The cruel reality of being a woman is this: no one is safe from unwanted sexual advances.
This happens regardless of what a woman wears or doesn’t wear, her age, her weight, or the color of her skin. This has been increasingly apparent as of late as more and more women are finding the courage to fight back against the abuses that have been accepted for far too long.
Just recently, thanks to the power of social media, the viral hashtag, #MeToo, gave a closer look at the sad reality of just how common sexual misconduct is against women. The silver lining of this could be that sexual predators will get their just punishment and be shamed for their actions.
Unfortunately, as many women know, it just isn’t as simple as it may seem.
The most basic concept that must be established before we can even begin to discuss sexual harassment is that sexual harassment has nothing to do with sex or romance and has everything to do with exerting power over someone else.
For instance, in times of war, women, along with land, were often pillaged and violated. As if conquering women was yet another way in which invading forces could conquer territory. This overriding theme of objectification is one that’s all too common in most cases of sexual harassment. This plays out even if we were to take women out of the equation as seen with prison inmates who also exert their power using sexual violence upon other men. Furthermore, young boys are also often the unfortunate victims of such harassment, as they are too young to fight back or even truly understand what’s happening. Thus, this discussion is just as important for men as it is for women.
Another thing to consider is silence. A woman will usually be told to ignore what happened to her as if it were just a bad dream – something that her mind just made up, out of fear of backlash. Sadly, some women are indeed talked into thinking that they simply misunderstood what happened to them. This does not mean that the woman is by any means a liar or has an overactive imagination.
There is a very simple reason for why a woman would want to believe nothing happened: because she WISHES nothing had happened. She WISHES she could take back those few moments where she could be so disgustingly disrespected. She WISHES it was just a bad dream.
The status of the man will all too often be the deal-breaker in determining his innocence in the court of public opinion. Take for example the renown Islamic scholar, Nouman Ali Khan (NAK). Regardless of your belief in his guilt or innocence, you cannot deny the fact that there are, indeed, many men in his position that take advantage of their power. In fact, such men have an added bonus: the cushion of their followers’ undying support. This cushion will always be there to catch him when he falls, and almost certainly help him get back up on his feet as if nothing happened.
This leaves his victims to be labeled as conspirators – evildoers who wish to tarnish the image of a man many see as an agent of God.
Do not forget that NAK is not, nor is any other man in like position, a prophet or a perfect angel.
He is a human being, and human beings are inherently fallible. If this very basic notion was accepted, we would not have people automatically disrespecting the women who have come forward with such allegations against a religious leader. Immediately, NAK’s followers unleashed a frenzy of victim-blaming, conspiracy theories, and even praying for the destruction of these women. These attacks completely disregard the experiences of these women and consider them illegitimate.
It is because of such reactions that some women decide never to come forward with what they have been through. Thus, the cycle of powerful men taking full advantage of their impunity lives on.
Obviously, the religious community is not alone in allowing power to be equated with innocence as seen by the numerous allegations against the famed movie producer, Harvey Weinstein.
Immediately, these women were maligned as nothing more than litigious money-grabbers and opportunists. However, it is interesting to see that many of the women Weinstein targeted were from well-established families and careers, with plenty of their own money and respect. Clearly, upper-class women are not free either from becoming targets. Yet even such women, with the resources to shut down Weinstein, took time to garner the courage and the support to finally show him the error of his ways.
How the Weinstein scandal unfolded is indicative of two things: first, that women in numbers can take down a seemingly invincible and influential man like Weinstein. Second, that it is quite disheartening that it must take multiple women for there to be action, when one woman should be one too many.
So, what should be the takeaway from this discussion?
Firstly, society at large needs to see women as individual human beings – not as “somebody’s something.” Not as somebody’s wife, daughter, mother, cousin, maid, lunch lady, or accountant. It would sound ludicrous if the same logic were reversed. No one ever says to respect a man “because he could be your father or your brother.” This thinking, while it is well-meaning, is destructive to a woman’s individual identity. A woman can be respected just by virtue of being who she is on an individual level.
She does not need to be affiliated with a man to warrant respect.
Second, both men and women need to be taught from an early age how to interact with the opposite sex. For example, in the Muslim community, girls are often taught what is expected of them from a very early age by the older generations.
This advice often revolves around how a woman should dress and behave in front of men. Women are heavily scrutinized if a single strand of hair is out of place or if they fail to wear a hijab. They are then blamed for inviting any misfortune that may befall them. Unfortunately, Islam itself is the weapon of choice used to justify this repressive behavior, which is detrimental not only to a woman’s self-worth but to the way men in general view women. Muslims conveniently forget to mention the first rule of gender relations in Islam, which is directed to men: they are commanded to lower their gaze.
If they did so, they would not even notice what a woman was wearing. The result of solely policing women has reached a point where Muslims have sexualized the mere existence of a woman. Thus, the focus needs to shift from women and how they act or dress to teaching men how they should behave around women.
Now that women are speaking up in full force about sexual misconduct, we will hopefully see a turning point in how society tackles the issue. People are now beginning to realize that policing women is not the answer. The answer is to start policing men who think it is perfectly okay to treat women as sex objects. Society grows when it accepts change.
For the sign of a civilized society is when an individual’s rights are recognized, and the sign of an inferior society is when an individual’s rights are sacrificed for fear of change.