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Call it eve-teasing, call it street harassment or just talk about SlutWalk. I’m adding my voice to this cry.
I live in Mumbai, famed for the crowds, the fast pace of life…and how safe it is for women. I am thankful for it. The city I call home, gives me the safest possible space to live with some degree of freedom. I have stayed in Delhi and in Chennai and I know the horrors of eve-teasing in both these places. Mumbai is too crowded and too busy for these. I can and do travel alone, at most times of the day (and night). I use public transport and don’t require to be dropped home most of the time. In a lot of ways, I wonder if what I have to say is significant considering the much worse experiences that women face in other cities.
What I have to say is this: There is nothing called an absolutely safe place for a woman.
I’m not being paranoid or overly feminist. I have grown up in safe Mumbai and I can testify to the harassment that this ‘safe city’ metes out to its female population. I am not going to talk about the rising rape statistics or the recent surge in horror cases, each more gruesome than the last.. I am going to talk about small ways that a woman is made to feel cheap and small, every day…every single, damned day. Harassment happens in Mumbai, just like in every other part of the world. And it has no face. Like everything else, it is swallowed up in the teeming masses of this city.
Mumbai’s train travellers have a code of conduct of their own. There are rules to get in, to positioning your bags (and yourself) and getting down. When the train arrives at the station, the crowds draw close to the track, getting ready for the run. And as the train nears, the tension is palpable. One section of the crowd moves back a good two feet from the train. Those waiting to enter the ladies’ compartment. It just is not safe to stand within arm’s length of the train. Of the crowds hanging out of the train, hands reach out to grab, to slap, to grope…to just touch any woman. And there’s no way of knowing who did it. There is a reason the women are willing to forsake the coveted spot close to the entrance of the train.
When I walk down the road, virtually unconsciously I assume a certain posture. My bag is held in front of me to cushion those blows. There are times I wish I could wear some kind of armour with daggers lined down the front to stab those big, hard bodies that deliberately collide into mine when I’m walking. My elbows point out to keep those shoulders from brushing mine and I know I look menacing and angry. It could be coincidence but there is the fact that my softer, gentler looking friends frequently get prodded and groped up in these same situations.
Auto-rickshaw drivers amuse themselves at signals by staring into passanger seats of the autos next to them, cruising alongside never taking their eyes off and on occasion singing along. I particularly detest auto-rickshaws that have a mirror above the driver’s head and pointed to the passenger. I’ve taken to glaring into that mirror to ensure the driver keeps his eyes to himself (and on the road, hopefully) because it is almost a given that the mirror was put there for a reason. It doesn’t always work.
Incidently the ‘safety’ of this city does not take into consideration the starers, the whistlers and the singers. Harassment happens with hands, elbows AND with the eyes. I can’t begin to explain how it feels to be stripped by a total stranger. Does it matter whether he actually tears my clothes off in public, or does it in his mind and makes it very clear what he’s thinking? The fact is that he does it with utmost DISRESPECT, with no fear of being pulled up. He is willing to demean me mentally and he would, physically too, if he had a chance. Staring is rude, we are all taught as kids. Why? Because it makes people uncomfortable. This is someone who doesn’t give a damn about making me uncomfortable and what’s more….he wants to watch me squirm.
Do I deserve to feel bad?
To be embarassed about my gender?
To downplay my appearance?
To move furtively and quickly when I am alone?
I used to get my salwar-kameezes tailored by a popular darzi close to my colony. At one fitting, his young assistant groped me all over, on the pretext of getting my measurements. I had been seeing this guy at the shop for a couple of years and he had measured me before. I didn’t say anything. I tried to forget the episode and hoped it wouldn’t happen again. It did. And I stopped going to him.
I wouldn’t call it street harassment. Because it doesn’t stop at the street. It follows me into train compartments, where the men in the bogey adjoining mine leer through the grill and whistle. There is a reason I don’t stand next to the grill…too many fingers and eyes, too close for comfort. It follows me out onto the roads, where truck drivers speed up their vehicles and brush by me, making me jump, when I try to cross the road. It shadows me in the guise of the bus conductor who hands out tickets to the people behind me, each time ‘inadvertently’ brushing my breasts. It sneaks up to me when the security guard who lets me into the office leans over my shoulder to flash the card at the door and tries to look down my neckline. It is all around me all day with people whose eyes stay fixed to a spot about 3 inches below my chin….they are canteen boys, watchmen, courier boys and yes…even friends and colleagues.
