I was behind a curtain, hardly resisting. I stood idle as she unbuttoned my sweater. Powerless, I watched her every move, her hungry hands stroking my arms, my shoulders, tightly cupping my breasts, hugging my upper body, caressing my waist.
I stood breathless. She grabbed my rear end, rubbed every inch of my thighs, and with an upward movement, rested her hand firmly on my genitals. Without speaking a word, the moment ended. We separated.
It would be colorful to say this was a passionate encounter between me and another woman. Instead, it was the result of a pat down at the airport in Beirut. Typically, when the metal detector lights up, women are guided to a small, curtained room, where a female employee awaits to give them a ‘full’ inspection. As I walked out from behind the curtain feeling puzzled, defenseless, violated, I searched for someone to complain to. There was no one around to inform that the employee had gone too far, that she was aggressive, disrespectful and unapologetic.
The plane was about to board.
Eager to find an empathizing soul, I ask the woman seated next to me on the plane if this had happened to her and if she was bothered: she said that the airport employee also cupped her breasts and touched her genitals, but she thought little of it. Who was at fault, I wondered: the employee ‘doing her job,’ the indifferent traveler, or was I the one ‘exaggerating’? Would a man accept that his genitals be fondled by another man behind a closed curtain every time he left the Beirut airport; every time that metal detector beeped? Instead, with no curtained room for the men, they were being patted down in full view; their genitals were not being stroked, their bodies were not violated.
Having seen and felt this, did I object? Did I demand a more respectful pat down? Did I denounce the rules and highlight the discrepancy in the treatment of men and women? Did I write about it in the newspaper to bring it to people’s attention? I did not. I knew full well what I should have done, but I chose instead to engage in willful indifference – I chose to ‘let it go.’
With a troubled conscience, I continue to let many things go, telling myself they are insignificant, harmless, common practices. Like ignoring advertising billboards strewn all over Lebanon’s roads, distastefully and unnecessarily exhibiting women’s bodies. We let it go. Or dismissing the value we place on a woman’s physical appearance above all else, each of us craving an unreachable ideal, engaging in plastic surgery ‘just a little here and there, for my own self-esteem’ we say, ignoring the role that societal expectations had in our decision-making.
We let it go. Or turning a blind eye to abused women who still cannot get full protection from the state. We let it go. Or accepting that women continue to pay the price of war, unable to pass on their nationalities to their children. We let it go. It all starts with our willful indifference and ends with society’s discriminating attitudes and actions towards women – the unarticulated, silent, implicit and explicit discriminations. If we continue to ‘let it go,’ the curtained room in the airport will forever be there; our dignities, our rights, our value as human beings will forever be hidden behind that curtain.