Tuesday, 7 March 2006

"eve-teasing"

Our apologies in advance. This is a long, rambly post. Sorry, an even more rambly post than we produce in those rare moments when we stir ourselves to actually write at length. And yes, we'll have to abandon our beloved first person plural for the nonce. We beg your pardon.

When one of the people behind the Blank Noise Project blog-a-thon got in touch a few days ago and invited me to participate, I hesitated. I'll gladly help spread the word, I said, but I don't know if I'll post.

You see, there are parts of this whole thing that leave me uncomfortable.

There's the matter of the road-side romeos, as we like to refer to them. The ones who whistle and sing film songs at girls. Scum, right? Shouldn't be allowed, right?

To answer that, I'll have to digress a bit. I was talking to a friend last night. She mentioned a girl we both know who was being harassed. I sat up. All concern. What happened, I asked. Well, some chap who'd taken a fancy to her had been emailing and SMSing a lot, had asked her out several times, that kinda thing. I snorted. That's not harassment, I said, that's a dumbf*** who doesn't get the message. And then I had this flash: the road-side romeos, they're doing just the same thing; they don't do the flowers and asking-out-to-a-date thing, but it's really only because they haven't been grown up learning that kind of courtship ritual. It's just a different culture thing. Take away the, um, "sophistication" levels, and we're still talking unwanted attention here.

And that's where I'm stuck; I fancy a woman, I ask her out, is that harassment? I think not.

When a guy looking at a woman with admiration — or trying to strike up a conversation, or asking her out — is labelled "harassment," a line is crossed. I'm quite likely to do some of that (well, okay, just the letching part, I lack nerve to do more than that, usually), and I don't see myself as a predator by any stretch of the imagination. And as I long as I have hormones and eyesight — alas, one is aging, so that may not be long — I will continue to say a mental hubba-hubba-va-va-voom whenever I happen to spot a woman who meets my particular standards of attractiveness.

Anyway. Let's leave my dilemmas out of this for the moment. Where was I? Yes.

Over the last few days, reading the posts that have begun coming up , I have been feeling .. shell-shocked. Not at the content — female friends have told me more and worse — but at the sheer numbers. And the pent-up rage that one sees coming to the surface. And I have begun to think that while I still don't agree that ogling is harassment, I can understand why so many women think so.

What, aside from that, pushed me to finally post? Several things.

I think it was reading, somewhere on some news site during my insomniac wanderings, which one I can't remember, that ridiculous euphemism once more: eve teasing. Jeeze. Teasing. Therein lies a problem. The media needs to stop using that antiquated term that makes it sound like a boys-will-be-boys lark and tell it like it is. If some creep paws a woman, say he pawed her, for god's sake.

I think it was several memories coming to the surface.

Like this once, way back when I was fresh-faced youth (yes, there was such a time), I had an elderly perve groping my crotch in a crowded train. Crowded or not, I reached down, got hold of his little finger and bent it backwards. Crowded or not, he managed to wiggle his way quickly to the other side of the train.

That was just once. I cannot begin to imagine what my life would be like if I had to go through this every day.

Like this other time, years later, in a train with a female friend, as we were getting off at a crowded station, she whispered to me, that guy behind me is pinching me. The rush of people getting on and off was a bit of a hindrance, but as we got out, I reached out and caught his neck, and slammed him against a pillar. His friends came to his rescue, trying to pick a fight. Ask this b*********d what he was doing I yelled in my tattered Hindi. A crowd, as crowds do, quickly formed. Beat the m**********d up someone suggested helpfully. The pals quickly changed their tune. Let him go, he's young or something to that effect. I lose my temper rarely, when I do, I see red. My friend pulled me away. Let it go, she said, probably concerned that I would burst a blood vessel. I wish I hadn't. Maybe I scared him enough. Somehow, I think not.

Partly, it was the memory of, over the years, female friends telling me of walking hunched, with a file held across the chest; of carrying knives in their purses; of being felt, groped, touched, pinched every day for years. Some have retaliated, hit out, made a scene. Most haven't. They've been told to let it go, don't make a scene, it happens all over, there's nothing you can do.

I also remembered a prize-winning essay by Meenakshi Shedde (Outlook's rejecting my password, so I can't point you to the link or remember her exact words, but it was either the 2000 or 2001 Outlook Picador contest.) which said something about "boyfriend clothes"; clothes you could only wear when you were with a man.

I also remember an essay by Meenakshi Shedde, one that was short-listed in the Outlook Picador contest in 2001 [Thanks to Dilip, who, incidentally, won second prize that year, I can now quote the relevant passage]:
Besides, my dress sense is relatively conservative, covering most of my body. Minis and plunging necklines are mostly in the realm of what I call `boyfriend clothes' -- clothes best worn with a boyfriend attached: a single woman wearing them draws so much unpleasant attention from the men in the streets, it is simply not worth the bother.
Is there a point to all this? Kind of. Here it is. If a woman is physically assaulted every day to the point where she carries a constant kernel of suspicion and rage around with her; if a woman within reach of a man's hands in situations where he thinks he won't get caught is touched inappropriately more times than not; if a woman can't wear what she wants to when she wants to (and don't give me that lame-arsed twaddle about respecting culture; if paunchy men can wander around in public in striped chuddies, shirtless, scratching their privates, it is hypocritical to want women to cover up), then something's very, very wrong.

So, will this blog-a-thon matter a solitary damn? I'm sceptical. It will, by and large, preach to the converted. Such trolls and plain weirdos as may happen by will not see reason. But, hey who knows. It will bring some attention to the matter. Maybe get some media coverage. At the very least, if some women speak of their rage for the first time, and find some release in it, if some woman can walk proud and erect, if some angry women stops tarring all men with the same brush .. and if even one man looks at this problem differently after this blog-a-thon, perhaps a beginning will have been made.

