More than a nuisance

Whenever I join a language-learning website, I am inundated by messages from men whose language I am not learning. This is not news. This is very run-of-the-mill, the kind of thing that women find happens on a daily basis. Instinct and habit is to brush it off, just like the harassment we get in the street. Pretend it’s not a serious problem. Even other women advise us not to pay any attention to it.

But it’s a nuisance for me – and it’s way more than that. It’s a symptom of a very serious problem: gender inequality. This time, I decided to start replying, and it yielded some interesting and quite illustrative results.

Here is one of the conversations that ensued.

wespeke hi

shivsmall2 why are you messaging me when you can see I’m learning spanish?

wespeke dont you know how to be polite

shivsmall2 I’m just bored of the fact that, whenever I sign up to a language-learning website, ALL the messages I get are from arabic/hindi/nepali-speaking men. I’m not even learning those languages.

wespeke so you arent here to learn its to teach and help others too

shivsmall2 actually the idea is that you do both, in tandem

wespeke sorry foryour time precious time

shivsmall2 thank you for the apology. my time is indeed precious

wespeke yes i got it. tell me when you send ola to a spanish native who wanna learn other languages



This demonstrates quite well a number of issues.

  1. dont you know how to be polite
    Women are expected to comply with what men want, and if we don’t do this, we are ‘not polite’. Our value is in complying with what men want.
  2. you arent here to learn
    Actually, that is the reason I had joined and the main reason the site exists! Women are supposed to ‘teach and help others’; our needs don’t matter.
  3. sorry foryour time precious time
    The idea that women’s time is ‘precious’ is clearly ludicrous. If we think our time is ‘precious’ then we deserve to be mocked for that.
  4. tell me when you send ola to a spanish native who wanna learn other languages
    I will be unable to find a language-learning Spanish native (xenophobic much?) and therefore I should give him my attention. He inherently merits my attention, for some reason other than my language goals.

These messages are not new to us. We come up against these messages time and again in our daily lives. We grew up with them. Our sense of self is shaped by them. This person’s patriarchal sense of entitlement and superiority would be shocking and sickening to anyone coming upon the human race for the first time. Gender inequality is a problem that results in its extreme in women being attacked, raped, and killed; and subjects us to a daily violence, a psychological and practical reality of existing for men’s pleasure, of having to work harder than men to be taken seriously, of having more expected of us than men.

Although it’s my interlocutor’s responsibility to learn about gender inequality and transcend these norms, it’s not his fault that he has grown up with them. Sadly it’s ingrained in us – both victim and perpetrator – to brush this off. But it’s a violence that’s wrought on us every day, all of us. I don’t want the men in my life, the men I love, to be tarnished with the brush of gender-based violence any more than I want women or non-binary folk to be subjected to it.

Please note, the ‘men in my life, the men I love’ include men of Middle Eastern / South Asian identity and ethnic origin, and I’m not aiming to say anything in particular about ethnicity or race with this post. The men who bother me in this specific situation happen usually to have those as their first languages: that is all. When we look at life in general, I have been harassed and had my space invaded by men of many different ethnic, national, and economic backgrounds. Gender inequality is a global phenomenon and affects all of us.

Let me stress once again: this is nothing out of the ordinary. Women experience this on a daily basis. What’s out of the ordinary is that I currently have the (a) time and mental space, and (b) educative / cultural capital to reflect on it and take the time to respond via blog post. Any woman could have joined that website on any day, at any time, and very quickly the same thing would have happened. Millions of ‘small’ events like this happen on a daily basis, symptomatic of the culture of oppression, fear, and violence we all have to endure.


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