Last evening, I took my toddlers out to play. We stay out a long time because a) the outdoors are a great way to get healthy and find wonderful new things and b) I like to tire them out like that so they sleep well. Because, really, as a mum and a working one, there’s only so much you can take in a day. But that’s a different story.
It was a Friday (as you know it’s the Arab world’s Sunday). We usually play in a grassy little patch a bit away from my home. Today, as I saw it was really lonely there, I decided to stick around in the empty parking lot of a large government building near my home. I usually have my help or my husband with me because managing two toddlers who don’t understand road safety very clearly yet is difficult. Today, it was just me and the kids.
A while into play, a Honda Civic began to cruise up and down the road adjacent to where we were. I didn’t pay too much attention because assholes like that usually drive away if they see you aren’t interested. Soon I saw the car had turned into the parking lot we were playing in and had parked nearby. I calmly gathered the kids up and moved to the other side of the road, where there is a place to play but is pebbly. As soon as I did that, I noticed the car pull away and I decided that was the end of it.
After a few minutes I noticed a man walking up and down the stretch of pavement we were playing on. He didn’t pay us any attention so I thought it was a resident on his usual evening walk (I am new to the area). When it got dark, I took both the kids – carrying the younger one — and walked towards home. Most of the area is pretty well-lit and busy; there’s just one patch that’s dark and dodgy. When I got there, my older child spotted something on the road and stopped to marvel over it and ask questions. I moved closer to the pavement as she started discovering more god knows what on the road. And suddenly stepped smack into this tall hulking guy standing way too close to me. It was the same guy who was walking. Silly as I am, and disturbed as I was by his closeness, I didn’t quite realise it was the same guy who was in the car. He came forward to pet my son, who I was carrying, and I took a couple of steps back. He began asking them their names and the niggling warning bell got louder. Before I could grab my daughter’s arm and head home, he had reached out again to touch my son’s cheek and in the process brushed his hand against my chest. I saw red, gave him a hard shove and started shouting and charging at him but he fled and there was only so much I could do with the kids around.
My blood boiled as I went home and told my husband what happened. He stepped out immediately to see what could be done and I saw the bastard drive past our house again. I don’t know if he was keeping an eye or he just needed to go to the end of the road to turn around his car.
I most definitely intend to report this but I am getting feedback like expatriates will not be helped much in case it gets reported. I’ve been told to go through an Omani friend or colleague who is well connected. Have any of you living in Muscat reported any such incidents? I know a lot of women face such crap. But have you reported?
I don’t know how many women can safely say that they have never been molested in their lives. If they’ve been out in a public space, it doesn’t matter what they are wearing, whether they are in great shape, whether they’re lovely to look at or just plain, they will have been grabbed.
My questions are these:
1. What is it that makes some men violate a woman’s personal space and touch her? Who gives them the right to do that and think it’s bloody okay?
2. What is it that separates a molester from a regular man? What makes two men look at a woman and react in two different ways: One checks her out, finds her appealing and stops with that, while the other one reaches out and touches her? What is that essential difference? Lack of control? Lack of decency? Bad upbringing? A disdain for women?
3. Do they also look at the women in their home with the same filth in their eyes with which they look at my breasts or butt or thighs? I mean to ask do these men who touch women without their permission on the streets also touch their women — mothers, wives, sisters — at home? Are these, in effect, perpetrators of incest? Or is it just other women they feel comfortable grabbing?
4. Are women responsible for these men having absolutely no fear to touch, grope, or expose themselves to women? Have years of “just ignore him” behaviour emboldened these men to do as they please? Would a man think twice if he had been beaten by a woman for touching her or passing a lewd comment at her?
5. If I have some male readers, can you please come out on this and tell me what treatment — extreme or otherwise — would deter a man from molesting a woman?
6. Is this restricted to developing countries and others such as Oman alone or do developed countries see molestation in such a daily, on the street, everyday manner?
A blogger friend recently told me that one of the reasons he likes Muscat is because it is safe, that things like the above don’t happen here.
Fact: The first time I saw a man’s penis: Here in Muscat, when I was about 13-14 years old. A man close to where we were playing was hanging around exposing himself and trying to get our attention
Fact: The first time I saw a man masturbating: Here in Muscat. Late evening I was hanging out clothes to dry on a stand in the balcony and this guy was parked perhaps 20-30 meters away from our home, jerking off. I didn’t realise what was happening till I almost finished with the clothes.
Fact: The first time I was grabbed: Here in Muscat, in Ruwi, while walking with my parents when I was nine years old. A man walking past grabbed my then non-existent right breast.
Fact: The first time I got surrounded by a bunch of guys and seriously groped: Here in Muscat. Age 12, cycling home from my dance lessons when a bunch of tween-to-teenaged Baluchi boys surrounded me and brushed their hands against my butt, my chest, my legs while saying things that to this day I haven’t understood, in Hindi.
As a result, when I walk alone, I walk with all my senses on alert. I walk with aggression and hold a bag or something protectively against me, with my elbows ever-ready to shove someone in case they touch me. Do you know how stressful it is to walk like that, protecting yourself constantly, without letting your guard down? Do you realise how painful it is to think that you can’t enjoy a good walk alone for the fear of being touched by a creep? Do you realise how restricting, how rage-inducing, how utterly defeating it is to be that way every day? Do men understand why some women in countries where roadside molestation is rampant hold on to their men tight? Why they ask their men to ask for directions, buy a pack of cigarettes or walk half a step behind, very close to their men?
Edited to add: A friend wrote in to tell me molestation is an issue that needs to be told again and again and again. Men, just ask the women in your life how it makes them feel, even better, think about how you feel when one them is attacked. Women, the more we talk the more courage we can instill in those who won’t retaliate. Will women who read this please take two extra minutes to just comment and not leave before they do? Only for this post, please. If the men (if there are more than three) also can take the time I’ll be very grateful.
Edited again to add: If I have any Omani/Middle Eastern women as readers, could they please tell me their experience; anonymously is just fine? I am just trying to understand if India, because it is so varied, has such elements and because by and large we don’t have dress codes, that this happens to women. Does wearing an abaya, being brought up in a mostly segregated society and not having as many freedoms as women from other places have its advantages as far as molestation is concerned?