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Just yesterday, I went to a little corner store near my apartment, where I often pick up a few groceries. It was fairly empty, and I had to go into the back, which is around a corner and well out of sight of the front, where the lady at the cash register was. A man came and stood very close to me, and I walked away a bit. (more…)
By NICK VAN der GRAAF
“…for all the moaning about Islam, the West’s cultural practices vis-à-vis women leave a lot to be desired.”
Over the last few years I have watched as the Spectre of Islamic Doom has been steadily broadcast across Western society. The result has been less than helpful, to say the least. In Europe the effects are even worse than in North America: laws have been passed either by legislative bodies or by referendum restricting what citizens can wear or even build, lest it be too ‘Islamic’ in appearance.
Whipped up by media using fear to sell more newspaper or TV advertising and accuracy be damned, the majority of the populace has approved of these measures. Sadly, they fail to see that due to the universal nature of the law, they are subject to them as well, and that ominous legal precedents have been established.
In North America it seems there is a similar popular reaction to this patently false fear-mongering, but the Constitutions of both Canada and the United States thankfully prohibit – or will eventually strike down – arbitrary laws that dictate what an individual is allowed to wear.
One of the key messages of this anti-Islam onslaught has been how terribly oppressed women are by Islam. And one only has to look at the record of say, the government of Saudi Arabia, or the ghastly former Taliban regime in Afghanistan to recoil in horror.
And you’d think that would be enough for me too. I was raised by an ardently feminist mother and all I can say is that a lot of it rubbed off on me. For more than 20 years now I’ve been a pro-choice activist, and I hope most of my women friends can say I’ve treated them with the normal respect any human being deserves.
“…if I walk into my local Blockbuster right now, I can rent any one of over 200 movies which feature young women being raped, stabbed, shot, beheaded, torn in two, crushed, chopped up, eaten, burnt alive and eviscerated. For entertainment purposes.”
But this message about Islam oppressing women just doesn’t cut it for me. While I concede that Islam treats women like second-class citizens, so do nearly all religions. The other Abramic faiths certainly hold this in common with their younger cousin. And in many of the regions where Islam is now dominant, before it came along things were generally much worse for women; Islam was a definite step up, and it at least recognized women as full human beings precious to Allah, and deserving respect.
Of course there is more to any society than just its religion. Cultural practices and mores can persist from very ancient times, alongside and even in opposition to widely-practiced faiths (for example, female genital mutilation, which many imams oppose). I suspect the position of women in Afghanistan would not be much different if that country had remained Buddhist or become Christian along the way.
And here’s the thing; for all the moaning about Islam, the West’s cultural practices vis-à-vis women leave a lot to be desired. In France they pass coercive laws to ban the hijab, a headscarf worn in observance of the Koran’s instructions for the faithful – both men and women – to dress modestly. Yet the message to women in the West to be sexy and flirtatious is non-stop. In France, where the State threatens to forcibly strip women of their hijabs, the President’s wife is a former model, with plenty of nude pictures of her available for all to enjoy. Here in North America we see girls asking daddy for a boob-job for their 16th birthday. In the West there is freedom for all to make some degree of sexual display. But who could deny the great cultural pressure to do so as well?
Are those kinds of cultural demands any better than an obligation to cover up? And not only are women expected to be on constant display, Western society demands they play another role as well – victim. This is what I mean; if I walk into my local Blockbuster right now, I can rent any one of over 200 movies which feature young women (correction: sexy young women) being raped, stabbed, shot, beheaded, torn in two, crushed, chopped up, eaten, burnt alive and eviscerated. For entertainment purposes.
The horror movie industry, which is considered perfectly mainstream, makes fat profits feeding us images of women being murdered – again and again and again. No one is forced to see a film like that – people voluntarily hand over their money so they can have those images imprinted into their minds forever.
To me that speaks to something so profoundly misogynistic it’s hard to find the words for it. That the victims in these films are being punished for their overt sexuality (which the audience is both savouring and conflating) only reinforces the stark hate behind these images.
The easy commodification and consumption of images of torture, rape and murder seems a far worse thing than a woman wearing a hijab in public. Yes, it’s quite possible she doesn’t want to but her family is making her wear it. But it is equally possible she wears it because she is proud of her faith. Or feels naked without it. Or she wants to de-emphasize sexual attributes so men will just deal with her as a person with a brain who deserves respect.
In fact I’m not a huge fan of organized religion. I don’t have much of a spiritual sense, and if religious prophets have spoken words I heartily endorse, time and again organized religion twisted and betrayed those words. But there is no doubt in my mind that we are experiencing an alarming upsurge in public Islamophobia. Several times I’ve even been forwarded fearful e-mails claiming all Muslims are planning to kill us infidels. I can only roll my eyes at that.
