“We do not exaggerate”

By Lize de Potter

Cologne. Known around the world for its magnificent Kölner Dom, famous for its iconic perfumes, equally renowned for its carnival festivities. And now, tragically adding mass gang assaults on women to that list, as the events of New Year’s Eve shocked the entire globe.

Anger quickly replaced the initial shock, rose across the continent, with politicians everywhere screaming wild “I-told-you-so’s” at the top of their right-winged lungs.  “I told you those Muslim refugees do not belong in our Western society. They regard women solely as objects of lust or sex slaves” and proclamations of the like.

Naturally, for reasons such as blatantly obvious over-generalization, statements such as the above are problematic and highly inaccurate, to say the least. Surely it would be foolish to overlook or belittle the identities and backgrounds of the assaulters. However, it would be equally ignorant to claim that the objectification of women is a phenomenon inherent to Muslim societies. On the contrary, it is just as much ingrained in our, depicted as progressive, Western world. Granted, on a scale gravely outweighed by the horrific events of the Cologne question, but in my eyes, not less meaningful or important.

For I have yet to meet a female who has not been victim to shamelessly inappropriate sexually tinted remarks. I say victim, for I also have yet to meet a female who felt flattered, or even indifferent, after being dog-whistled in the streets. Whether those streets are crowded or deserted, whether in parks or in bars, whether by strangers or by the creepy next-door neighbour. Ranging from “hey sexy” to the shameless groping of girls’ behinds. Anytime, any day. Objectification is fixed in our society, leaving girls and women across the continent feeling utterly disgusted, used even. And when complained about, women are more often than not characterized as exaggerating stick-in-the-muds, attention-seeking feminists.

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Although omnipresent, our society seems to like to ignore this Western variant of sexism, it seems to like to pretend it is not there. The majority of the mainstream media stays silent, but hungrily feeds on the details of the identities of the Cologne assaulters. Worse still, the majority of the women at the receiving end of inappropriate name-calling, simply keep their head down and hastily quicken their pace. Only to later go and jump on the band-wagon of judging other women to be dressed provocatively, to be “asking for it”.

This apparently socially accepted hypocrisy, it needs to be questioned, it needs to be challenged, it needs to be openly rejected.

Politicians, citizens, the strangers in the street or the creepy next-door neighbour, they most probably had no difficulties whatsoever condemning the events in Cologne. It was easy, and rightly so. Nevertheless, it is flat-out unjust that it takes events of such gravity to open Europe’s eyes, to trigger our society’s anger and indignation. Condemning daily sexism rooted in our Western civilisation should be equally easy. It should be uncomplicated, it should come naturally. For everyone in every society. Just as 1+1 equals 2, to both refugees and Europeans alike, sexism equals unacceptable, the fight against it equals a priority.

Because we do not exaggerate.

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