When it comes to harassment, why can't we place blame where blame belongs?

When it comes to harassment, why can't we place blame where blame belongs?

Social conditioning frames our response to harassment: as young girls, for example, we're conditioned to be polite
16 Apr, 2018

I opened Twitter a few days ago to find a stream of tweets and screenshots naming and shaming some fairly well-known men for their harassment and sexual misconduct towards women and underage girls.

Related: Patari cofounder Khalid Bajwa resigns as evidence of sexual misconduct surfaces

As the tweets and screenshots multiplied, one could not help but take relief in the fact that such individuals, many of whom were known to many of us as "creepy", were being exposed. It was a relief to see that there could be a limit to what you can say and do behind the digital mask of a screen, and it was gratifying to let it be known that none of it would be allowed to stay hidden for long.

After all, how painfully innocent or infantile can such men possibly pretend to be, to appear so unaware of what crosses certain boundaries and what doesn't?

And how shameless do you have to be to continue badgering women when you can very well note they are reluctant or uncomfortable in responding to or engaging with your clearly uninvited remarks?

This developing expose was also an effort to assert to this lot that their position and their status, including marital status, both of which are used as covers of sort, do not and will not shield them from being seen as what they are.

While the courageous efforts to call out harassers was met with considerable praise, there was a completely different kind of response that needs to be addressed: the advice doled out by men to women on all the ways they could avoid harassment.

"Bas block kardena tha."

"Na reply karti."

“Shut up call de deni thee.”

"Women are secretly inclined to enjoy attention."

Let's first get something straight: to respond in one-liners, to ignore certain unwanted remarks, to respond after ages or not respond at all are also very clear messages used by women to try disengagement. We try to politely and clearly demonstrate our discomfort, but unfortunately, politeness isn't a language this lot finds comprehensible.

People came out of the woodwork to victim-shame the survivors
People came out of the woodwork to victim-shame the survivors

Also, no woman ever talks with a guy with the knowledge that he'll transgress the bounds of appropriate conversation. And once those signs begin to show, it is difficult for us to navigate through the situation without negative consequences. From digital stalking, incessant messages on every forum, the possibility of aggression to actually showing up outside the female's academic institution or professional workspace, the rage and retaliation spans many forms in a society and culture where victim-blaming and character assassination is common and the dangers to a woman's safety are all too real.

There is also absolutely no guarantee that the harasser will stop bothering you even if you are blunt with them or ignore them completely.

It is here that I would definitely factor social conditioning for women into the frame of our responses to harassment. As young girls, we are conditioned to be polite and we know from experience that our hostile behaviour can beget just as hostile a reaction. And that a "bold" or "batameez" aurat only brings things upon herself.

It is deeply unsettling that the focus of fault is falling on the supposed reluctance of women to block harassers and predators, rather than the abhorrent behavior exhibited by the men themselves. Once again, the burden of responsibility and blame falls onto the woman. The issue is neither as simple as the usage of a block button nor must it be reduced to this.

So while one must appreciate the wisdom being doled out to us by certain men regarding the “appropriate” or “right” response to harassment, the indifference and insensitivity of this wisdom to female conditioning and female fears of male rage and retaliation cannot be ignored.

You can’t speak for a position you neither share nor experience.

But to the women exposing these predators and harassers, you’re speaking for many, many of us. We support you in shredding these long-kept silences to bits. More power to you.