It all started with a Facebook post…. While scrolling through my timeline, I noticed a close friend of mine, who I’ll call Mr. B, posted a picture of 5 or 6 gorgeous Muslim women smiling and wearing their hijab’s.
I had seen this picture several times, with various comments on everything from how beautiful they looked, to how much makeup they wore and why that was not in accordance with Muslim tradition. But when Mr. B posted it, his statement got under my skin in a way I did not expect…
“This is what a wife looks like to me…. No judgment just my opinion about what I find attractive for my wife. Not just just a jump off.. All women have girl parts but not all have to show them to the world to display their beauty. . Why even temp [sic] another man if your in your in a monogamous relationship? You playing that’s why.. Having your ass and titties out will arouse and man so if you already have one why do you want that attention.. answers please.”
Although he asked for answers, it quickly became apparent that my answers were not the ones he was looking for. I attempted, futilely, to explain to this person I’d known for 20 years that women get harassed regularly regardless of how they dress, that dressing sexy does not always equal needing or wanting male attention, and that the kind of arguments he was making (i.e. men are genetically predisposed to be aroused at the sight of a woman’s flesh, and therefore a lot of women are responsible for unwanted advances because of how they dress) are the same ones used to justify the rape and persecution of women all over the world.
I posted a YouTube video that went viral a couple years back, showing a woman walking the streets of New York clad in black jeans and a black crew neck t-shirt, being catcalled, followed, harassed, and vilified for not responding to unwanted attention. Mr. B’s response?
“Why is her shirt so tight? Why are her pants so tight? You can see every curve of her body. She looks like a stripper who just got off work.”
At this point, other men began to chime in with their support and solidarity, citing extreme “modesty” as the ideal, and only acceptable, feminine archetype. I continued to try and explain to them what life is like for women everyday, that regardless to what we wear we are still objectified on a regular basis.
I shared my own story, where I went on a date to a nightclub and was groped twice by 2 different men as I walked by. I was wearing jeans and a loose fitting blouse (not that it matters). No one responded to that, but the men commenting on Mr. B’s post continued to “like” each other’s comments and all I could do was sit back in awe of what I perceived to be cognitive dissonance so deeply rooted in the psyche of these men that there was little chance they’d ever actually understand what I was trying to say. The thought depressed me to no end.
I decided to make a post of my own, asking women to share their stories about being sexually harassed while not wearing provocative clothing. Dozens of women began to respond with personal stories of being sexually harassed, judged, groped, molested as a child, and raped–all while acting in a manner that any man would deem “modest”. I expected stories of cat calling and club groping, and what I got was something much deeper and more powerful. I read stories of women being violated that chilled me to the bone, capped by statements like “I was wearing baggy sweatpants and an over-sized sweatshirt”. Mr. B and his friends chimed in and all hell broke loose. No form of understanding was achieved.
It didn’t matter.
I haven’t talked to my friend Mr. B since that day, but I’ve thought a lot about what I’d say to him if I did. I’d apologize first of all, because when I said all hell broke loose I really meant it. It was not pretty. Secondly, I’d say the bottom line of all this has an always has been LOVE. Not that greeting card rom-com bullshit, but the profound sense of peace that can come from true understanding–from living wiithout fear and without the need to judge anyone. Lastly, I would ask him to be more compassionate, and embrace empathy as the supreme tenet of all religious beliefs and all socially conscious movements.
The world is changing, and we must also change.