Boys will be boys?

Published in SouthAsia Magazine (December 2007)

Incidents of eve teasing are on the rise in the Subcontinent, even in modern and big cities like Karachi. Despite an increase in literacy rates and general awareness, our society is still indifferent to the lack of respect accorded to women, writes Ayesha Hoda

Travelling by a public bus, clad in a western outfit and carrying drama costumes from Sunday Bazaar to Bilawal Chowrangi, was a hard decision to make. When I recounted the tale of my adventurous journey at home, I met with the angry response, “You should be more careful!”

Agreed. But the question is why? Most of the time it is not even about doing something outrageous and being the odd one out. Street sexual harassment is growing in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. The word ‘eve teasing’, which originated in India, is often used euphemistically. It is a major problem in the city of Karachi although it is rarely regarded as such.

Perhaps this is so because despite being a daily problem, there seems to be no major effort or movement, law, security measure, protest etc. to counter it. Women have accepted it as a part of their lives. They have decided that the best thing is to ignore it to avoid a ‘tamasha’ (confrontation), which will bring them in the limelight and might damage their reputation.

Young girls often gather to share their tales of humiliation, of lewd and sexually suggestive comments and singing, amongst themselves. It has been happening since the time they were eight or ten years old, that is, as soon as people realised that they were ‘girls’. It is a very normal occurrence when you go out for shopping, to the beach or to any other public place and even in educational institutes. You have to dress according to the area or place you are visiting. However, dressing up in a conservative fashion does not seem to help all that much. It is a blatant fact that can be validated by simply looking around that most of the women on the streets of Karachi are modestly dressed.

Despite this, no stone is left unturned to make a woman feel that she has committed an unforgivable sin by transgressing the boundaries of her home especially if she is on her own. She has no freedom or space in the world outside. Not only do a majority of men make it a point to stare, they also make it a point to make a female realise that they are ‘checking her out’.

Offensive touching occurs when you are moving in a crowded store, down a busy street or are a spectator at one of those late night concerts. During a rally in 2006, which was taken out in favour of Women’s Protection Bill (how ironic!), a man misbehaved with a female participant but this went unnoticed in the crowd. It was, however, captured on video and later passed around in mass emails, so that an interested audience could watch, be sexually titillated and joke about it.

When travelling by public transport at night, many females carry hair or body sprays or some other device for self-defence, in anticipation of misconduct by the driver or fellow commuters (in case of a bus). Segregation of the sexes is actually a better option in this scenario. If a female is driving, most male drivers that pass, make it a habit to turn and look back to see what she looks like.

Female students avoid going to cyber cafes at night especially if the street is isolated, even when they need to complete some university assignment urgently.

There is simply no security for women or even semblance of providing it. On a show on one of the local FM channels, a girl once called, finding no better alternative to voice her problem. She was twenty, orphaned, living alone and running a retail store business on her own. She complained of being constantly teased by a certain person in her neighbourhood. The show host advised her to report to the police and ask for protection, to which she helplessly replied that it was a policeman who was bothering her.

This is probably just one example from many, of women who have to fend for themselves and live on their own. Only when things get out of hand, are cases of eve teasing noticed. For instance, in an incident of eve teasing at Jinnah’s mausoleum on Pakistan’s Independence Day in 2006, a few girls raised their voices when troubled by some unruly youth and were helped by the people around. The ground turned into a battleground and the situation got so out of control that the mausoleum was closed for the next two days. However, such a scenario is rare and perhaps not too effective for combating the issue itself.

It leads to many questions. Why are these men so desperate? They are living in a modern, cosmopolitan city where there is not too much segregation of the sexes. They often study, work or even socialise with women. A great majority of men who indulge in such activities are married. Then why do they treat women as if they have just landed from another planet?

It is very hard to connect with Bollywood and Lollywood movies when they show a girl falling in love with the hero, who continuously eve teases her. Some people are of the opinion that such continuous depictions have encouraged the youth to emulate:

“A conservative society where most parents still don’t discuss sex with children is leapfrogging from orthodoxy to in-your-face sex on television, films and the internet,” wrote Hindi film actress Preity Zinta, in her much-appreciated column, ‘Odds stacked against Indian women’, for BBC’s online edition.

This is equally true for Pakistan and Bangladesh. A general conclusion is also that eve teasing has nothing to do with love, attraction or even sex. It has more to do with a patriarchal mindset, proving time and again that it is a man’s world and the sheer joy of exerting power or influence over another being from the ‘weaker sex’.

