee flew over here” or “Gosh, we forgot this one thing here, let us just get it and we’ll be on our way,” but those motherfucking smirking jeers were back again — proving the underlying reason for their visit. The reason was me, and I was forced to go inside the hut for a few hours. Shortly after I came out again, we had to leave because it got out of hand.

Being fully covered is just not enough, apparently. No — you serve as eye candy for wandering men, who have full justification to come over, flirt with you, and even inappropriately touch you. What’s more, they always do it in groups, so if you try to escape: Gang rape is the ultimate way to force you down, since you’re “too weak” to take them on anyway. Psh, women — am i right? They’re just that helpless.

This culture is so rampant and so in-your-face, it’s almost absurd. Riding in taxis without a man is dangerous. Going to the market without a man is dangerous. Wearing anything but shalwaar kameez and a head-covering is dangerous. Even just being female and stepping outside your house is dangerous.

Meanwhile, men hanging out on the streets and just sitting there from morning till dusk is normal. They’re at every street corner, every outlet store. They sometimes sleep underneath trees and in parks. They can play sports outside, have chai and biscuits outside, and can go virtually anywhere they please.

While my experience was in this particular country, it’s not exclusively shown to be there. In fact, this scene is a far-too-familiar one in so many countries around the world. I’ve heard stories from those traveling abroad in Europe, Asia, South America, Africa, even North America — about men like these existing in plain sight. What’s most frustrating about the same look they all bear, this smirking jeer, is that they don’t hide or play dumb about it — They’re actually proud to show it off, almost mocking you for having to be so unresponsive.

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