While walking down the busy street or waiting for a rickshaw and trying hard to ignore men’s crude stares, I am often overwhelmed with a sad reflection: things haven’t changed.
I then correct myself: men haven’t changed. These are the same odd glances I braved as a teenager. Commuting to college and back home in public transport had been an ordeal and going to Bohri Bazaar dreadful.
Later when I finished university education, started working and thought myself matured, I settled for this explanation: I was extremely shy, a nervous-wreck, a coward. I never faced men eye to eye. That was the reason I went through hell. Had I been a bold, courageous person I would have never felt so uneasy.
I now consider myself a courageous person. I have overcome my shyness. I am no more a nervous-wreck. When I talk to men I look straight into their eyes. I am at ease with myself and with the world. So why should I feel ill at ease if men on the street stare or catcall?
Of course I don’t feel as miserable as I used to, still, I must confess, I feel uncomfortable. Now I know the weakness lies not within me. There is something wrong out there – in the men’s minds. Their sickening attitude toward women has remained the same all these years.
Why are men such thick-skinned, change-proof creatures? If you come to think of it, Pakistani women (particularly those fortunate enough to have education and employment opportunities) have undergone a definitive, positive change in their approach towards life. And men have remained mentally stagnant. Or so I believe.
The enlightenment, the understanding that should have resulted from increasing interaction with women (there are more women in the work force today than in the ‘60s and ‘70s) is still missing. In educated men, more often than not, you’d find underneath the civilized and worldly-wise façade, a quagmire of prejudices, stinking stereotypes and rigid notions.
And men, it seems, haven’t yet learnt even simple manners in dealing with women.
I’ll give you an example. You many not find it relevant, but I do. At office I take lunch with two of my female colleagues. Once I was not feeling well so I didn’t join them. Instead, I took some medicine and sat in another room.
The elderly gentleman we share the room with asked why I wasn’t there. “She doesn’t feel like eating today,” one of my friends told him. “Why? Did you have a fight with her?” He was serious. The girls were irritated. “We didn’t have a fight. It’s just that she is not feeling well,” he was told. “What happened to her? Is she feverish?” He persisted in his query. Perhaps he thought he was a well-wisher. But damn his well-wishes, my friends were thoroughly embarrassed.
Later, they narrated the incident to me. Now I have made up my mind if I ever come across a gentleman all too bent to find the reason why I (or any other reason) am not feeling well, or why I am not eating, or why I am feeling down, I would tell him, “I am having menstrual cramps. And if you don’t know the meaning of menstruation look it up in the dictionary,” or “I am suffering from pre- or post-menstrual blues due to raised estrogen (or whatever) in my bloodstream so you better not bother me.”
Also, I think it is bad manners to ask a woman during Ramazan why she is not fasting. A male colleague asked my friend after Ramazan was over, “How many fasts did you observe?”. She answered in jest “All of them.” And tried to let it pass but he said, “Girls cannot fast the entire month. Can they?” which made my friend blush. I wish she would have answered instead “I wonder if you secretly desire to menstruate in Ramazan.”
It’s not that men ask such questions out of innocence or ignorance. All men (of all ages) know all about things sexual. Men think that women would enjoy such allusions and would giggle at them. Men should know better that women are far more mature and take these facts of life matter-of-factly.
I think it’s time women should teach men some manners by being blunt and talking straight and shutting them up.