A professor's sexist view belies Begum Rokeya's dream
The concept of women avoiding any form of sexual abuse if they dress ‘conservatively’ has been around for ages. The fundamental idea is that women should not expose their skin to attract men’s gaze
During a workshop for women journalists, a professor suggested certain things that sounded absurd. He suggested that women should refrain from wearing expensive jewelry and going out when their hair is wet. Why? Because these simple daily acts highlight a women's sexuality and can encourage predatory behavior in men.
The workshop, which was held in Kurigram, was conducted by Professor Dr Nazrul Islam of the journalism department at Begum Rokeya University.
There, he spoke about measures women can adopt to safeguard themselves from possible sexual offenders.
Wear flat sandals
You're being sexually abused. You're wearing flats. What do you do? You run.
Why? Because it's easier to run in flats. And why would a woman run? Because that's what women do. They run away from issues that concern them, apparently.
Speaking from the lifelong experience of being a woman, a woman wears flats solely because they are comfortable, as opposed to heels.
The best a woman can do in a situation where she's being sexually harassed while wearing flats is to take them off and use them to beat the daylights out of the abuser.
Still, I leave a question for my readers: How can wearing flats actively help women avoid sexual harassment?
Using marriage as a shield
Because a woman will not be subjected to sexual violence if she is married?
The term for an abuse of this category is domestic abuse - which is an everyday occurrence in many households of the country.
Statistics collected by the Bangladesh Statistics Bureau reveal that 51.8 percent of rural women and 48.5 percent of urban women outside of city corporation areas in Bangladesh have experienced physical or sexual harassment in their lifetime from their partners.
It seems Dr Nazrul, despite being a teacher of journalism, failed to educate himself on the fact that a woman being married does not guarantee her safety from abuse by her husband, in-laws, relatives, friends, or even outsiders.
Refrain from wearing expensive jewelry
Why? I wish I had an explanation. Hence, trying to understand why donning expensive jewelry will result in a woman getting sexually abused is beyond me.
If anything, this can lead to the woman being robbed, critically injured, or even being killed.
With all my knowledge of the topic, I still cannot figure out a single way how not wearing expensive jewelry can save a woman from being sexually abused.
Don't go out while hair is still wet
In a few religions, women are told to cover their heads as hair can arouse sexual desire in a man.
In many cultures, wet hair is considered to be an expression of sexual desire, as explained by Dr Nazrul.
This, however, is the first time I have heard that wet hair can be a reason for sexual abuse.
The portrayal of wet hair in Bangladesh can only be observed as a depiction of romance in advertisements for hair oils and shampoos. But such advertisements portray feelings of consensual love and romance. I'm guessing Dr Nazrul adopted this idea of his by bending these advertisements to suit his own agenda.
Donning low hanging neck pieces
Again, Dr Nazrul seems to have a personal issue with women and jewelry. This is the second time he has warned us against the use of jewelry.
In his presentation, he explained why low-hanging jewelry should be avoided as it can be easily snatched away – a situation that indicates the woman getting robbed, not sexually abused or being saved from it anyhow. Unless, the professor has another definition of sexual harassment.
Wear a bulletproof vest
This absurd advice would probably come handy if sexual abuse meant shooting a woman with a gun from a distant or close range. But this is not what sexual harassment can be defined as.
This measure, like the one above, does not make sense and neither does it help to prevent a woman from being sexually assaulted.
Apart from the above mentioned safety measures against sexual harassment, "Cover your head and wear clothes that cover you fully" were two of the many advises given by Dr Nazrul.
In Bangladesh, children as young as 8 months old are sexually abused. Which, if any, of the professor's advice have saved toddlers from being sexually abused?
A few years ago, a girl named Tonu was gang raped and murdered in the cantonment area of the Cumilla. She donned a hijab, and wore clothes that fully covered her from head to toe. Yet, she could not escape the hungry clutches of those 'men' who did not hesitate for a second to tear her to pieces and devour her flesh until she ceased to exist.
In April this year, Nusrat, a student of a madrasa in Feni, was brutally murdered by being set on fire on the instructions of the former principal of the madrasa. She died at Dhaka Medical College and Hospital 4 days later with over 80% body burns.
Like Tonu, she wore a hijab, with a burkha, and studied religion. She did not leave any part of her body uncovered. She was still sexually taken advantage of, and murdered when she reported the sexual assault to the authorities.
"Female journalists need to be conservative in their choice of clothing. It is safe for a woman journalist to wear long and loosely shaped dresses, a scarf over her head, and a thick belt over her pants to secure it tightly," because, according to the professor, short or casual clothing, wearing a necklace, shaking a man's hand, laughing out loud or smoking and consuming alcohol can be considered an act of indecency by the female-kind.
Dr Nazrul then proceeded to speak a few words on the importance of having a man accompany a woman journalist to look after and protect her during a reporting assignment.
If I, as a journalist, had to go on an assignment outside the office, I too would have to take a man with me for my protection - because I'm a woman and I'm too weak to protect myself from danger.
"Most women think they are not qualified to work outside of home. Most women think they cannot take risks. Most women think they can decorate themselves and look beautiful. So they spend their time in beautifying themselves. Men want women to look beautiful. Women want that too," Dr Nazrul said in response to one of the participant's questions.
Therefore, in order to not get sexually harassed, it is up to a woman to not entice a man in a way that provokes him sexually.
Men like Dr Nazrul will never admit that the real reasons for sexual abuse can be factors such as toxic and fragile masculinity, patriarchy, misogyny, chauvinism, among others.
Men of this caliber will deny that they condone such attitudes, and instead they will look for reasons which have something to do with women either covering themselves up, or keeping a man for safety's sake with her at all times.
The unfortunate fact is that Dr Nazrul is not the only one who thinks dealing with sexual harassment is as easy as typing down six points on a presentation slide. He is just one of the many men in Bangladesh who think sexual harassment of women can be prevented if a woman keeps herself bound up in layers of clothes while hiding behind a man.
Patriarchy and misogyny are so deeply embedded in such men that no educational qualification, even a doctorate, can extract this poison from them. It is far better not have such professors at all than to have ones who possess a crude perspective on social issues that are ingrained in the social system and in people's brains, and are regurgitated back into the system - a cycle that is not easy to stop.