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?
I’ve meant to do this post for a while, and no, I haven’t I misspelt the title.
As you will doubtless know by now, I go through life with perennially failed brakes. I take very sharp turns and I almost always rely on my smile and my incredible good luck to keep me from becoming roadkill.
There’s never been an instance where I’ve slowed down, parked and said, wait a minute — look at the map, will you? Look and see if that’s where you want to go. I’ve just put on shades, folded the top down, turned the music up and driven on without watching the fuel gauge or for signboards. And where has that landed me? With a lot of fun. A lot more trouble. A lot of serious heartbreak. If I were the only one, I’d have just sucked it up and gone looking for the next shiny thing that distracted me. But life’s not a one-way road, right? More often than not, things are a two-way street. On those, I crash into people, swerve wildly to avoid them or just run out of fuel, get off and say hello to whoever else is parked by.
Among those are the men in my life. I love men, as I’ve said before. And I think it would be safe to say they love me. As long as they don’t live with me or know me too well.
But we won’t talk about how they feel about me.
The first, most important and honestly the best man in my life has to be my father.
Before you think I have a huge Electra complex, let me make things clear. We fight. Big time. He speaks Greek in medium tones and I speak Mercurian very fast in a loud voice. And oh, he speaks turning to the wall and I speak loud in a vacuum. We just don’t hear each other. Never.
But for all that, he’s the best man I know. He’s taken all that his circumstance gave him and turned it around to his best advantage. He has every value that I determinedly brush off as not valuable. Only, I know I do it because imbibing those values would mean a lot of very hard work. He has every virtue that makes me scoff but only because I know if I were to appreciate those virtues he possesses, I will never be able to look myself in the mirror and accept the person that I am now.
My father is an intelligent man but he is also limited by his complete and utter respectability. His dignity is great and he’s much fun when he’s a little high. He absolutely loves to annoy a girl or two (me!) but he knows how to make me feel like a princess. He can cut me down, or into a million shreds, with his sarcasm (my wool is black these days, in the family) and his expression of complete resignation but he can also make me feel like a million planets with just one word of praise, a smile of approval. And at 30, I still crave it.
There’s much I don’t like about him but not as much as what he doesn’t like about me. And he still loves me incomparably. So what does that say about him? We fight, we’re rude to each other and we’re very very unforgiving for a few moments in the day, on bad days. But he can reduce me to tears with his great great love. Just like I can him. If there’s a softer heart I haven’t seen one.
The other day I was thinking about all this and it struck me that the only person I’ve never had a fight with is my best friend. He’s everything I could ask for — patient, utterly non-judgmental (which is a good thing or I’d be sentenced so many times, I am that bad) funny, undemanding, giving, and most of all loves me, inconsistencies and all.
I will leave my husband out of this list of the men in my life because I’ve written about him often enough. And will continue doing so. He, after all, is the husband.
I cringe every time a woman says, “Men are bastards.” It’s embarrassing because that woman has for sure met many men who aren’t but she’s choosing to focus on the few that are. It’s funny because I imagine her saying to herself as she tries to look vicious, “Except my dad. And my brother. Oh, and my uncle. Oh yeah, my best friend too. Of course, my English teacher from school.” It’s just stupid because you can’t make sweeping statements of judgement like that. And while I’ve my share of complete and utter excuses for men, I am thankful for these men in my life for helping me maintain a healthy attitude towards men. And so, my list won’t be complete without two people who have contributed towards my constant and undying faith that we cannot, and should not, live without men.
My brother. We are very close in age. We grew up as partners in crime. Then we hated each other — short of killing each other we gave each other every kind of beating. Then he grew up and became stronger — and taller — than me so I couldn’t do as much damage. So we started being snarky and mean to each other. We went through tough times — we didn’t talk to each other for a bit, I threw him out of the house for some time, he messed up the folks with his ‘reading’ of who I was. And now he’s easily older than me in his head, has a reached a place in life after much struggle, strength and thought where I can take his advice, criticism and suggestions seriously. I have never loved him as much as I love him today.
