By Ada Nnadi
This is one of the most overdone themes when dealing with problems plaguing Nigerian universities – universities around the world for that matter. So rather than rolling our eyes at how cliché this topic is, let’s all take a regal step off our high horses for a minute and ask ourselves why this is so? Why is a topic such as this still being discussed? Well, here’s the surprise: If a problem is solved or halfway there, people won’t have a reason to talk about it anymore, would they? See where I’m going here? If you don’t, here’s another surprise: you’re part of the problem.
I was chatting with a friend a few days ago and he was narrating to me a conversation he had been eavesdropping on. A boy is trying to convince a girl to come home with him. From the girl’s response and demeanour it’s obvious that she doesn’t want to. The boy retorts with a response he thinks is witty “why are you being so rigid, even the constitution is more flexible than you,” (yes, the lawyer in my friend had a mental meltdown at that remark). Eventually the girl succeeds in getting her message through and the boy lets it be.
However, let’s paint a picture here: what if despite her protests, the boy had managed to coerce the girl, they go to his house, possibly try to do a little studying or not, and the boy tries to come on to the girl, who once again protests – weakly (she’s trying to be nice, polite, doesn’t want to offend or hurt his feelings) but then the boy drops another remark he thinks is even wittier than the last one: “don’t be a square, squares are more secular than you.” The girl puts up the fight for a while but finally agrees and they have sex – the flesh is taut, the mind is unwilling. Five minutes later, we have a perhaps self-fulfilled guy and a girl dealing with a myriad of emotions, guilt, hate, anger, self-disgust.
We could blame the girl for not being assertive enough, for whatever attire she had on, or we could question the boy’s sensitivity, emotional IQ, tolerance and ability to take “no” however flimsy it is, as no.
Google defines Sexual Harassment as “harassment (typically of a woman), in a workplace or other professional or social situation, involving the making of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks.”
Here’s another story – this also took place in UNEC. Girl goes to collect her Wi-Fi password from the ICT centre on campus. Somehow, the guy giving out the password manages to get her number from snooping around her profile on the school’s portal. He sends her a Whatsapp message the next day. Why is he sending her a message? He liked what he saw; she has flesh in all the right places. The girl finds the conversation uncomfortable, but she’s at loss of what to do. She doesn’t block him – she knows him, that’ll be rude and what if their paths cross again in school? So, she lets it be.
Wi-Fi guy tries to cajole the girl into meeting up with him; she puts it off with excuses. When she uploads a picture of a guy, Wi-Fi guy asks if profile-picture guy is her boyfriend. Girl answers in the affirmative, thinking it’ll daunt Wi-Fi guy and get him to back off. It doesn’t. Rather, a conversation ensues about profile-picture guy’s phallus and how big it must be and how Girl must like to touch it. Girl is angry; she wants to say some not-so nice things to Wi-Fi guy. But once again, she lets it be.
Then we ask, why? There are so many possibilities, life put Wi-Fi guy at an advantage position over her. He could mess with her profile, who says that’s the only thing he could mess with? Even if she does let her inhibitions go and file a complaint, she “knows” nobody, the university doesn’t have an official channel for situations like this. Even if it does, she doesn’t know of it because during the orientation the university glossed over incidents like this or didn’t talk about it at all. Wi-Fi guy is still on her list. She doesn’t reply his messages now. It is her hope that he’ll get the message and finally back off.
There are thousands of students in the same position (or worse) as both girls in the anecdotes, trying to be polite, trying not to offend, ignoring the problem, wishing it away, praying it away.
I once read an online feature on sexual harassment of female students by lecturers. It asked its readers to leave their experiences in the comments section. The result was appalling. There were lots of girls narrating, complaining, cursing at lecturers and the dilemma suffered at their hands. Then there were comments thanking God about how they escaped such experience by praying, faking pregnancy, inventing imaginary boyfriends/husbands, dressing as shabbily and as conservative as they could. Lastly, we had the stupid comments blaming the girls for what they wore and attesting that some girls in fact threw themselves at lecturers.
While we cannot ignore the gray areas like the example above and the fact that boys also do suffer from sexual harassment, these instances are minuscule – though not insignificant – compared to the number of girls, wo(men) who find themselves in sticky situations such as the ones given above. We all know how the story goes; I don’t need to type anymore anecdotes.
The best analogy I’ve seen when arguments involving how the outfits of girls has a hand in cases of sexual harassment and abuse, is the “car dealer” analogy.
We know what a car shop looks like: with rows and assortments of beautiful cars seemingly parked carelessly with little or no security, especially for fairly-used cars. These kinds of car shops are popular in Lagos.
So, you’re walking by, you see those cars. They sure look pretty, don’t they? Does the urge to steal one of them come over you when you sight the cars? Even if you’re financially challenged and need a car to show off for the New Year’s trip to your hometown? Even if the urge does come, do you try to steal a car?
Let’s say you need to admire the cars by touching them, or you want to buy one, do you just barge in and start feeling up the cars as you please? Don’t you ask the car dealer’s permission? Perhaps, car dealer lets anyone touch his cars even if they have no intention of buying, does that still give you the liberty to steal one?
Again, let’s blame the devil and his tricks. You couldn’t overcome the avarice to ride one of those beauties; you plan and succeed in stealing one of the cars. Does anyone blame the car dealer from not covering up his cars with enough tarps – because, perhaps their shiny gleam must have tempted the thief. It’s the car dealer’s fault for not covering up his cars with enough tarps. He should have known that any hot-blooded person would have been tempted to steal one. The car dealer should shut the hell up and stop complaining.
See that? That’s the way you sound when you blame any form of sexual harassment on the victim’s choice of clothing. Yes, the girls throw themselves at the lecturers for whatever reason. Female lecturers also harass their male students. That boy and that girl, they’ve probably been having sex before, why is she being difficult now? That girl, she probably looked at that Wi-fi guy “somehow” that’s why he’s sending all those messages – because of the mixed signals the girl sent.
However, the one with the upper hand, at an advantage, should know better, should be the bigger person. Do you club a weaker person to death just because you can? Even if the person repeatedly tells you to? Yes, there are others who will but I meant YOU, not someone else – you. It is not a generic question.
So, when should sexual harassment become a problem? Should it be when it happens to someone you know, your children perhaps? Should it be when the student with no help forthcoming from the school authorities takes matters into their own hands? Should it be when that young adult frustrated at the hopeless justice system in school takes it out on the society – with you or someone you know becoming casualties? Should it be when your son or daughter becomes the abuser?
With all sincerity, it is my hope that you’ll make the right choice.