Don’t Blush, Baby.
In 2016 there was an incident where during a cricket match a West Indian Cricketer used a sleazy line on an Australian sports reporter, asking her on a date during an interview, and when she awkwardly declined on live television, in an attempt to salvage his pride, he pulled out the following line – “don’t blush, baby”. Fortunately there was rightful hue and cry amongst an array of different societal stakeholders, however in an effort to display their typical Australian machismo, many Australians (mostly men) passed this off as friendly banter. I have to admit that up till 3 years ago, I would have also been guilty as charged, but there have been recent instances, which made me truly understand and empathize with the reporter.
3 years ago, I returned to Pakistan to join the development sector. This allowed me be part of social interventions in a host of different areas, working on gender equity projects, as well as on projects in other sectors which had a gender mainstreaming component involved. In short, this meant working alongside a lot of females. Within this context, there have been two distinct sorts of experiences I have had: the Rural Experience and the Urban Experience.
The Rural Experience: I have administered/facilitated research in different settings in rural areas of Pakistan, with an abundance of females as stakeholders. Throughout this process, there have been multiple instances I have felt incredible discomfort. From females aged 12 to 18, I have experienced blushes, giggles, whispers and most of all; ogling. At times I have felt like I have been undressed with their eyes, and would be spoken about during communal gossip sessions, the main social lubricant for females in rural areas. The whole situation made me extremely uncomfortable.
The Urban Experience: I have administered/facilitated the same research in the urban setting, and the results have been similar, though more subtle and nuanced. Quick glances, persistent flirting and other behavior not fit for a professional environment have been unfortunate parts of the research process.
In both situations, the nuances might be different, but the underlying symptoms remain the same; exposure. In the rural setting, these females don’t get to see a city boy in western clothes on a regular basis, leave alone interacting with him directly. For urban women, it’s more common, however evidently not common enough for them to not take certain liberties.
In both situations, more so than the incredible discomfort I felt, there was an overwhelming feeling of disappointment. Instead of engaging with me on a mental level, these females chose to stare at my face, and more so, at my body, the frame of which is more evidently visible in a shirt and pants as opposed to the traditional shalwar kameez. Being objectified so openly and unashamedly was an unnerving experience, which made me realize what a plethora of women go through on a daily basis. I even began to understand why many women in Pakistan take the hijab/niqab – not for religious reasons, but simply not to attract the sort of behavior I experienced.
As a TCK male growing up in Australia, I had never experienced such objectification and didn’t even stop to consider it a possibility. It seemed too distant and unfathomable. But exposure has no gender, so I was wrong to expect women to be held to a higher standard.
If the West Indian cricketer had made an effort to engage with the news reporter on a mental level, he may have realized that she was more than just a pretty face, in fact the pretty face was an addition to her sports reporting capabilities. Maybe he thought sports journalism was a male domain and that females were there to look pretty, smile and nod along, so he should take advantage of that. Whatever the true intent, I distinctly recall that when the sports reporter blushed on live television, I remembered how I blushed in front of all those females during my field research.