Here’s why he reinforces my belief in the goodness of men.
1) When he hugs a girl, or puts his arm around her, he is extremely careful with his hands. Without being uncomfortable.
2) He has accepted my parents — who I struggle with — as they are and has managed to establish a beautiful, peaceful, trusting relationship with them.
3) He takes his wedding vows seriously. Very seriously. He says till then it was all excitement for him but when he vowed to do what he did, the whole impact of it became larger and reminds himself of it every so often.
Finally, the guy who decided to enter my life in the quietest way possible and stay there forever. No bang at the first meeting, no immediate connection. But I know for a fact that if I ever put my speed dial in use his number would be one of the ones. This friend would also be one of the five I would call if I found myself in trouble that I can’t extricate myself from. If I were to sit down and define a friend, I’d just point people in his direction. He judges without hurting, calls a spade a spade and knows what I am thinking without my saying a word. There’s no pretence, no what ifs, no “I wonder what he’ll think of me if I tell him…”. In one word, he’s what free feels like.
Thinking about these men in my life led me to thinking about what I like in a man. I know this should be a post for Judy or Revs but what’s wrong with a married girl talking about what she likes in a man? I am still a girl, red-blooded and fun at that. Just because I’ve eaten, should it mean I can’t check out the menu? If nothing else, a poor sod asking “What do women want” may actually chance upon this piece and take back something that will leave him less mystified.
Here’s my list.
1. I don’t like a man who doesn’t listen. If you’re saying that’s so typical of a woman because women talk a lot, then I think you’re running away from reality. Men talk a lot. Like a whole lot and nothing flatters them than a woman who listens. I am a good listener because I am genuinely interested in people. And by that coin, I expect the same from anyone, not just a man. In a man, however, it is very special.
2. I like a man to remember little things about me. It could be that I don’t drink aerated drinks or it could be that I love colours white, green and purple. It could be that I prefer sour orange juice over sweet. I’ve so far met only one who does that a lot.
3. I am not overly hung up over funny men. A man’s got to have a sense of humour in the sense that he needs to be able to laugh — at himself, at the world around him, at a joke from Readers’ Digest. It doesn’t matter if he doesn’t have me rolling on the floor, catching my sides, laughing like it was going out of fashion.
4. I like a man who has a passion. Or two. Music, art, reading, riding, cars, cockroaches, forks, watches, mud, Sumo wrestlers. Anything. Just anything that gets him going. And moving.
5. Speaking of which, I like a man who’s active — who walks fast or plays a sport or something. I’ve known non-physical people and I know for a fact that their attitude in life could do with general improvement.
6. I like cheerful men. Not in that irritating blowing-sunshine-up-your-glutes kinda way but someone with a quick smile, on the ready. Someone who laughs at the small ironies of life.
7. A man needs to like alcohol. Really. The ones who don’t, I am very suspicious about.
Men, is that a tall order? And the lovely women who come here, what’s your list?
I recently spoke to her again and was very pleasantly surprised that she chose a more evolved stream and did her BA in English Literature. Moreover, after having worked in a bank here in Oman for a bit, she married, settled down and is now a very happy mother to a four-year old. The thing that struck me in the conversation was her saying, “You know, I am not a very career-minded person at all.”
For me, that was surprising, because I know very few women of my generation who are not career minded. We were all raised on the ethic that we needed to conquer the world, we needed to stand on our own feet so that we could be who we wanted, so that we could make our parents proud, so that we could go live the life our mothers dreamed of. We were also raised on stories of women facing every kind of degradation in history.
