(It’s a little bit of cheating for me to put this here, because it’s not very recent – I wrote it in a fit of anger quite some time ago, when I still lived in Dhaka. However, nothing has changed since then in this regard, and I never did anything with this piece, so I suppose it still makes sense for it go here.)
Hello there. You randomly caught my eye while I was stuck in traffic with my cousin. A young woman was walking on the pavement, and I don’t know why, but I looked at your face as she walked by. I guess I figured you’d want to take a look at her, seeing how typically when young women walk on pavements (or anywhere else) they get looked at by men like you (who are just regular men), and I guess I wondered if I would see you do it. Sure enough, as she walked towards you, your eyes flicked to her chest. As she walked by you, you turned to look at her lower back.
It was so clear that it was a jolt, even though it was exactly what I expected to see, having experienced exactly this every time I am on the street in Bangladesh. I pointed it out to my cousin, I said, that guy just looked at a girl’s chest and lower back, it was really clear, and really disgusting.
She leaned over and the two of us watched to see if you would do it again.
Oh, you did it again. In fact, you did it every single time a young woman walked by you.
Every single time.
(And I’m sure you know about that traffic on Kemal Attaturk, so we were there for a lot of minutes, and we watched you look at a lot of women. I mean, a lot of chests and lower backs. Faces didn’t get very much eye-time from you.)
You didn’t let us down, not once. Woman comes up on the pavement. You look at her chest. She walks by. Lower back.
Girl walking with a guy? She got it, too, but you were faster, more discreet, eyes flicking about more quickly.
Two kinds of women were spared. Women in hijabs, and women who were not upper or middle class. I assume that you feel that a woman in a hijab deserves respect that a woman not wearing a hijab doesn’t. I also assume you feel that women who are not upper or middle class aren’t worthy of that kind of interest from you. As my cousin pointed out, this means you choose who you look at, this means it’s conscious.
Several people (almost all of them men, in case you’re wondering) have told me that it’s not okay to be vocal about these things. I’m going to be told, after writing this that it’s vulgar for me to even be talking about how you were looking at a woman’s chest and lower back. That, in our culture, we just don’t talk about these things. I am going to have to defend myself against these words, right here, right now, as if it’s not you, but me, that is doing something wrong by bringing up that this happened.
Well, I am going to talk about them, anyway. I’m not going to wait until International Women’s Day and write an article vaguely but kindly talking about how we’re all equal and aren’t we all someone’s mother and sister, et cetera, et cetera. It isn’t always like that, you see. It’s not always vague, and gentle, and women’s rights, and how we should buy flowers for our mothers. It’s ugly. I don’t think anyone should ever pretend that it isn’t. If you think it’s ugly that I’m saying this, that’s because it’s ugly when I feel it when I’m walking on the street.
(Somehow, also, I think that you might be the kind of guy who thinks that all women should wear hijabs. I’m not sure if people will read this and think, well, women should just wear hijabs, if that’s what saves them on the street. I do not want to discuss whether or not women should wear the hijab here; that is a separate topic. I do want to make one thing very, very clear though: This conversation should never, ever be about what women should do to be treated differently by men. Ever. Respect is a right, plain and simple. It is not deserved, if. It is deserved, always.)
And oh, I won’t say “I know what it’s like for other people too” because I don’t, really, and it’d be wrong to say I do, but I will say that I am aware I am privileged. I can ride in my car. Only a few times have I experienced what happens on buses in Dhaka, rather than every day. I am so protected, so cushioned, from what many other women in this country face. To the point that I almost feel it is a crime for me to even open my mouth.
There are a thousand different things I love about this country. There are even a thousand different things I love about you. People like you will run over, in an earnest, helpful, noisy crowd when there’s an accident (or anything at all) on the street. You’re able to work in temperatures hotter than most people in the world can even stand to stand around in. You are probably who my mother talks about when she affectionately chuckles, “Bangali buddhi!” at some ridiculously funny and clever thing some Bangali has done.
But what I’ve described here? It makes me want to walk away from you, and from this place.
It isn’t my responsibility to solve this problem. But I’ll work on it, anyway. I’ll pour a crazy amount of time and energy into making it better, into hoping your son doesn’t do what you did, into protecting myself and my younger cousin from you when we go outside.
Time and energy I could have spent on something to make this country a better place for both of us.