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The best a man can be…

By Sinem Bilen-Onabanjo
19 January 2019   |   4:00 am
When was your first time? Mine was when I was around 17 or 18. Walking down one of the busiest commercial streets and culture hubs of Istanbul with a friend, I grasped the danger in my path in the shape of a groping hand a little too late and before I knew it, there was…

When was your first time? Mine was when I was around 17 or 18.

Walking down one of the busiest commercial streets and culture hubs of Istanbul with a friend, I grasped the danger in my path in the shape of a groping hand a little too late and before I knew it, there was a hand squeezing my left breast.

It took seconds. Too quick to stop, but too long to forget. I was too mortified to speak, scream or slap the hand away. To date, I still feel the ghost of the grubby hand of that gropey pervert.

Oh, what did you think I was asking about? The first sexual harassment you were subjected to of course.

Sometimes it is the hand on your breast, or the pinch on your bum, a leg rubbing too close to yours on public transport to be explained away as manspreading.

Sometimes it is the bulge you feel on the curve of your thigh on public transport, the hot and bothering breath of a stranger on the back of your neck, fingers brushing past your leg ‘accidentally’ as you try to step aside.

Sometimes it is none of those things, but the haste in your steps as you turn into a quiet road off the main street, or the bile rising from the pit of your stomach and knotting up in a bulbous bulge at the base of your throat when you sense the man sitting just that bit too close or leaning in just that bit too much, the pin sharp rising of the baby hair on the back of your neck and shivers down your spine as you prep yourself to walk past a group of men that look too much like trouble, on edge, alert, ready for the onslaught of cat calls and verbal assault.

They may not touch, but they sure as hell will look, then run through their shopping list of “boobs, hips, ass” – verbally dissecting you into body parts floating separately of each other and a physical body holding them together.

You are no longer human – you’re just a body, arms, legs, and those all-important boobs, hips, ass.

Every woman has a story. The worst a man can get; the worst of men we see almost daily. Some of us are fortunate enough not to have encountered these men on a different occasion, like Jyoti Singh Pandey, the 23-year-old female physiotherapy intern who was beaten, gang raped, and tortured in a private bus in which she was travelling with her friend. Her death came to be known internationally as the 2012 Delhi gang rape.

Or Özgecan Aslan, the 19-year-old university student who was murdered in 2015 on a minibus in the Mersin district of Turkey, after she resisted a rape attempt by the driver and his associates.

Countless other women who you may say were at the wrong place at the wrong time but then that would be the claim made by toxic masculinity.

“It was night time,” they would say, the implicated judgement sometimes even vocalised, “What were they doing outside?” “Where was she?” they would ask. “What was she wearing?”

Even those of us ‘fortunate’ enough to avoid a macabre end, we are still either questioned or concerned about the time, place and circumstances of our encounters.

Should I have been out so late on a quiet road off the main street, we’d ask narrowly escaping sexual harassment.

I should have avoided going to that part of town, we’d blame ourselves after getting groped on public transport. Was my skirt too short, or my top too low, or my jeans too tight, we’ve asked ourselves on at least one occasion.

Getting dressed as a teenager in Turkey was a minefield. I had to consider exactly where I was going, what time of the day, how many changes I would need to make on public transport and what kind of public transport I’d take before putting an outfit together which was more of an armour against wandering eyes and hands.

The day I got groped? I was wearing straight leg black jeans, a nondescript black top and one of my dad’s loose button downs on top. Yet, that didn’t stop a leech from reaching out for a feel.

The answer is always no. Because as opposed to what we are taught in most patriarchal societies, it’s not a woman’s job to control a man and his basest urges.

It is not a woman’s fault when a man acts upon these. It’s not my job to worry about what I wear, which road I take, what time I am out, how much alcohol I’ve had.

It is a man’s job to keep his eyes down, his mouth shut, his hands in his pockets and his penis in his pants.

And when a brand synonymous with hardcore masculinity takes a stance, joins the #metoo movement, and calls out toxic masculinity, calling all men to check sub-standard behaviour, making sure we are raising feminists and not misogynists, chauvinists and rapists, I have nothing but respect for them.

Yet seeing the online backlash and calls to boycott Gillette following the release of their new brand video ‘The best a man can be’ playing on their decades old ‘The best a man can get’ slogan and comments on social media such as “I’d rather shave with an axe than ever use Gillette again,” I despair.

Is toxic masculinity so widespread that men can no longer see a call to decent, gentlemanly behaviour as an attack on their masculinity, and all the rights it brings with it, including objectifying women?

If we want today’s boys to be tomorrow’s decent man who can get their heads out of the gutter and see women as equals and not just sexual play things to be pounced upon for their pleasure, we need to listen to Gillette’s call and expect not the best a man can get, but the best he can be.

As women, with a few good men as allies, it is time we stop making excuses that boys to be boys, but teach our boys to be decent men not driven to bestial loss of control at the sight of a female bosom. And we need to teach our girls they can go anywhere, at any time of the day, stand on equal footing with no fear of harassment or worse, do anything men can do, with or without heels, whichever they damn well please.