That’s because I live in a thoroughly Muslim area and most of my neighbours are Pakistani or Afghan. There’s a big beautiful mosque two minutes from my door. It is clear to me, in my daily contacts with Muslims, that they are as kind, as grumpy, as open and as blinkered as anyone else walking this Earth. The constant demonization and discrimination is unacceptable. Especially not from a self-righteous society that claims to value equal rights but gets off on watching women being turned into hamburger.
Nick Van der Graaf is a writer living in Toronto, Canada. This article appeared on his blog, neodemokratia, on February 15, 2011.
The other day while returning home from the city centre on the bus (number 3 if you know it!) I was a victim of street harassment. As anyone living in a city in the UK knows at the back of a bus, on the top level, you will often find groups of young men smoking pot and playing loud irritating music from their phones. On this particular afternoon at 5pm I was walking down the bus isle to be confronted with a barrage of catcalls, starting with ‘that girls got ladders in her tights’ (maybe not overtly sexist or sexual but lets face they would never comment on a mans clothing in this way), this proceeded to more sexual comments ‘got a nice face though’ etc… This was a little intimidating and I decided to ignore them, as in this situation I felt totally powerless. However a girl in front of me on the bus starting confronting them saying ‘we’ve had to listen to you the whole journey and now your harassing a girl, a total stranger you don’t know’, this led to incredibly sexual and insulting remarks directed to her regarding her weight, sexuality, clothing from around eight young teenage boys, around the ages of 15-19. This resulted in a very loud slagging match across a busy bus. Without a doubt confronting these boys made the situation worse, and although I felt I should join her and stand up for myself I said nothing but thanked her and told her it was pointless. I did not want to face more abuse and insults, and frankly put myself in a dangerous position by starting an argument about street harassment. Immediately after this even a man behind me started to mutter things in my direction about slashing peoples faces open and how he had a gun. I feel slightly disappointed that I didn’t stand up for myself in front of these boys but this only would have given them fuel for more harassment. But unless women assert themselves how will it ever end. A catch 22.
The saddest thing about the entire experience was the fact the boys did not see anything wrong with their initial comments, saying things like ‘you don’t even know me girl, I’m not like that, I respect girls’. They did not see this as in anyway a type of sexual harassment.
I don’t have a car, so I spend a lot of time walking or riding the bus. My first memories of being honked at or yelled at while walking down the street go back to middle school, walking home in my own neighborhood. Now, I live about two blocks from a bus route I take regularly, and nearly every day I get honked at. I can’t even walk two blocks without harassment. Not as often, thank god, but often enough, men pull up next to me and want to know my name, my number, where I live, if they can give me a ride…. And every time I think, “does this ever work for you? who in their right mind would answer those kind of questions truthfully to this creepy man that pulled up next to them while they’re walking to school??” I don’t even know how many times I’ve heard “you want a ride, baby?” or “you got a boyfriend” or literally, “can I get yo numba?” from sketchy men of all ages and races trying to get in my pants.
I generally just say no to everything, and fortunately I’ve never had to really fight anyone off–some are more persistent than others but at least eventually give up. But what I’d really like to say is “f*** off” every time, but I’m afraid of inviting more trouble. I hate that I have to think about what I’m going to wear every time I have to ride the bus. I’ll get honked at anyway but it’s worse/more often when I’m wearing a dress or shorts. My economic situation and that I can’t afford a car does not give you license to sexually harass me. F*** off.
Just yesterday, I went to a little corner store near my apartment, where I often pick up a few groceries. It was fairly empty, and I had to go into the back, which is around a corner and well out of sight of the front, where the lady at the cash register was. A man came and stood very close to me, and I walked away a bit. He came very close again, and asked me if I was married. I laughed nervously and said no. He then asked if I was over 18 and what my name was. I accidentally said that I was over 18 but then pushed past him and left the store pretty fast (Also, he had been blocking my way). I wish I hadn’t answered any of his questions, and hope that in future I’ll move away as soon as I feel uncomfortable. I was back there today and saw him, and felt really unsafe. It sucks that now I will have to walk a bit farther to get food somewhere else.
For years now I have been deeply concerned by a yearly ritual verbal assault on women by a fraternity at Yale in my home town of New Haven. Every year the new pledges are gathered in front of the Women’s Center and told to chant phrases like, “No means yes, yes means anal”, “We love Yale sluts.” Imagine if you were visiting the center that day and were greeted by this. This went on for years with no repercussions for the offenders while the outrage of the Yale and local community was met with silence from the university’s administration and hostility and claims of entitlement from the offenders. You can look these instances up in the archives of The Yale Daily News as well as the New Haven Register. Though this year the university made some attempt at curtailing these behaviors, it is really too little too late. I hope this drives the point home that women are being attacked on every front. Not just in certain types of communities. In EVERY community. Please sisters… speak up and share your stories for the good of us all.
