Pulling a Ponytail: Blaming the Root, Not the Ends

Yesterday, in my — Muslim Women Conundrum — article, I lamented the fact that the women dropped a class I was teaching because of their fear of being touched by a man.  Commenter “nosleepingdog” said this, in the replies stream:

We should remember though that the ultimate enforcers of these strictures are Islamic men. A woman who is accused of having deliberately put herself in a position where a man might touch her, may be beaten, disowned, raped, or killed. Very logical. Does make one wonder. Even questioning the authority of the rules and the enforcers is a crime.

That point made me think about the real roots of this masked problem of oppression, and I recalled a story my wife shared with me this week that draws a deeper, and more widespread — and certainly more pernicious! — example of how men have, and still do, try to actively control women.  Even women they do not know.

One of my wife’s NYC female college undergraduates told her this story the other night. The student was walking down Broadway alone late at night and a male stranger — perhaps a homeless guy, she wasn’t sure — came up behind her and grabbed her ponytail where it met her head and “walked” behind her.

He would not let go of her hair.  He was holding her ponytail so tight against her head it felt like he was “using a plunger” in her brain as he moved his hand to control her body through her head.

She was crying for help, but the streets were empty.  No one wanted to hear her.  Nobody on the street responded to her.

The guy had such a tight hold on her hair that she could not move or swivel around to fight back, and he used his fist, and her ponytail, like a horse’s reins to propel her forward into walking and to control her lateral movement. After about five blocks, he let her go, and she ran home.

That story is wrong in every way against the jerk who grabbed her hair — but we both know there will be some who read that story and blame the female student… for being out alone… for being out late at night… for wearing her hair in a ponytail… for not praying hard enough for God’s protection…

We have to punish the instigator of the abuse — not just the ending, acted, residue of it — and we must work harder together to find a way to help uprooted women who are pressed into dropping a class out of fear, and we need to race to the side of young females in the street who are hanged by their own hair in the public square without witness.

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