To anyone who has ever spent time around Shaheen and I, it is very apparent that we disagree on almost everything. At times, we have to keep reminding ourselves why we like each other. I have always been her biggest critique and I know, she will always be mine. This is why I am dedicating this post to defending her recently published article on CNN. When I first sat down to read it, I was prepared to call her and argue this out with her. I was ready to disagree with her at some point in this article, but that point never came. All I could feel was a sense of pride (at my uncanny ability to pick amazing best friends) and a sense of liberation. Liberation at the thought that there were others who didn’t react to Michella’s article with the same sympathy and outrage as everyone around us.
The idea that her article comes from a place of patriotism and blind nationalism (the idea that Shaheen felt like she had to somehow defend India at all cost) is unfounded and presumptuous. Nowhere in the article does she seek to undermine what Michella experienced and/or to disprove the events that took place. In fact, she was deeply apologetic of these experiences (not because she is Indian, but because she is a woman). She acknowledges that sexual harassment (in any community) is a traumatic experience.
Her article does not draw parallels between situations or arrive at any conclusions. Never once does she weigh what she experienced in Paris to what Michella went through in India. Instead, what she does is force us to think a little harder and a little deeper about what sexual harassment really means to women everywhere! It also forces us to think about what it means to be exotic in a foreign land. Yes, women who travel from the west to the east may experience sexual harassment differently to those who travel from the east to the west. But, the fact of the matter is that it’s not because ‘brown men are sexually deprived and white men are sexually hyper’. The pillage of women’s bodies around the world has a far deeper explanation than ‘men are sexually deprived’. It extends to a conversation about power and control, about social learning and subliminal messaging. If rape were a matter of sexual deprivation, it would have been solved a long time ago.
And this is what Shaheen’s article begs us to think about. It begs us to understand the orientalist attitudes that have governed our thought process for most of the last century! Begs us to defy these attitudes and to think about how ‘coloured’ our notions of sex and sexuality are!
I am a brown woman who grew up in a brown community her whole life. I have experienced things Michella experienced. Those experiences scarred me. And then three years ago I moved to the West and experienced a different kind of sexual harassment; but it was sexual harassment nonetheless. And they have scarred me too! I can never weigh these incidences against each other and talk about which was worse; which was scarier. They were all scary. They were all the same. Because in one way or another, whether you are physically harassing me or mentally harassing me -whether you are masturbating at me or forcefully grinding up against me at a Frat house – that experience will stay with me all the same.
So I would urge everyone to just re-read her article. Think about it a little and then hopefully this conversation can turn into something more productive. Like why aren’t sexual harassment laws stronger ALL OVER THE WORLD? And why aren’t we ALL engaged in a more aggressive fight against it?