Shristi Mainali, ASAP Youth Champion, Nepal
The recent “Me Too” campaign reminded me of an incident which took place a few months back in Birgunj. It was such a refreshing morning; a friend of mine and I were pretty excited to have the opportunity to visit the Gadhimai temple in Kalaiya. We were casually talking about the famous Gadhimai Mela that is held once in every 5 years, and suddenly, the tuk-tuk in which we were travelling back to Birgunj, stopped. Two male passengers got into the vehicle. And as my friend and I were talking, their eyes were fixed on us. With every jolt of the tuk-tuk, their eyesight was engrossed on my breasts. The situation quickly became extremely uncomfortable; neither could I ask them to look away, nor could I put up with their nasty looks. I had an umbrella and a bag in my hand, and I tried every possible way to turn away and cover myself up. But all in vain.
The travel of around an hour was the greatest mental torture I faced recently.
Later, when I reached my hotel room I questioned myself, “What could have I done at that time?”. I felt guilty as I could do nothing but let myself sit through the hour-long mental discomfort.
I had to ask myself… Why didn’t I speak up? Was I scared because I did not belong to that place? Would have I spoken up if the same thing had happened to me in my place of residence? I have been in many such situations in past where the gropers would disgrace me in a crowded place, ranging from the street to the public transportation. There were many instances (in fact almost all) where I did shout and shame such sick-headed men in public. But here, I felt helpless. And to all the questions above I got perplexed answers without any clarity.
Women face so many forms of sexual harassment both in private and public but are always dumbfounded when it comes to reacting in such situations. Many might argue, ‘So what if they looked? They did not get physical anyway. What’s the big deal?’
Okay! Are we supposed to wait and watch until someone grabs us, or tries to enforce his manhood on us? Are we meant to wait till then?
Keeping quiet during the small acts of discomfort is where we make a mistake most of the time, and give the flashers or molesters the “Power to Rape”.
Yes, Power to Rape!
Had it been my place, I could have mustered some courage to speak up to those harassers to stop assaulting me with their eyes. Had they been somewhere else other than their very own place, they would not have probably gathered the guts to gaze at my breasts throughout the journey without any hesitation or fear. This very incident made me realize that rape is all about power and control. It doesn’t mean rapists don’t derive sexual pleasure from the act of rape, what I mean here is they carry out the act not because of any uncontrollable urges of sexual desire, but because the act makes them feel powerful over their victims.
However, our society doesn’t bother to understand this fact, and ultimately the women’s clothes, their speech, actions and behaviors all automatically get blamed. Shrouding women in shame in this manner leaves them even more vulnerable to the games of power that their attackers play. Women should be assured that it was not their fault, or the fault of their dressing sense, or the place they had been which led to the situation. It’s only when we stop shaming women for being a victim, they will gather the courage to come out of the traumatic scenario and speak up. It’s only when we stop thinking about rape through the moral lens of lust and shame that we can properly address the politics of power that uses rape as a tool. It is only then, we can converse about the safety of a woman as an independent person with rights, rather than an object of satisfaction and purity. In addition, we must start being equally outraged by the less extreme acts of hatred or harassment towards women that are no less effective in giving rapists the license to operate and keep victims quiet, shamed and deprived of justice.