I don’t often tell my family about these things. They would tell me to come back earlier from work, not go out at night, not wear certain clothes, not talk and laugh too loudly, not attract attention…..for all purposes be demure, unobstrusive and as hidden away as possible. I know they worry. Which is why I keep my silence with them and find ways to deal with it myself. Its like trying to fight a school of piranha fish that are hidden underneath the depths. I don’t know where the next blow will come from. I don’t know whether it will be a blow or yet another tiny bit of my dignity being shredded away. I haven’t the energy to slap every hand that gropes, silence every lewd comment and out-stare every humiliating look. I try and avoid getting too close to the source. There is a reason I look angry most of the time.
** This post was featured on BlogAdda’s Spicy Picks, July 16, ’11.
You know who the best kind of guy friend is?
You can admit to being madly in love with him and he’ll look at you in the eye and tell you the truth if he is not. And after that, he won’t stop taking your calls or meeting you.
If another guy breaks your heart, he won’t mash him to pulp but would consider it if you asked him to. And he definitely won’t bond with that guy no matter how many interests (and ex-girlfriends) they share!!!!
He can call you whiny, drippy, weedy, dependent, clingy and over-emotional but NEVER when you’re actually crying.
He’s willing to be your date when you’re stuck or stood up but won’t feel too bad if your boyfriend shows up again and you decide to go with him (again!).
He’s quiet. Or talkative. Charming. Or devilish. Thoughtful. Or forgetful. But he doesn’t change his treatment of you depending on the stage in your relationship.
He doesn’t dangle girlfriends or admirers under your nose all the time.
He’s a guy but he actually cares about what you feel. All in all, he treats you like a buddy but remembers you’re a girl.
Now that’s a guy really worth having as a friend. 🙂
It is a fact that the social environment is very different today than the one in which my parents met and started their relationship. Neither mum nor dad really have independent friend circles, let alone know too many single people of their generation. I belong to several social circuits that include couples, some where I’m friends with the guy, some with the girl.
Friendships themselves have changed. While my parents would never even consider introducing a flirtatious note into their discussions with their social groups, my generation itself seems to be a flirty one. Sex, attraction, relationship are all a little too ‘out there’ if you ask me. Romance, privacy and intimacy have been sacrificed to free expression, enhanced comfort zones and devil-may-carishness. I do enjoy being a part of this world, it works for me. But I think in an attempt to get it all out there, we’ve meandered so far into the grey that we may have lost sight of black and white.
Being as I am, an independent woman who’s also friendly and approachable, I find my social circuit quite expansive and complex. The Married Male Friend is only one of those many dark alleys in this complex terrain. How do I treat him?
If he was a friend before he acquired the ‘married’ label, then the situation is relatively simpler. I take heed of how his wife feels about his women friends and our friendship accordingly moves along or away.
How about if the Married Man is someone I’ve met later? Do I treat him like I treat all the other guys? The friendly-flirtatious tone does need to be dropped, no matter how innocent. But what about when the guy is flirting with me? Much to my alarm, I’m frequently propositioned, flirted with and pursued by married men. It’s not just the fact that they’re married and flirting with me that shocks me so much. It is the cool rationale that they feed into it.
I’m not referring to the liars who feign their single status. Nor even the occasional ‘my wife and I are not really in love’ guy trying the sympathy routine.
There is another type of man who is not just unabashed about his cheating but actually derives confidence from it. This man usually has a breakproof logic about why it is legitimate, reasonable and valid to commit adultery. There is the elaborately constructed dialogue over today’s moving social order liberally spiced with statistics about divorce rates, paternity suits and pre-nuptial agreements. There are references to Freud, Darwin and Einstein in a discussion about people’s relationships. There is the sweeping confidence that makes you alternately wonder whether you’re being old-fashioned and how he can be so cold and hot at the same time.
He camouflages these in ‘normal’ intellectual conversations, the kind that we often get into with anybody intelligent. But the flirtatious, slightly dangerous tones lace every word. It’s hard to extricate oneself from such a situation. Does one slap a man who has just been talking to you, who hasn’t said anything explicitly offensive? The last time I got roped into one such talk, I found myself plaintively protesting,
“I don’t want to hear about whether the institution of marriage is valid anymore or not. It has sanctity for me because I say it does.”
I hated how whiny that sounded and how powerless that made me feel. Furthermore, it bothers me is that I (an outsider to that marriage) seem to be carrying the onus of fulfillment of commitment. When I say no, this man just takes his interest elsewhere. And whatever woman chooses to say yes, will be branded that horrible name – the Other Woman, the one that messes with married men. This man knows this fact and takes full advantage of it.
