The Calamity of Closeness

Where did this phrase come from? When did you start this campaign?
I first said this phrase around the middle of last year. Like many women in this city, I regularly travel on public transport. I also regularly face harassment. Initially, I thought that I would have to normalize such experiences and bear the discomfort. However, I reached a breaking point after one incident and thought that I could no longer continue this way. A middle-aged man harassed me on the bus and I spoke up. However, the other passengers tried to excuse his behavior. Two things happened in that experience – not only did I feel the trauma of his harassment, but I also felt outraged and upset at the bystanders’ reaction. Then I came home and angrily wrote this phrase on a khopar kata, a hair bun pin.

A hair clip, why did you choose that medium?
As an artist, I am used to expressing myself through painting. When I felt that rage and disappointment, I just wanted to channel it somehow. So, I wrote it down on an object that I hold dear to myself. My inner emotions were shaken and I wanted to increase awareness about sexual harassment. To spread that awareness, we put the hair clip on our Facebook page, BJNS.

What is the connection between you and BJNS’?
I am one of the four siblings who manage this fashion page on Facebook. We started the page about 3-4 years ago. The name of the page is the first initials of each of us and I am N. Anyone who is familiar with BJNS and knows our work and presentation can gather that we are really interested in culture, art and the significance of art in our culture. Us siblings are like minded in that sense and bring our disciplines (I attended Charukola) to create this space. So, I put that hair clip on that existing platform.

Earlier this year, we printed the phrase on a T-shirt and it’s a photo of that T-shirt that went viral.

Did you expect this reaction, especially the backlash that followed?
We did not make the t-shirt as part of a bigger business strategy or for commercial gain. I was just expressing myself and protesting. Interestingly, the people who made it go viral are the ones who are the usual perpetrators of sexual harassment. They are the ones who gave them negative attention. However, if it didn’t become so negatively viral, then it wouldn’t have gotten positive attention either.

Jeenat Jahan Nisha

Are people trying to order more of these shirts? What’s next?
We were at a fair on April 5th where we took only 30-35 pieces of that t-shirt. Suddenly, we got all this interest from people who were showing their support. We were in the middle of the Boishakh rush (that every fashion house feels at that time) and that was our only plan. We could not meet those extra orders at that time.

I do not think any drastic positive change will come out this campaign. However, I hope that women feel the courage to speak up. I also want everyone to be careful and protect themselves from sexual harassment.

More and more women are speaking out about the aggression that they face every day and their frequent experiences of harassment. Women are expressing how places like public transport, work, and dinner parties feel unsafe and have always felt unsafe. Their guard can never be down and they must tiptoe around the egos of men to navigate their worlds.

Have the recent sexual harassment allegations made you feel confused, maybe a little angry? Men are reacting with the refrain, “people are so sensitive these days, I was ‘just being friendly’, is that harassment?” Some men claim to not know what constitutes as harassment and what acceptable behavior is. Are you or do you know perplexed men who feel that they are unable to understand this distinction- what is creepy and what is not? Why is that girl making excuses to leave the room whenever I come in? Is it wrong to place my hands on my new colleague’s back if I am just welcoming her? (Yes, yes it is).
So instead of making more women uncomfortable with your creepiness or confusion, we put together a handy guide on how to not harass women:

Consent: Has she said yes?
You must make sure that your desires and interests are compatible with the person you are approaching. What better way to find out, than asking. Check in if your behavior is acceptable and check in frequently.

For those of you who are with a partner, are dating someone or even married to someone– yes, even you can sexually harass someone within your relationship. A partner can agree to any sexual act once and not want to do it again. A partner can say no to acts even if you are in a long term relationship. You must respect that no. You must find out what your partners wants and does not want. There has to be the space to communicate this.

Considering Power Dynamics: Can she say no?
Before you ask a girl on a date or for her number, consider your current relationship with her. Are you her boss? Does her job security depend on you? Is there a possibility that a person might get fired or face repercussions from her society for saying no? If any of these circumstances are a possibility, then just stop.

Hearing No: Are you okay with your proposition being turned down? Do you think you are entitled to her attention and time?
If you hear no or receive any form of rejection you must stop asking. Your attention can be bothersome or necessary and you are not entitled to a girl’s attention or time.
Even before you ask a question, you must assess the time and place to see if your question is appropriate. This means avoiding personal questions, like asking about a girl’s marriage status or her number in formal settings. If you think the time and place is right, you must be okay with hearing a no to the answer. If the girl says no, you must back off and respect that answer.

Being Empathetic: Are you trying to sense your partners or friend’s boundaries?
Even if the rejection is not outright, you must try to be careful and see if have made the person uncomfortable. Contrary to depictions in pop culture, being persistent is not impressive and is downright unattractive. Being continuously persistent becomes harassment and lowers your chances of even nurturing a friendship with the person. Be cognizant about the person’s body language and understand when the answer is no.

Unwelcome touching: Are you overly affectionate and give long hugs or linger your hands during personal contact?
It doesn’t matter if you think you are touching some in a non-sexual way. It does not matter if your personality is to be affectionate or you think your age justifies the contact. The girl’s discomfort matters. Respect personal space.

Commenting on her appearance: Are you commenting on how a girl looks and telling her?
The times that are appropriate for a man to compliment a girl’s appearance are fewer than you think. Should you tell the girl that she looks sexy when she walks by? No. Do not comment on her appearance, her clothes or her weight. There are many other ways to initiate conversation (again, if it is the time and place to do so). This may be surprising to you, especially if you think you are being nice or flattering, but people are not always looking for feedback on the way they look. Women would prefer to live their day without validation from you.

Being deceitful: Are you hiding your intentions when you offer a girl a favor?
There are instances when you ask a girl “Do you need a ride?” or “Do you need help with your work?” Are your intentions what you say they are or are you trying to be deceitful so that you can make a move on the girl? If so, you are being creepy.

Even if you are offering to do something nice, do not try to trick or coerce anyone into situations that may be uncomfortable for them. You may think that they will have a great time, but do not make such assumptions. Be forthright, honest and apply all the rules stated above still.

So next time, check yourself. In fact, if you see anyone doing any of these things- make it your problem and stop them. We hope you treat everyone with respect and make your communities feel safe. Take it one step further and be more sensitive, aware and open to learning.