- You are, unfortunately, very wrong in your understanding, Ms Director
The nub of the story is: Does characterising this particular incident as harassment understate what molestation actually is?
We need to correct facts on urgent basis: A male sending a female a friend request DOES NOT amount to rape because rape is not something as simple as sending a friend request which could be either accepted or rejected
Defining harassment has been a tricky job since forever. Going by the rulebook, the term describes certain behaviours that may cause disturbance, are threatening in nature and are marked by repetitive nagging. The de facto situation, however, may trespass the boundaries of this definition; from a single disturbing incident by an opportunist to recurring, life-threatening situations, harassment can victimise anyone, anywhere, anytime. Describing sexual harassment is an even more complex a task as the whole concept is quite difficult to be comprehended in its entirety. Its spectrum, along with the extremities, is bleary. The fine thin line that demarcates an act of harassment from a normal one does not have well-defined coordinates; for some intentional and needless mention of taboos has no meaning while for others an unwanted gaze is enough a reason to get disturbed.
In one such peculiar case of Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and her sister, a friend request on Facebook proved to be an ordeal that resulted in the velitation the issue has now become. With one faction putting a spotlight on the protagonist of Saving Face to define what exploitation really means and the other highlighting the alleged notorious past of the doctor, with people from all quarters opining on the matter and suggesting whether or not sending a friend request qualifies as harassment, the real point at issue is being brutally disdained.
The nub of the story is: Does characterising this particular incident as harassment understate what molestation actually is? With the options of declining a ‘random’ friend request and blocking the person in case this act pesters one, could this deed, the consequence of which results from mutual consent, even match the lowest possible intensity of harassment that does not involve abc of approval from the victim’s end? How can the simple act of sending friend request to a lady who happens to be sister of an Oscar-award winner be categorised as a crime when all of us (literally all of us!) send random requests to big names irrespective of their gender and which is not deemed inappropriate at all?
Long gone are the days when fingers were pointed at victims, especially women, for misconduct of men. It is, in actuality, a story of the past when harassment was justified and said to be absolutely ‘called for’ by compulsorily mentioning harried’s attire. The fair sex is no more as fair as before. In the race of keeping abreast with men, muliebrities have formed another extreme – accusing the other sex for anything and everything that wrongs them. Yes, there are millions of accounts of men passing smiles with the intention of badgering, but not every smiler is a harasser; usually, it is given in the context of courtesy. Yes, there is no denying that many men touch women with the sole purpose of molesting them, but not every touch is harassment; it could be a mere pat on the back for encouragement, a simple stroke on the head as a gesture of appreciation, or even an honest mistake. Yes, there are black sheep among men, but not every man is a scapegrace. Yes, the overwhelming response to #MeToo campaign triggered by Alyssa Milano on social media portrays the pandemic nature of sexual harassment, but saying “Me Too” just for the sake of counting yourself among the victims is yet another level of abuse.
The chief idea promoted by male chauvinism of not giving the opposite sex any margin of error, against which feminism emerged and established itself, is now being propagated by flag-bearers of female emancipation. Even if we brush aside all doubts that exist in this extra-special case and accuse the doctor of being highly unprofessional, where in the rulebook of The Aga Khan University Hospital is stated that committing such action would cost one his job? What is meant by taking “a female patient info”? How much information is required to find someone on Facebook? One’s name, and that’s it! And if one is not open to the idea of socialising with people, Facebook has bestowed on humanity a wonderful option to customise privacy settings.
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, as explicitly stated in one of her tweets, was successful in ousting the doctor because he has “messed with the wrong women in the wrong [influential] family”, but holding this as harassment has, in reality, downplayed the harshness of what harassment factually is. It is that unwanted brief brushing on your hips when you are shopping with your family in a crowded market and are completely helpless. It is that catcall when you are with your parents and to which you choose to become deaf as you are feeble. It is that advance by a teacher which makes you feel technically deprived of all strength and courage to repay him in an apt manner, by slapping him for example.
We need to correct facts on urgent basis: A male sending a female a friend request DOES NOT amount to rape because rape is not something as simple as sending a friend request which could be either accepted or rejected; rape traumatises the victim for entire life and does not give the violated any chance of escaping it. And what was the director of Saving Face and A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness trying to imply by segmenting “fat females” from the whole lot? Are acid attacks and honour killings, like harassment, fate of only such women that delight the senses and excite physical admiration of men? You are, unfortunately, very wrong in your understanding, Ms Director. “Because they don’t like to harass fat females” is a misconception. You will not fail in finding rape victims that are fat, acid-victims, hijabi or even dead (keeping in mind the reported incidents of necrophilia in Pakistan). From the ones in burqas to those who wear ‘objectionable’ clothes, from obese women to extremely skinny ladies (including smart females like Sharmeen’s sister), from highly beautiful working women to miserable ugly chars, all have been victimised.
Woman card is a privilege; if a woman wants to be treated equal to men, she should have enough ‘balls’ to take a friend request as a friend request. Is she wants to walk with equal pace, she should not get involved in petty issues like ‘a male sending a female a friend request’. Abusing this privilege is what will result in the loss of its authenticity in genuine cases. This friend request may have disturbed Sharmeen’s sister (it definitely did!), but the needless overreaction is going to cost many ladies their right to report and seek justice for actual ones as their pleas will be seen through the same lens. So, in Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s words, “Stay safe, women need to stick together” in times when they are being deprived of this right by the powerful black sheep among women.