Now let’s pull back a few steps. The above is when it reaches that critical point of deciding which way a friendship is going to go – platonic or otherwise. But how about that vast, grey area before that? How do you know what’s appropriate and what’s not? Where does normal friendliness end and the reek of infidelity begin? Is it okay to watch a movie with a guy friend who just happens to be married? Is it okay to meet him for dinner? Coffee at midnight? Don’t these smack of dating? But is it fair to treat a married friend differently from an unmarried one?
The old ‘it is the intention that matters’ doesn’t hold. That’s not what real life is about. Real life is about human beings who experience attraction and relationship in fluctuating, varying tones every minute. The world has gone so grey, sometimes I miss the black-and-white times when everything was clearer.
A friend was saying that he’d decided that most women were cowards because they would not stand up to their families, not stand up for the men they wanted to be with. For a fact, I’ve seen a good number of relationships end because of familial opposition – on the basis of religious, caste, linguistic and economic differences. It is truly sad for a relationship to end, not because of the couple’s differences but because of other people’s views.
However, I must also say that I have always had great regard for women who take their family’s desires into consideration while choosing a life partner. This isn’t quite the same as the Mama’s boy syndrome where some men unquestioningly gulp down whatever is shoved down their proverbial throats. The women I’m talking about, make their own choices and these choices definitely factor in their family’s ideas too. I so much stand by that.
The fact is that few people will ever care as much as your own blood family, misunderstandings and irritants notwithstanding. That said, they are no more than human and have a right to their own foibles and prejudices. My greatest admiration in this regard is reserved for two women, one a neighbor and one a friend. Both women met the men they wanted to spend their lives with and had to contend with parental opposition – due to differences in religion and in caste respectively. The families of both women (the fathers most particularly) ran the entire hullaballoo from tearful melodrama to icy coldness. Both women stood firm and held that they would not marry anyone else. And in addition, would not get married without their families’ complete blessings either. Persistence won out in both cases. The first couple has two children, both the darlings of their doting grandfather’s eyes. The second couple celebrates their fifth wedding anniversary this year, blissfully in love..and peacefully so too. All was certainly well that ended well in these two cases.
I guess not everyone is that lucky or even that tenacious. If it really came down to having to choose, I can’t imagine a man would be ‘right’ for me unless my family was aligned to my choice as well. Family is one’s own after all, and their well-intended perspective could be very useful in such an important choice. Does that necessarily mean that I am a coward, unable to go against them? Or does it make me any less independent – or feminist? You tell me.
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My father does it. I remember my cousin doing it from the summer he stayed with us. And now, to my horror and disgust, I find my boyfriend does it too!
I shudder to enter the toilet. No, this is not about that old seat up/down debate. Look higher. There’s a book lying on the flush tank!!! Sacrilege! Books are divine carriers of the holy light of wisdom and human experience. Imagine exposing them to the unclean atmosphere of the toilet, not to mention actually reading them?!
Why oh why do men insist on reading in the toilet? Now I don’t understand why one needs to be entertained in the toilet. It’s not a library, it’s not a spa, it’s not your bedroom, it’s a disposal station! You go in, do your business and you get out. But no!
The boy says,
“Reading in the loo is to men what taking a shower is to women. It’s an experience!”
Now what am I to say to that?
A version is posted to Yahoo! Real Beauty.
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There must have been as many women as men in the audience. The television was switched on an hour early, by my mother, not father. On Saturday night, the entire country, gender irrespective, celebrated India’s win of the World Cup 2011. Everyone on my Facebook and Twitter feeds was talking about it (and I have a fair balance of male-female ratio in my onlineverse). Before you say that’s only true of this country’s favorite sport, the same repeats during football season too. That seems to put paid to the myth that sports only appeal to men.
Why then, do women seem to be lagging behind in sports? My father, a tennis aficionado, tells me that men’s tennis is far more competitive than women’s. And that’s still a sport that allows the genders to mix. I understand that this may not be viable in every sport. The proximity that some of them require, may not be to everyone’s taste. And the physical make-up of men and women being different, it might be complicated to evenly match teams and assess competitors fairly. But if there are enough people of each gender interested, presumably there will be enough players, competitors to populate teams and drive tournaments.
Or could it be that as audience, we’re just not as interested in seeing women compete?
* A version is posted to Yahoo! Real Beauty .