As much as our nation is known for its deep cultural roots and the admirable qualities and values of its citizens, in recent times there has been a drastic decline in politeness, speech etiquette and respect towards women. Whenever I listen to my parents reminisce of their youth and the society of that time, I constantly have to keep reminding myself that they are speaking of the same country.
Due to this decline, many young women are afraid to admit that they have been victims since the word “abuse” carries serious weight with it. Sadly, almost all young Sri Lankan women have faced some form of verbal abuse.
About a month ago, I was walking along the sidewalk for about twenty feet until I reached a certain bookshop. My main goal was to enter the bookshop, but I was caught off-guard by the number of men who were leering and making lewd comments at me. The vulnerability that I experienced in that particular moment crippled my ability to think clearly, but at the same time I felt the adrenaline rise and my defensive instincts kick in. Most of the men who leered were middle-aged, while those who boldly ventured to catcall were relatively younger. The most unfortunate part about this incident was that there was a police officer standing a couple of feet away who noticed the commotion but decided to ignore it by staring passively in the opposite direction.
Once I entered the bookshop, I assessed the entire situation in my mind. I wanted to make sense of what had just happened mere seconds ago. I was trying to pin the blame on myself for the incident, but I could not for the life of me figure out how I had triggered it. I was dressed very modestly and appropriately and all I did was just walk without even making eye contact with anyone around me. What I realized a couple of minutes later is that their bad behaviour was not my fault, and therefore I did not have to condone it.
To all of you young ladies reading today’s column, please know that we are not responsible for the various vulgar temperaments of the opposite gender. Instead of trying to smooth things over by blaming ourselves, we have to nip the issue at the bud by taking some sort of immediate action before the culprits escape with another victory.
Once I made my purchase, I strode out of the shop and confronted the first person who had verbally embarrassed me. I inquired as to why he said what he did and ended up showing him the severity of what he said. I was even able to get a sincere sounding apology out of him!
It is difficult for us as women to stand up to verbal abuses due to the nature of the place we’re at or the attitude of those around us. However, just bowing and submitting to such behaviour could prove to be more harmful in the long run, for those who are at fault will gather steam and forge ahead with their verbal assaults continuously. Perhaps that single word of wisdom we say in a single moment could stop a perpetrator from carrying on with their verbal abuses for a lifetime!