Partha Protim Barua
A man writing about women seems like an odd choice. After all, men can’t really comprehend what struggle a woman goes through. To understand somebody’s struggle, we have to be in their positions; otherwise, we are just guessing at what that struggle is. Men can’t always realise the true struggle a woman faces when she simply walks the street, the struggles she has to face at home from her own family.
Just because men can’t fully experience a women’s struggle doesn’t mean they can’t acknowledge it or understand it to a certain degree. To do something like that, we need to learn about women’s issues — that is where we fail.
For example, periods are something that most boys don’t really know anything about. To them, it’s kind of a funny or embarrassing thing that a girl goes through. As a boy, I used to watch sanitary napkin advertisements and wonder what they were for. My mother used to change the channel when those ads came on. So naturally, I assumed it was something embarrassing. I didn’t have a sister, so the only other information I got was from my school friends. And to them, it was just that time when girls got all cranky. We can’t really blame them. Nobody taught those boys anything about it and it should have come from the family.
I eventually educated myself about periods when I got into university. The idea that periods are such embarrassing and nasty things gets imprinted on young boys so deeply that they still carry those same ideas as they grow old. Even if they learn about its importance, many still find it embarrassing and something to be ashamed of. Their mothers could have taught them about it but they didn’t because their own mothers believed it to be a shameful affair.
One of my private students is a girl and during the month of Ramadan, she fasts every day. One day, I went to teach her and suddenly, she drank water in front of me. Naturally, I asked her if she wasn’t fasting that day. She didn’t say anything. Her mother, who was walking by, was quite angry at this. The next day, she told me that her mother had gotten angry at her the day before because she drank water in front of me. The reason was that she was on her period and the fact that I saw her drinking water meant that I could “guess” she was on her period; as if even that was somehow embarrassing. What was worse was that her mother woke her up for seheri and fed her so that her own brother wouldn’t find out about her periods.
We can’t really blame anybody solely for this. Our mothers fail to teach us because of their pre-established notions and us men also don’t care to learn. That can change now. Girls are becoming more aware of their own worth, and men have the opportunity to learn about it. Unfortunately, many men feel uncomfortable and are sometimes afraid of women becoming self-dependent. Because deep down, they still carry notions of the traditional role of women. That is why women still get blamed for rape and harassment because they simply “went out” or wore clothes that “asked for it”. It isn’t just men, but also women who carry these beliefs.
Because of our established ideas about “what women should be”, our efforts to learn about women are greatly limited. After all, if we believed that women faced so much harassment because they broke traditional roles by going out, we could never comprehend our own guilt in perpetuating a society that stares them down lustfully as they walk by on the road.
That’s why people still somehow justify something like rape and blame it on the women in our society. We can never learn of the struggles of women if we strongly hold onto our pre-established beliefs. That’s why we need to keep an open mind and be willing to learn. Women also need to be more courageous and share their issues with the men in their lives. That’s how men can learn about women. It may be a slow process, but all of us should try from our own positions.