Unfortunately, a large number of people (including some females), even from amongst the educated and so-called ‘modern’ class, are of the opinion that women are the ‘eves’ who provoke, tempt or bewitch men. Asking a male classmate on what he thought of a male teacher notorious for brazenly staring at his female students, I got the response, “Look at the kind of clothes they wear!” This comes from a person who is not only ‘educated’ but also feels pride in being ‘open-minded’ as he is able to converse and joke with his female friends about sex and what not!

In his article “Hassled, but helpless”, published in The Hindu (Metro Plus Chennai, September 10, 2002), Prince Frederick observes about the phenomenon of eve teasing:

“It is time we painted this menace in the dark colours that it deserves. To start with, we could coin a new name for it. Far too often, we find the victim on the wrong side of the stick. If we were to go into the aetiology of eve teasing, as propounded by so-called analysts of the phenomenon, it would seem ludicrous, if not nauseating – “With the way she dressed she had it coming,” “She would have encouraged the boys” and “Boys will be boys, girls have to be discreet”.

It is no small and easy task to change such a mindset. Probably protests and strikes won’t do the trick. We already have too many of those happening these days for them to be really effective. Something has to be done consciously and continuously and as with everything else, it has to start at home. You have to teach your kids to respect women along with the mass media’s support for this trend, in both direct and subtle ways, to eventually kill this societal demon.


21 thoughts on “Boys will be boys?

  1. Eve teasing, Chikan or slight form of sexual harrassment, what to do about this? I demanded a law on this…..but the law on sexual harrassment in pakistan is even in doldrums…….yet not implemented and was criticised a lot……..this is not ignorable anu more…….When it reaches its extreme……… a crime in all the forms……

  2. nice article, these things wont change with education at school but education at home.
    Such acts should be condemned and discouraged collectively by community which isnt unfortunately. I hope it changes.

  3. but one concern i do have regarding girls behavior aswell which try to different ways to get attention of boys which again needs to be changed by education at home by parents. there is a men’s nature of being attracted towards female which is exploited as well mostly un-intentionally, again mindset and effect of movies is there on both sides.

  4. Amazing article! Love it! You’ve brought light to one of the persistently occurring social evils in our society, which people somehow are never ready to talk about. Parents will always teach their daughters to ‘be careful’ while going out, while they’re never seen preaching their sons to respect other women.
    The kind of society we live in, is unfortunately the one where good change is extremely difficult to bring. I believe, apart from the parents’ teaching their kids morals and media being responsible, we should also begin to teach our girls Martial Arts or some other fighting techniques. Once the boys understand that the girls are in no way lesser than them, they will stop doing such acts, if not become moral in the least.

    1. Thanks so much for your detailed comment. Martial Arts … yes that is an option! But above all, it’s mainly the mindset that has to change. At least it should not be a hurdle in daily life. May be if people let their boys mingle with girls, in a decent manner, from a young age, then they won’t grow up and behave such a way [be less desperate].

      1. I have been traveling in public buses since a long time and I still have to use them everyday… It’s not the boys that create such problems, they do sometimes, but mostly the harassment comes from those illiterate men in our society. Boys can be taught values, but what of these ‘men’?

      2. Yes but boys will become men eventually so for the future…. Plus, I am also more bothered by the fact that it is not only “illiterate” men who do such things. Even seemingly decent men, who may be driving cars and going to their offices, stop and stare at you. I have seen men, sitting with their wives and kids, who have the same behaviour. So what else will the kids learn?

        For the present, there need to be laws. Only if they are scared of some consequences will they be a little careful. But do laws really work here? It’s difficult but one has to start speaking against it. I think instead of feeling humiliated, women and the decent men should raise their voices.

    2. Nope… not every parents forget to teach their sons…
      my mother taught me and my brothers a lot she constantly advices us to respect ur wife (however m not married but she want to let me know my responsibilities), sis n other girls
      my father cross checked my activities when i was a teen-ager to know if m involved in any abusive activities or not.. n obviously these cross checking

      I cant even think about these filthy activities which I observe nowadays specially in public transport and shopping centers
      would you believe… guys plan these filthy acts.. they find weaker and easy targets

      girls are also responsible, not equally but they also attract the desired one… most of the girls are desperate so guys easily trap them know what they can make a girl fall in love(so called love, filmi) with him through sms…just forwarded and copy past sms yaar…
      the issue of being sexually harassed is not that bigger than these filmi relation in which boys fully use these girls and trap them by saying (copy paste) filmi dialogs, promises etc

      girls are weaker by nature, they need someone to share to care about her but they cant decide whats right and wts wrong for her… it mostly happens when both mother and father failed to provide ample time to follow and investigate their children activities.. it may be due to carelessness..

      parents must guide their children specially make their girls aware of how many ways she can be abused, how boys can trap them and how to keep herself out of this…

      but our media especially the exported media are more responsible for spoiling the minds of our generation… it must be restricted ..

