I was at the tailor's the other day. He had to take measurements, and yet again, his hands were where they shouldn’t have been. They always were, but with my mother not around, I could feel every touch on my body. I walked out wondering why he felt like he could. Maybe I should’ve panicked. I should’ve screamed and said, "What are you doing?”
But I was silent. I had told myself it's a part of life as a woman. Maybe I look like someone he could take advantage of. Maybe it’s not his fault that he feels entitled. Maybe it’s.. me.
Is it me?
I told my mother later that day, “If this man was bad at his job, he’d be in jail for molestation already.” She shrugged and told me it’s who he is. She asked me why I couldn’t find another tailor. "Not everyone can stitch well for fat people with slender shoulders. This one does," I shrugged.
So I have no choice. Maybe if my body was different, I could avoid this. Or maybe it’s because I’m fat and have big boobs, so he feels the need to...touch them?
Is it me?
But this wasn’t the only man. If I had to list down similar experiences, I could go on forever.
Like the guy in the flower market who casually pressed himself to my back and I blamed myself for shopping when it’s crowded.
The old man at a temple who casually touched my butt and I cursed myself for not knowing it’s a mistake and thinking bad of an aged person.
The married man on my right running his hands along my legs when his wife was sitting to my left and I knew I shouldn’t have worn those shorts on a Saturday night.
Oh! How could I forget the man who pressed my boobs flat while he walked past me making me shiver with disgust for days. I shouldn’t have worn that damned kurti when I knew it was a little tight.
If so many men felt so comfortable over a decade, it couldn’t have always been them.
It is me, isn’t it?
But then I remembered the man who asked me to kiss him when he thought I was alone. I was 12. I wore a middle school uniform and ran for my life. That wasn’t me. I didn’t know men could behave like that. I didn’t have big boobs, neither did I wear tight clothes, and no, it wasn’t an accident.
I suddenly realized I was wrong. When I answered my mother’s question, I was wrong. I was focusing on the wrong part of what she’d said. When she’d asked me why I still went to this man when I knew he was like that, I shouldn’t have given her a reason. I should have asked her why he was forgiven.
Why have we accepted the fact that he is who he is and come to terms with it? Why are our questions always turned towards the victim and not the perpetrator?
Why did you wear that dress?
Why did you go out that night?
Why did you smile at him?
Why didn’t you ask for help?
Why didn’t you scream at him?
Why did you?
Why did I what?
Wear a dress I’d loved and bought with the money I worked hard for?
Go out of my house to unwind after a long day with friends who just wanted a fun night out?
Smile at a stranger who was older than my father out of courtesy because I was taught to be kind to people?
Scream at a man who was invading my private space in a very disturbing manner knowing he could kill me and my government will say it's my fault?
Why did you?
Why did you raise a son who thought he could have it all?
Why did you tell him he can abuse me and walk away because it’s his birthright to be an asshole?
Why did you shame the girl who talked about it instead of applauding her for being brave enough to relive that experience over and over again with every word she spoke?
It’s not me. It’s you.
You are the reason I had to walk away silently.
You are the reason his wandering hands and his filthy mind are forgiven.
You are the reason I still feel unsure writing about my experience.
Because what if they read? All those men who have grazed and touched me like I belong to them just because I’m walking past them. They’ve made me feel used and worthless. What if the man I will someday marry reads this?
Because YOU have taught and preached to him that a woman is only good if she is pure and untouched. But what about me?
No, you don’t have to answer me. I’m nobody to you. But your daughter, your wife, your best friend, your future family will need to know why, you, in your need to make your son feel important and manly, tarnished her safety and way of life.
Will you tell her it’s her fault?
Will you tell her she should’ve known better?
When she asks you, “Is it me?”
Will you still say “Yes?” Or hang your head in shame?
Because we both know, it’s not her.
It’s not ME.