I got down at the train station in New York City with a lifelong yearning that this place had represented to me. I was going to be successful and finally satiated with one of the best professional education that the world has to offer. My institution was affiliated with an Ivy League university and that was all that had consumed me for weeks before I actually set foot in the famous city of lights. It’s not just U2 saying it. It is the original city that never sleeps.
But some things followed me here too that I had never thought I’d have to reckon with in a city as big as this or a culture as diverse. My status as a married resident in a crowd of unmarried and unsuccessfully dating residents was always mentioned. Even in a place where all I should’ve been known as was a doctor, a resident, a learner, a teacher, a healer, a colleague, men referred to me largely as Adnan which is my husband’s name and now my legal married last name and women asked me how I scored a husband.
For those reading it and have a habit of asking social questions as a way to break the ice with female colleagues! Don’t do it! We don’t like it.
Soon however I started being known as another descriptor which was that of a mother. I didn’t have much hand in it so being constantly revered as the woman who did it all started to wear on me. I developed a deep imposter syndrome. I knew I had tons of help at home and so when people asked me how I did it, I couldn’t say much because I didn’t want to lose the reverence. It got old fast. Residency tires the best of us. It exhausted me too. Then my secret was out. Then everyone found out that I had a nanny and a night nanny and one of them lived with us. They stopped revering me for unclear reasons but because the beginning had been just as ambivalent, I didn’t care. There is a cultural reverence to women who really mother over women who give birth. Another heteronormative BS that I’ve had to deal with so I dealt with it.
I continued to glide through life with an ambivalence of my own towards people who considered my gender and its normative perceptions more important than who I was as a person. It irked me but it got old too. I realized that if I didn’t take care of myself as the weaker, less and sub gender I’d get into trouble. I had to remind myself at every bend that I was a woman and things weren’t the same for me. That I was a mother and even though only 28 years old, people expected me to act like a woman who had seen something of the world. This constant fear and expectation took my carefree love of the life that I had created after a lot of hard work. My ambivalence revealed itself to be a form of successfully-employed defense mechanisms, the chief being repression.
Many of my colleagues got harassed. In broad day light. By men they were dating. By men they were friends with. In situations which had been weirdly safe for me by some weird form of Darwin’s natural selection. But they got harassed.
My mother-in-law heard of my friends’ troubles with harassment and infidelity in relationships, their breakups and the blatant parading of their ex’s current significant other. She listened and always said, “You are so wise to not go out to the train station. Why don’t these girls take a cab?” Resident salary and a daily cab to work? Some people will politely disagree. Some burned out residents will laugh out loud.
I didn’t tell her because she really thought that these women invited it and she thought I was the little shrouded angel that she had chosen from a line of eligible girls for her cherubic son. I didn’t tell her that I had been asked out, groped, touched inappropriately, flirted with without my consent, and even propositioned by men who knew I was married because they wanted a woman “with no expectation besides a physical relationship “.
Being harassed is such a minor, non occurrence in my life that I don’t usually mention it. I have been conditioned into thinking that a woman has to contend with it in some way. Some people might even suggest that I should be happy about it. Some would even recommend ways to be more efficient about warding off the wandering eye, the inching hand, the leer, the being followed by a man after work.
I’ve tried all their recommendations and still got sexually harassed. In a world where my mere existence is enough to turn men on, I have tried a lot. Most men backed off. Some went on until I changed tacks.
Some people try to equate rape with other forms of harassment. Rape, however, is different. Rape is a very different form of sexual harassment and is a crime. It has a lot of power play involved. It is not something that can be likened to cat-calling or inappropriate touching.
But cat-calling, touching without consent, pursuing a woman when she has explicitly shown no interest in a man do lead to the RAPE CULTURE. A man recently called it a buzz word. It is a word that’s buzzing these days, I agreed with him. Go read up on it, I advised.
Rape culture starts with heteronormativity. It starts with stereotyping, with the way women are perceived as sexual objects. But not just that! The way they are perceived as objects to satiate a man. And how they are always viewed as the inferior gender.
So this is why every man who touches a woman in a public transport without her consent is a sex offender. Every man who followed my friends without their consent was committing a crime. And even though they did that, they were following a culture that was set by their forefathers by not necessarily touching or cat-calling but by other means. Like insulting wives in company, sleeping with a woman under false pretenses, taking advantage of women’s subpar financial acumen, by targeting women as their victims because they perceived them as weaker.
When we talk about hanging rapists or castrating them, we are ignoring the culture and focusing on the people. But people can very well run a culture they have created even in their death. That’s important to remember. That rape is a culture. It’s not a simple crime that can have impulsive punishments. Unless we speak about ways to restore justice to the victim, we cannot have the crime and the criminal come full circle. Until then, we can’t break the ideology that drives rape.
Unless we break the culture of toxic masculinity, obsession with heteronormativity, marital rape, lack of justice to rape victims, forced marriages, our worship of virginity, no man or woman would be able to walk off the beaten path where they change the culture. No woman will ask for justice and so will walk the path that her sisters have before her to share the feeling of some normalcy and identifiability. No man will call out the culture to enjoy the same identifiability with his fraternity. And so, we will continue to walk the same path calling feminists names who insist on walking off the beaten track.