      I think only parents can bring a change… they must teach both boys n girls to beware of these things
      I suggest they should;

      1. cross check their activities
      2. be informed where are they going and with whom … must know the truth randomly follow them
      3. randomly check their mobile inbox, sent msgs, emails, computer, contact lists
      4. check there drawers, lockers, books, note books, diaries
      5. time to time teach the negative aspects of such activities and relation.. give them practical examples, share stories and happenings and their consequences
      6. check their gatherings, company they use to keep
      7. interact with their friends, families… to know abt the family background, values n customs…
      8. restrictions and force wont work… so taught them politely from the beginning..(the age of 9 to onwards till it is required)
      9. in case of girls, brothers r also responsible take care of their sisters. they should not let them walk or go alone make her your friend, not a liability dont degrade her or let her feel she is not equal to you
      10. due to fear, restrictions, girls failed to express/to tell whats wrong has been done with her… she must be encouraged to share with parents… because if parents are closer to him/her they will not take time to know whats wrong their children are doing

      and yeah of course men may literate or illiterate are more desperate and i think its a national issue every men is busy staring girls, women… jo nazar ajaey i have observed a lot of times on bus stop what they do .. they don’t even left the women or girls in abaya n veil …
      but only two are responsible for this; media n parents
      we all must learn our responsibilities Laws should be made for media and ethical standards and values should be learnt by parents and let their children learn these as well

      1. It’s good to know your parents have brought you up in a responsible manner.

        “girls are weaker by nature, they need someone to share to care about her but they cant decide whats right and wts wrong for her”... I disagree. Women have more inner strength and are equally capable of taking care of themselves, of course given the right kind of guidance in childhood, as is the case with boys.

        In the article, I am not really discussing being trapped by men… that is a different issue. It’s basically about eve-teasing… an individual’s right to move around freely without being the object of such attention.

  5. You’re right. I completely agree to that. But I think, a short term present solution is to become aggressive. I have been harassed many times, and it has always worked if I stood up, screamed at the guy in public. When the girls stay quiet, the men do it more!

  6. Woah! M.I. became too emotional over the issue 😛 but again, as Ayesha said, this is a different topic..

    @ Ayesha: I simply cannot rely on the media and the laws, I will make my girl learn some fighting techniques, now that’s done! (Ofcourse, apart from teaching my children some respect). As for me in the present, screaming will do just fine!

    1. @ ayesha
      ok not naturally … but society and how they brought up make her weaker psychologically…

      yeah its different topic but this thing leads to that what i have discussed earlier
      as i said these acts are preplanned..
      when they successfully do these little teasing things.. it motivates them to do more.. then desparation he un say yeh sab karwati hai…

      @ ema..
      you r on a right path… go for it!
      all the best…

  7. so true but nothing has been changed yet neither seeming to be changed soon. I myself am a student of Karachi University and you all must know that our educational institutions are also not safe despite of all educated people around you. Like they all say “a man’s world” so every woman has no right to live here and if she is doing so then you have every right to make her feel that she is doing a huge mistake. many times I have observed and experienced this ill treatment by ill minds but as I am a girl I cant help myself out of any situation which makes me uncomfortable. All these things makes me think sometimes; do I have no position in this society? Am I just a thing of beauty or just to please filthy minds of people? Am I not a human who can feel when being disgraced publicly or in a confined place ?girls are weaker but its man who wants them to be weak and feels pride by doing so.
    Though its not in only our society but the laws and so called moashry k rivaj here makes it more difficult for a woman to live her life as she wants to. For every sin they do they create a reason for doing that even for killing a woman if she raise voice against them she is declared as kaari n killed by his own fathers n brothers. Is this what our religion teaches us?
    Well I have lot more to say as its pilled up in me and every passing day this pile is getting high but I think I cant write all of that now. Some other time maybe.
    This article is good n very true as if i ve spoken my heart out. Keep it up Gal!

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