“Keep your eyes down,” girls the world over are taught. If you don’t, bad things can happen, and it will be your fault. A woman with a will of her own is abnormal to some; this is the world we have created.
In Lahore, which is not a village hidden behind mango trees but a big city in Pakistan, a three-months-pregnant woman is stoned to death outside the High Court for marrying a man of her choice. Her father and brothers bashed her head in because she is a woman who disobeyed them — a woman who did not submissively accept their decisions, but who went to court to testify that she had married of her own volition. In other words, she was a woman who believed she had the human right to justice, and to her own life.
In Atlanta, which is not a rural backwater hidden behind magnolia trees but a big city in America, two women on the MARTA train are beaten, and one is stripped. They are transgender women, harassed and manhandled for disobeying the men who were ordering them to show themselves so they could prove if they were “real women” or not.
“Stop it,” the women initially kept saying, but the men did not stop. These were women who believed they had the human right to get on public transportation and get off at their destination without any trouble, because they have the right to live their lives.
Of course, when a man’s “honor” is challenged, all bets are off. In Lahore, the woman dishonored the men in her family by showing up at court and acting on her belief that she was her own person. They showed her who’s boss.
In Atlanta, one of the women had dishonored one of her attackers by listing her achievements — which, I suppose, she hoped would make him respect her, or at the very least leave her alone. She reportedly said, “I got a house, a car, everything. What you got?” The man got upset at being questioned, being asked to show his goods. And he got furious fast; he kicked her, an act inviting a free-for-all which resulted in one woman stripped, naked, down.
The message on both continents is Do Not Challenge A Man’s Honor, for male honor is not restricted to certain parts of the world. When a man’s honor is challenged, it doesn’t matter in which world he is lording it up — any threat must be eliminated to restore his lost pride. A disobedient woman in Lahore or a transgender women in Atlanta: both stepped out of place, out of line, out of bounds; this must not be done. But then, women are not considered human. In Lahore, the woman is the property of her father and brothers. In Atlanta, the trans women are freaks who are expected to put on a show, a spectacle.
A public space, a crowd, the home we call a society — it affords no safety. These women could have been murdered in a dead-end alley for all the good that came from having onlookers. In Lahore, people watched and turned away. The police did not intervene, as it was a routine domestic matter between father/daughter and brothers/sister. In Atlanta, people watched, using cell phones to record the ordeal. A woman’s ordeal is entertainment; her honor just a shame.
There is a woman on a train, her clothes ripped off, naked on the dirty floor of a train, lying still, waiting — for more, perhaps, before it finally ends, and she can put her clothes back on, while another woman stands nearby and wipes tears and sniffles. There is a woman on a dusty potholed road outside a courthouse, a busy road in the clear light of day, crumpled up, fallen, her head cracked open, dead. Nobody helps. Perhaps the onlookers feel helpless. Perhaps they don’t care.
In Pakistan, a woman from a certain economic strata standing up for love is a dangerous creature. In America, a trans woman in the wrong place at the wrong time is the same. Both are eyed with curiosity and, if they dare return the gaze, curiosity quickly turns to hostility, which then erupts into madness and mayhem. “Keep your eyes down,” girls the world over are taught. If you don’t, bad things can happen, and it will be your fault. A woman with a will of her own is abnormal to some; this is the world we have created.
When it comes to gender, disrespect, and dishonor, the world is not a sanctuary. In Sudan, a woman believed to be Muslim can be hanged because her marriage to a Christian is considered illegitimate and, therefore, their relationship adulterous. In America, a Jewish woman struggles away two years of her life because her husband refuses to sign a “ghet,” the legal document without which Jewish law will not recognize her divorce and subsequently she will not be able to remarry and move on.
In India, two Hindu-Dalit girls are raped; then they either hang themselves or are lynched by others. Whether they took their lives or their lives were taken away from them, the end result is the same: two girls are dead.
In Nigeria, close to 300 girls — Muslim and Christian — have been abducted for the sexual pleasure of guerrillas.
In Thailand, Colombia, Russia, China, in too many countries to name, tourism is synonymous with the sex trade and trafficking. And in California, a man from an affluent background goes on a murderous rampage, successfully kills two women, and injures many others. Their crime? Too good-looking and unlikely to have sex with the likes of him. By not bowing before his demands, they’d dishonored him. The payment for restoring his honor was their lives. As he says, in a nutshell: “Feminism is evil.”
It is a view shared all over the world. Women are just women are just women are just women and, if they misbehave, they must pay, via honor killings or honor humiliations. Perhaps in Pakistan no justice will be meted out, whereas in America, justice may see its eventual day in court, but I wonder how much difference it will make.
To be a Pakistani-American lately has been rough. Here and there don’t seem so different after all. That part of the world versus this part of the world, an “uncivilized” people versus a civilized people, tribal laws versus constitutional laws, East versus West— I’ve heard every variant of this dichotomy. But these past few days have been a cruel reminder that, no matter where they happen, when it comes to honor killings, honor humiliations, hating and hurting women, there is no third world or first world — there is only One World, and it sucks.