After I wrote this, and was agonising about whether to post it, I happened to be chatting with a friend. And in my usual decisive way, I dumped this post on her, asked her for an opinion. Post, she said. Yes, it rambles, she said, kindly not going on to say, hey, who expects anything else from you? We discussed a few other blog-a-thon posts we'd both read. And she said something that summed it up for me better than I could have. So, with Megha's permission, here we go:
Who are Roadside Romeos? Are they some separate branch of society different from us? We, blog readers = respectable. They, RRs = scum of the earth? I think that line that some of us have in our mind is what this blog-a-thon somewhat blurs. Perhaps, in reading the testimonies of women everywhere, there may be men who sit up and realise that what they think is harmless is perhaps not so harmless. Perhaps, in reading the testimonies of innocent men who have unfairly been subject to angry glares, there will be women who will sit up and realise that not all men are scum. Perhaps we will come away on the whole realising that things are a lot more nuanced than we see them as.

And another thing too - when a malaise is as commonplace as 'street harassment / eve teasing' is, we become somewhat indifferent to it. A problem that we are at most times, content to ignore, until and unless it directly affects us. Shy away from uncomfortable truths or live in blissful denial of it. But perhaps, on reading the posts written on this topic, some of us will, at least in our heads, stop pretending that the problem is the rest-of-the-world's alone. It is very much ours as well. And isn't that an essential part of solving any problem - to start by acknowledging that it exists?
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6 comments:

Space Bar said...

I've written three times and trashed all three attempts because I found there was much more anger than I was comfortable displaying.

Even the word harassment doesn't do justice to the abuse women face. And quite naturally, the streets don't even begin to cover the extent, range and depth of what women have to deal with.

There's more one could say, but there's no place to start or finish.

Joyce said...

hey peter,
Joyce again, after ages. Supposed to be a regular reader, but...well, anyway. Interesting reading as usual. Especially the link to what Annie wrote.
After reading both your posts, i just ended up sighing and thinking to myself, "Well, whatcha-gonna-do..." There's so much that women have gone through and will continue going through whether we vent our anger or not. It's not like we don't know other women are going through exactly the same stuff too. All the same, on an optimistic note, with so many women venting, maybe something good will grow out of it.
I remember, a few years ago, outside Delhi colleges for women, lady cops pretended to be students and were harrassed by all kinds of men. Just a few meters down the road, there were male cops waiting for them with open arms, ready to photograph them and publish their pictures on the front page of the next day's Delhi Times. This went on a for a few days.I felt rather victorious at the sight of these lecherous uncles and youngsters frozen for posterity in those newspapers, disgraced in front of family and friends, with their hands folded, pleading not to be photographed! Most of them looked like they were from regular, decent middle-class families, with regular government jobs or whatever. High moment for womankind.
That link to the "wierdo" who posted a comment on Annie's article sounded a lot like that Sumant guy. Cracked me up totally. I sat for a while trying to remember Sumant's name after reading that comment. My stomach is still shaking from stifled giggles. Where do these guys come from??? They're pretty obsessed with the "dishonest daughter-in-law" and "age-old parents"! Oh god, there goes my tummy shaking again. And pray...WHAT is an abala nari?? hehe!
take care,
nice reading you again...
J.

Joyce said...

by the way, what's with the word verification?? how does it help in any way? just trying to be all hi-tech, eh?
J.

zigzackly said...

space bar

I know that I can't, as a man, know what you mean, but I've heard enough to begin to comprehend what you're saying.

zigzackly said...

Joyce. :) Welcome back. Where have you been hiding?

The incident you refer to - was discussing it just last night, with a pal in Delhi. And you know, she was saying the she felt that rather than any acknowledgement of wrongdoing, or any contrition, those creeps were merely scared of beig punished. But if that's what it takes, then that's what it takes.

And yes, I'm pretty sure that the weirdo is part of the SIF gang. Their arguments have a trademark monotony, incoherence and gibber about them, no? :)

Anonymous said...

what is eve teasing? it is a game which has been going on for aeons since man evolved from a four legged ancestor. Yes, on our way up to the so called civilisation, taboos have developed as to what constitutes good behaviour between the sexes and what is bad But it is man made and is full of constraints against the natural evolutionary process. And man has been trying to come out of this hidebound restrictive cage as often as he gets a chance to. I find nothing wrong in eve teasing It is a natural phenomenon and shold be understood in that perspective. Here I am talking abut the teasing part my comments donot apply to what happens after the teasing part. That of course is a different realm altogether. Is it not nature's way of propagating the species that the male always spots the female and tries to court her and ultimately mate with her? Society has tried to bind this natural process with all sorts of moral and legal baarricades, none of which has stood the floodgates of natural emotions and physiological and biological processes over the ages. If we take our holy books, they are interspersed with anecdotes and incidents which will make hardcore porn addict wince. Incest is inbuilt in the story of genesis. Or else how did mankind multiply from the original God made man and woman? Polyandry is glorified as a dictum from a loving mother in the mahabharata. conceivinag out of wedlock to beget progeny is sanctified by bringing in the sungod and so on. So what are we objecting to in the so called eve teasing problem? It has existed since time immemorial and it will flourish till mankind lasts. So mate, grin and bear it. Dont complain. Dont adopt the holier than thou attitude. Because at heart, u r enjoying the game as much as the next man or woman.
Sorry if i have hurt the sentiments of the orthodox.