New Rules

By: Ailin Elyasi  |  March 15, 2018

As I open up yet another #metoo article, it seems that I have no choice but to confront the movement, as its stories occupy full pages in the newspaper and its victims–some my friends–make their voices heard on Facebook. I cannot believe the number of women coming out about their stories, and the number of men who had given them these stories to begin with. But I am proud that women are no longer suffering in silence.

Their voices ring brave; their volume almost deafening in the void that existed before. They remind me of the rules of that void and the young age at which, I learned them.

My mother, who grew up in a small rural town in Iran, sat me down at seven years old to share with me the rules of womanhood. When she was twelve years old, a man decades her senior, had groped her genitals underneath the table and began fondling them, all while surrounded by a table of adults. She kept quiet and told her mother afterwards. My grandmother told her to cross her legs from then on.

  1. Cross your legs. Always. Better not to risk it.

She explained that while men could have high moral standards, it only takes one to ruin a little girl’s life. Do not put yourself in harm’s way.

  1. No sleepovers. Your friends have brothers…and fathers.

She then told me the story of her friend, a flirtatious blue-eyed Persian goddess who was always being chased by men. She would befriend men and usually break their hearts, until one of these heartbroken “friends” said she had lost the right to lead him on, held her down, and proceeded to rape the sixteen-year-old. My mother’s friend barely left her house after that incident and remains unmarried thirty-six years later.

  1. If you must hang out with a boy, do it with a group of friends or in public.

I did not grow up religious, with the halachot of shmirat negiah and yichud governing all my interactions with people of the opposite sex, yet it is almost as if I had. Scared by the rules of a three thousand-year-old patriarchal culture, where a woman who is raped is labeled an “adultress” for life, the rules my mother taught me ruled my behavior. Now I am nineteen, and I reject her rules of womanhood. Women are no longer suffering in silence. That was Iran. This is the United States, the land of the free, the home of the brave. I call for new rules.

I refuse to follow the same rules as my mother, who grew up in a place where a man found guilty of rape would usually walk free since judges looked for signs in a women’s behavior or clothing to justify the rape. I refuse to follow the same rules as a place where a supreme court decision put a woman to death for practicing self defense during a rape, and where a movement failed to free Reyhaneh Jabbari for trying to protect herself. Technically, penal law, the Iranian law derived from the Muslim law book, allows for women to practice self defense during rape, but self defense is hard to prove. In Iran, one must also prove that the self defense is equal to the danger she experienced, which usually can be decided through “he said, she said” arguments, in which case the man’s testimony will always have more weight.

Here is my new rule:

  1. Create a culture where women do not have to suffer silently, where people are held responsible for their actions, where abuse is taken seriously. When someone tells you their story of sexual abuse, listen and ensure that the perpetrator is held responsible.

I have heard so many #metoo stories in the past couple of months. Here, in America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, women are finally bravely able to change the rules of the game, and I am proud.