Very often, without our realising, our self-esteem, sense of self-worth and indeed, the very idea of our Self was deeply tied together with having a career. And in second-generation working women, like me, it wasn’t enough if you were in one of the “easier” fields: beauty, teaching, clothes, if you hadn’t the smarts to become a doctor or an engineer. Somewhere along, we got the message that we had to go do the “tougher” things. I put easier and tougher in quotes because the jobs listed next to them, aren’t my definitions of those words. I don’t see what is tough about sitting in an air-conditioned office and doing a 350-word story on summer trends for glasses. You’re still a journalist but not doing a tough job. Similarly, I don’t see what is easy about being on your feet all day making other women beautiful; bending over to thread women’s eyebrows or waxing their armpits or massaging their pedicured feet. Beauty, you will agree, is not easy.
But coming back to my point, for most my generation of women it is very clear that the option of staying home was almost not there, unless you absolutely couldn’t help it. But this girl, who grew up in a single-income household, is very happy with her status. And while there’s only a hint of apology when she talks to someone like me who has a career (somewhat), she’s quite comfortable with the fact that her daughter, her family come first.
For a few days, I have been thinking about feminism. For some years now, I have been hearing women say, quickly and defensively, when they tend to speak up for women and their rights, that they are not feminists. And I’ve wondered why.
I’ve seen men say it derisively of a woman, that she is a feminist. I, on the other hand, proudly say I am a feminist. I speak up for myself, I speak up for my sisters, I speak up. I love being a woman, I really like men and I love my career as well as my kids. I strive hard to make my parents proud (whether they see it or think otherwise), I love finding out new things about me and just because I play other roles like daughter, wife, sister, mum, friend, and everything else, I am NO less myself. In fact, all these roles just add to my personality. So what exactly am I missing when people run away from the F word?
Thanks to the feminist movements, Men, your mothers, wives, sisters and daughters can vote, can inherit property and are considered citizens of a country. Thanks to feminism, there are laws where rape, molestation, sexual harassment at work are all punishable. Thanks to feminism, girls have a right to education just as much as boys do.
And women, exactly what makes you say, “Hey, I am no feminist but I really think women should…”? Even if you aren’t a feminist in the strict sense of the word, why do you have a problem with being labelled as one? Is it because you, like me, love pretty lingerie and are not willing to give it up? Is it because you think ‘feminist’ automatically means you need to call men words that a sailor would blush at? Maybe these questions are simplistic, but I am just trying to understand why you don’t like being called a feminist.
Because you know, us feminists, don’t burn bras anymore. We even get married (to men) and have children. Why, we go as far as telling people that we love being a woman and for us many times feminism means that I get to stay at home and there’s no pressure on me to earn for the family, most of the time.
Honestly, that is what feminism means to me today. One of my favourite writers (as she is with many women I know) Alice Walker has a beautiful word for it Womanism. For me, being a woman, being a feminist means now that I have most my rights in place — voting, education, property, the right to choose my last name, the right to be safe (?) apart from others — I have the right to choose. I have the right to choose whether I want to go to work and make a career, or I want to stay at home and revel in domesticity. Feminism, for me, means the freedom to choose the latter and not feel like I’ve betrayed my education and my talent by choosing to stay at home and considering a family more important.
Feminism to me means having the choice to go to work even though I have children and coming back feeling good that I spent a productive day work while looking forward to time with the kids. It means not feeling guilty that I spent time away from them. Feminism means to be able to my buy my own car or designer handbag. It also means to have the grace to say ‘thank you’ if a man offered to buy either, once in a while.
Feminism means feeling comfortable to say that I asked my husband out; that I like to cook (I don’t; just an example) or crochet (which I like) or sew or bake without feeling like if I say it, people will think of me as domesticated, as a “typical” girl. It means feeling comfortable to say I love cars, gadgets and women without being thought of as a tomboy, or worse, a wannabe tomboy. Feminism means not thinking it’s a great thing if you own best bud is a man — it doesn’t make you any different from a woman who’s best friend is a girl. In my opinion you should have one of both.
What does feminism mean to you?