A video that has been circulating on social media for the past few days brought us face to face with something infuriating once again: a woman was smoking and multiple men ganged up on her (and the person accompanying her), shouting at her, compelling her to put the cigarette out, ordering them to leave the place and then going as far as to imply that rapes take place because women indulge in things like smoking. When the woman pointed out that others were smoking too and nobody asked them to leave, one of the men said that if a woman smoked, other girls would go astray. (The incident took place in Rajshahi, Bangladesh).
The video took me back to something that happened almost three years ago. Someone had made a short film and it was being circulated on social media. The film followed a man walking up to a woman smoking in a park and telling her that there were differences between men and women, because of which women shouldn't smoke in public even if men indulge in it. After he was done "explaining" it to her, it was implied that the woman felt guilty and the man walked away, happy with what he just accomplished.
If you walk down a street in, say, Dhaka, you are more likely than not to come across men smoking. In the delightful little tea stalls found all over the country, men indulge in conversations over sweetened milk tea and cigarettes all day. One can never see people even politely approaching them and saying comparatively mild things like smoking is injurious to health.
Then why is it that there is a kind of hypocrisy among people when it comes to women smoking?
There is no doubt in the fact that smoking can lead to grievous health issues, often even resulting in death. The habit of smoking should not be endorsed in any way- if anything, we need to work on raising awareness and strengthening anti-smoking campaigns around the world. In most countries, there are laws in place that prohibit smoking in certain places. If a person smokes in those places, they should be fined (or other legal actions stipulated by the law of that country should be taken). When it comes to this, everyone should be treated equally, regardless of gender, because they broke the same law. How can gender even come into play in this?
Over the last couple of days, I have been seeing numerous comments on social media explicitly saying that feminists want to encourage and take up the habit of smoking just because men smoke. I have rarely seen a more unfounded logic than this. When it comes to smoking, feminists address the hypocrisy attached to it, drawing attention to the harassment women have to face if they even dare to whip out a cigarette in public. Unlike what these commenters try to say, endorsing and encouraging the habit of smoking is not being done here. Researching and delving a little deeper into why a certain thing is being addressed never does anyone any harm.
It is true that smoking is a deadly habit and we need to raise awareness about it. But harassing women if they smoke in public and making statements specifically implying that women should not smoke is nothing other than a manifestation of misogyny.
People keep saying that a woman, if she smokes, contributes to the erosion of culture. However, is ganging up on a woman, harassing her, hurling abuses at her, being openly sexist and misogynistic, not an example of erosion of culture? Or does being abusive and hypocritical contribute to the preservation of culture and social values?