Yesterday, I was on the N Line going uptown a little before 3PM today (2:50-2:58?). I boarded on 57th and 7th. Right when I walked in I heard yelling. I had no idea what was going on, everyone in the car (it was a reasonably full car) was staring at a group of 6-7 african american teenage girls in the middle of the car.
I soon realized what was happening– after the victims that they had been yelling at had exited the car, they turned and came back in because a few of the girls were cussing them out (profanely). I saw the victims were a 20-something year old couple: an african american male and his asian girlfriend. It became evident that not only these teenagers were racist— but they saw this mixed-race couple and started an altercation, calling them names and insulting them (BOTH)– especially making fun of the asian girl’s accent.
It was a completely verbal argument, but one that could’ve easily turned physical in any other situation (example, like if the teens were boys, the victimized man may have tried physical retaliation). The victims turned back in after they taunted them after they had exited– but they couldn’t really do anything– they were visibly upset, but they did not/could not reciprocate appropriately.
I assume it was because these girls were all underage, and there was a large gang of them, even though they were just teenagers. Also, of course, there are no cops around and there’s no videocamera. There’s no accountability. Meanwhile, everyone was just staring. The girls yelled at them to get out of the car again, and as they left again, one of the girls wanted to get in the last word, she actually (opened?) the subway window and yelled the couple, “Don’t eat that Chinese p***y!!!!”. But the most terrible thing is that these teenagers liked the fight, they were laughing about the whole thing. My heart just ached for them.
When the doors closed again I realized I had walked into a bad situation– as I am acutally asian myself and I had walked to stand on the car just several feet away from them. I am pretty new to the NYC subway system (I only come in about once a month), so I had no idea what to do. Does each car have an intercom? I felt that if it did, someone on the car should’ve reported it. If the car didn’t have an intercom, it SHOULD. People need to be held accountable for their actions— especially ones of a racist nature. The only way to do that is either have a policeman/security stationed at each platform OR have live video feed OR have an intercom.
THIS was a case of second degree aggravated assault– a crime! But nothing could be done about it. The bystander effect was well in place— everyone (20 people, different races) were anxious and alert, but no one did anything. And once the aggravators have left the subway car, who knows where they will go?? And soon, all the witnesses will slowly disappear as well.
It was one of the saddest, most disturbing experiences– a car full of young racist children taunting and cussing out an older interracial couple, surrounded by passive adults. It disturbed me on such a deep level and I wondered if anyone else felt the same way. So many questions arise– how is it that 6 young girls could have so much hatred for not only another minority, but one of their own race? NYC is the most culturally diverse city in the world, isn’t it?
As I turned my back to leave for my stop near 60th & Park, one of the girls tried to throw a piece of garbage at the back of my head (completely unprovoked by me– which is why I say they must’ve provoked the prior incident). She missed, and I ignored it and I kicked it to the side. I left the car quickly, and they followed. They followed me up the stairs laughing and giggling and egging each other on to try to throw the garbage at my head again. This second time they succeeded. As my back was already turned to them, I ignored them. I keep wondering what else I could have done. What could I have said or done, if anything? As a bystander, or as a victim?
I can’t get this incident out of my head. It’s shaken me, no doubt. The MTA needs to get their act together. MTA + police need to establish rules of conduct for both victims and bystanders and a real system with subway car intercoms/live video feed/policemen at each station– an interception system for effectively catching perpetrators of crimes before leaving the subway station.
I was at the Halloween Parade in 2007 walking to my dorm alone among a large crowd of people. A man walked next to me and began eyeing my chest and making cat calls noises. He was right next to me, and since the crowd was tightly packed, he followed me until I got to my street. I ignored him and went into a store near my apartment and waited for him to go away. I was prepared to call 311 to ask an officer to drive by while I walked into my apartment building, but the man left before I got a chance to. If this happens again, I will definitely call 311. Please do the same! It is an incredibly powerful tool that costs nothing!
I am an Asian-American living abroad in Rome, Italy. One evening I got poked by an exposed penis on the bus. It occurred on a very crowded bus, where it was difficult to find room to move. Unfortunately, other harassment experiences lead me to believe he “chose” me because I am not Italian. There were no less than three Italian women within groping distance. He poked my hand several times and when I realized what he was doing, I wedged my umbrella in between him and myself. He was a persistent bastard, but his penis lost a duel with my umbrella.
I live in Mexico in the state of Morelos, I studied a computer science degree and my colleagues always bothered me for that, they would say that women can not understand anything about computers. To his misfortune I was much more, they would bother me continuously every day. Sometimes I would answer and say” I’m tired ” but I stayed strong and did not stooped to their level. What’s worse is that some teachers are equal and have come to throw me down and classifieds us as “ containers” because they believe that women have the babies and only serve containers and not anything else. Well then I hope that this site is helpful. Greetings to all and thank you very much!