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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

This is what happened when I challenged a cyberstalker

Shelina Janmohamed on the surprising reactions she received when she named and shamed an online predator

Only through exposing such behaviour can things change. Getty Images
Only through exposing such behaviour can things change. Getty Images

"Hey you! I like you! Want some fun? Oh sorry, were you busy minding your own business? Come on now, don’t be upset."

What would you do if someone yells those kind of comments at you as you walk by? For women, this is a normal part of life. In fact, most comments are much more disgusting. Even seedier are the men who pop up on the private message spheres of social media with similar comments.

This week, I’d had enough and decided to go public with one perpetrator and his comment. Zero tolerance. Name and shame. I wouldn’t stand for it on the street, and I won’t stand for it online. I want solidarity for women and for perpetrators to be held to account ... and for men to stand as our allies.

The women – without exception – cheered me on for publicising this scourge. Some men did, too. What I wasn’t prepared for were the excuses made by some men for such inappropriate behaviour or the justifications made for the comments, or suggestions that if I had acted differently, this wouldn’t have happened. Let me be clear, I did nothing. Except exist. It is these men who decide they can impose themselves uninvited.

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You don’t get such comments because you’re famous or single, have a popular social media profile or post your photo. There’s only one reason: because you’re a woman.

“But you’re pretty! If you put your photo up, what do you expect?” said one man. But that’s a red herring. Pretty has nothing to do with it. Why do you think you have the right to make comments about women? “Because men are shameless,” came the ridiculous response. This is both offensive to men – I have much better expectations of them – and a weak excuse for disgusting behaviour.

He explained that the way to avoid such comments was not to put my photo up. I’ll tell you another way: to stop being an idiot and stop making excuses for losers.

Another said, this is harmless, why don’t you just move on? But it’s not harmless to comment on an unknown woman's physical appearance, it’s part of a spectrum where men think that the purpose of existence of women is to be there to have comments thrown at them.

"Lighten up," is a constant refrain. It’s hard to have a spring in your step under the emotional burden of the constant barrage of such comments. And anyway, who are you to dictate my demeanour?

When this week’s perpetrator proceeded to video call me and expose himself, I got my husband to answer. And when berated by my husband, he uttered an expletive. But hey, I should lighten up, right? It’s harmless, isn’t it? It’s a compliment!

I received several further messages advising me in the kindliest terms that I should cover the sins of the perpetrator. But why do we make excuses for what is a significant social harm?

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Men do this because they think they can get away with it, as though women are there to receive their comments. Only when we expose such behaviour as wrong can things change.

I was even told off. Did I feel better after exposing this person?

Yes, yes I did feel much better making this public. Not just for me, but for so many women out there who suffer far worse and would like to see a public outcry about this.

Women say nothing exactly because of this shrugging of shoulders and being told to move on. I feel much better exposing it, educating people about how rife it is, and ensuring other women do not feel they have to suffer in silence.

It is demeaning and belittling to receive such repulsive, self-entitled messages. When people receive racist comments or Islamophobic comments, we don't tell them to "get on with their lives". We talk about it publicly and address it in the strongest terms. We should not expect women to just take it.

The men who perpetuate such behaviour – to quote one of them – are losers. Don’t be one. But also, don’t be someone who makes excuses for them because that makes you a loser, too. Instead, work with us to get rid of this scourge. Zero tolerance.

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