“She is someone’s sister/mother/daughter/wife. Imagine how you would feel if someone did that to a woman you cared about.”
This is probably one of the most common arguments against abuse and harassment.
Men are often shamed into behaving themselves and treating women like human beings by being told that the girl they are thinking of disrespecting is someone else’s sister, mother, daughter or wife. The point is to make them think of how they would feel if someone disrespected their own sister, mother, daughter or wife.
I’m sure everyone who advocates this argument has their heart in the right place. Their intention is to make the victim more relatable, but what they usually forget in the process is that women are people too, and their value does not lie in their relation to a man—or another woman, for that matter.
But here’s a piece of shocking news: I am not someone’s property. I am not anyone’s sister. I am not anyone’s daughter. I am not anyone’s future wife. I do not want you to associate me with a man just to show someone else my worth. Don’t respect me because of my relation to a man, a relation to a man does not warrant me any respect.
What warrants showing me respect is that I am a person who can think and feel. I should be treated with respect regardless of whether I am someone’s sister or daughter. If I was thrown down from heavens and not born to a man, does that give you the right to harass me?
The thing is, I was not thrown down from heaven. I am someone’s sister, someone’s daughter and maybe someone’s future wife. But that does not define me. That is not why you should respect me. That is not the reason I should live a life in which I don’t fear rape and sexual assault. That is not the reason I should feel safe when I’m walking down a street alone.
This commonly used analogy goes on to show how women are barely seen as human beings—human beings who can think and feel emotions, who are defined by their own selves instead of some title attached to a man in their lives. We are human beings who are known as individuals, not simply just a relation to a man.
If you see someone damaging another person’s car, you would tell them not to because it’s someone’s car and that person would be hurt by it. The car is the person’s property. Have we reduced women to the same status?
People argue that men would not understand this concept if their own sister or girlfriend isn’t brought into the picture. That is because men are drilled into believing that women should be respected because of the men in their lives and that women are foreign creatures who don’t feel, think or believe the same things that they do. This line of thinking belittles women and takes away the focus from them—the victims—to the men in their lives.
What about the orphan girl or the single woman, the girl who has no brother or the girl who turned her back on her family, the woman who has no son or the woman who was abandoned by her father at birth? Is she fair game? Is it alright to harass her?
This concept is similar to how women respond with “I have a boyfriend” when approached by other men, because they know that a simple “I’m not interested” would not do them any good. Men won’t leave them alone simply because they aren’t interested. But when another man is brought into the picture, a silent shadow looming over the woman to protect her, the person who approached will back off.
I’ve seen so many situations where men won’t recede until someone steps up and says:
“She’s xyz’s sister, back off.” And then they would.
My question is, why does she have to be someone’s sister to have her wishes and boundaries respected? Why does she have to be someone’s sister to be respected?
If I’m walking down the street with men leering at me and I tell them to keep their eyes where they belong, I would get even more leering and derogatory remarks. But if a man walks with me and tells them to stop staring at me because I’m his sister or girlfriend, they would instantly stop. Again, why do I need to be someone’s sister or girlfriend to be respected?
This needs to change. This is a plain example of inbuilt misogyny. We need to stop using men to validate a woman’s right to respect and safety. We need to teach boys from a young age that protection and respect are basic human rights. They need to understand that girls are, first and foremost, people too. Gasp.
Only then will our society—men and women alike—begin to understand that rape and harassment is unconditionally and absolutely wrong, no exceptions, no excuses. When men can see women as human beings and begin to realize the trauma she would go through when someone else is taking control of her body and violating it as opposed to the shame or humiliation her father or brother would be subjected to—only then we can eliminate rape culture.
It’s pretty pathetic that society still hasn’t learnt this, at this point in time.
Don’t think of me as someone’s sister, daughter, wife or mother. If I was sexually assaulted, it should matter not because I am someone’s daughter, sister or girlfriend, but because I am a person. I am a person regardless of whether I have a father, brother or boyfriend.
My existence, my rights and my integrity do not need to be justified by someone else’s relation to me.
I am someone, not someone’s.
Author: Aqsa Sajjad
Apprentice Editor: Corinne Milentijevic; Editor: Emily Bartran
Image: Neill Kumar/Unsplash