Only with the designated boundaries intact can the sanctity of individuals be ensured
When award winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy expressed outrage on social media at her sister’s doctor for misusing her personal information and sending her a friend request on Facebook, Pakistanis were upset – not over the breach of privacy or harassment of the woman in question, but because a ‘poor doctor lost his job’ and over the ‘fuss’ created by the ‘influential filmmaker’. Tit for tat, they expressed their outrage on the same medium – the social media
The debate on our social media should not have been revolving around the topic that why did Sharmeen ‘overreact’ and who gave her a befitting reply and that it was just an innocent, harmless, ordinary Facebook request. The discussions should have reminded the medics of our country that when they are trained to be medical practitioners, often in co-ed environments, they are very frequent exposed to the human body and it’s functioning
As a Pakistani woman, I am used to cat calling on the street, obnoxious phone calls, male shopkeepers and taxi drivers making unnecessary and lengthy conversations – and receiving anonymous Facebook friendship requests. I have been raised, or rather programmed to believe, that the lust of man is insatiable, men are born horny or tharki in common language, women are the fairer yet weaker sex and it is up to them how they earn respect in society and guard it. Since men are incurable, women have to be careful in their attire, mannerism, use of language, verbal communication, probably even the way they breathe. Hence despite us entering the twenty first century and making waves in many areas, the common belief is that a woman who bares a fraction of her body parts, paints her lips bright, likes male company, laughs out loud, puffs a cigarette has a loose character. And if a man acts indecently with her, the reaction is – she deserved it.
But while Pakistani society is starting to show some signs of forced maturity and incidents of rape and allegations of sexual harassment are beginning to get considered, gender discrimination and harassment is still high and needs to be battled with. People fail to understand the true meaning and broad spectrum this term offers and any allegation beyond the accepted and known definition is met with doubt, criticism and controversy.
When award winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy expressed outrage on social media at her sister’s doctor for misusing her personal information and sending her a friend request on Facebook, Pakistanis were upset – not over the breach of privacy or harassment of the woman in question, but because a ‘poor doctor lost his job’ and over the ‘fuss’ created by the ‘influential filmmaker’. Tit for tat, they expressed their outrage on the same medium – the social media.
The trouble is that we are all wrapped in literal translations of terms. We fail to understand the context or real meaning of a word or phrase and stick to bookish or generally accepted explanations. This is a result of generations of schooling based on only text books and rare occasions of experimentations, debates and analyses. Sexual harassment is bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favours. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. But harassment can come in different forms. While making unnecessary and inappropriate physical contact like a male coworker sitting too close or trying to touch a part of body of a female coworker, verbally hinting and making statements about physical appearances to the extent of making the other uncomfortable are obvious examples of harassment, any form of intimate communication made by a person not known or not having any close interaction with the other can be understood as part of harassment. The simplest explanation would be: a man totally unknown or at least not having any social terms makes contact with a woman, whether in person or through written contact and expresses desire to get to know the woman. The two persons may not be properly introduced to each other earlier or maybe in brief contact for professional or some other reason. This sudden breach of privacy makes the woman uncomfortable and raises questions in her mind to know the real purpose behind the man’s request. This feeling of uncomfortableness is proof enough for the case to be defined as one of sexual harassment – and this is exactly what happened with the sister of Sharmeen Obaid.
Pakistani actress Ushna Shah came forward in defence of Sharmeen in a lengthy Facebook post, the actress shared her belief that the doctor had broken the confidence of his patient by sending Sharmeen’s sister a Facebook friend request. “When a woman goes to a male doctor, especially in Pakistan — she is blindly trusting and hoping against hope that when he is examining her, her body is simply a medical subject. She is a patient and he is looking at her, touching her, speaking to her as if she is a patient and nothing more,” she wrote. “There is a filter on his eyes set by his years in med-school. When he goes out of his way to look her up, that filter is broken. He wants to know her as a person, as a woman. Which MEANS, when he touched her and examined her, she wasn’t a patient, she was a woman and she did NOT sign up for that,” She went on to share her own experience of harassment at the hand of an endocrinologist and a physiotherapist.
The debate on our social media should not have been revolving around the topic that why did Sharmeen ‘overreact’ and who gave her a befitting reply and that it was just an innocent, harmless, ordinary Facebook request. The discussions should have reminded the medics of our country that when they are trained to be medical practitioners, often in co-ed environments, they are very frequent exposed to the human body and it’s functioning. And the objective is, as Ushna pointed out, that the human body is a medical subject and should be dealt with in only that way. When a male doctor diagnoses a female patient with a pretty face, he is not at all free to approach her socially. Wherever the woman meets him, whether in a clinic or in a bazaar or even in a social gathering, she looks up to him as her doctor and expects him to look at her as his patient. If people were free to approach others with friendship requests in all situations, there would be no professional boundaries. Teachers would be commenting on family pictures of their students, bankers would be calling their clients beyond office hours for a chat, tailors would naughtily tease ladies on their gaining or losing weight and doctors would be more interested in a patient’s Facebook posts than her medical performance.
So, my dear Pakistanis, let us look at the situation from a fresher perspective. Let’s not jump to conclusions. Let us ask each other meaningful and learned questions that how social media is taking over our minds and professionals in various fields are compromising their works for staying up to date or rather, upbeat. More importantly, while a doctor should be questioned on his conduct with his patient, did he deserve to lose his job as a result of unprofessional behaviour or should he have been dealt in some other way? Was the complaint given importance only because the complainant was influential and well known? Are more such incidents taking place which we are unaware of and which go unheard? Do we need an educating campaign in our country which like the #Me too movement, not only encourages harassed victims to share their stories but to explain in what situations this term can be applied?
While we take pride in keeping ourselves abreast with the world in terms of technological innovations, we may still have a long way to go to learn their proper usage. Using social media does not mean that we forget our basic manners and cultural values – a necessity as much for males as for females. A counselling session, a beauty treatment, a legal advice, a financial transaction and a medical checkup are not justifications for social contact. Only with the designated boundaries intact can the sanctity of individuals be ensured.