The Blank Noise blogathon has generated a number of eloquent, stomach-churning accounts of street harassment in cities across India. Women and some men, too, have concretised their experiences and raised their voices against a crime which transcends geography, cultures and financial and religious backgrounds. There has been an outpouring of responses to these posts- expressing sympathy and solidarity by women, and shock and support by men.
However, and this is what my post is about, there have also been those (few) comments which have questioned the regularity and pervasiveness of street harassment. Which, though expressing shock at the incidents, have shrugged them as one-off. Responses that are quotidien from many other men as well, who refuse to believe in a truth staring a half of the population in the eye (and other areas too, if you excuse the pun).
My post is for such self-deluding men. It is also for the men who choose silence over action, who profess helplessness while watching a woman being molested, and who take voyeuristic pleasure in crimes enacted before their eyes. You may not yourselves have indulged in harassment- good for you- but uninvolvement does not equal remedy.
For, you see, you are undeniably and inextricably a part of both the problem as well as the solution.
By choosing not to identify it, you magnify the crisis and reduce the scope for its resolution that much more. By not acting or speaking out against it, you render futile the efforts of other men and women who do, and at the same time give a tacit nod of approval to molesters. You tell them, " I was too sissy to grab her ass, but you did great, brother. Way to go!"
There is a problem. Believe this. There is a slimy undercurrent in every public space of every city (and I'm not even entering the private sphere right now). You might not notice it because you lack the requisite optical capacities. Women develop a finely-tuned, state-of-the-art, all-pervasive sensory apparatus which gives them a view of the world much more different, much more dangerous than yours. It is a survival tactic required of every girl who wishes to reach womanhood safely.
I speak from over a decade of personal experience. I'm overqualified, in fact. I have stayed my whole life in a city that has a public transport service called The Blue Line, for crying out loud.
If you still don't believe it, picture this- that you are like the beings in the city outside of the Matrix; and we, the women who suffer from street harassment, its inhabitants - Neo, Trinity, Morpheus, the gang. We move through the self-same city as you do, but know that the vision of calm that it projects is but a false illusion. The only difference is, there isn't going to be any One who will save humanity.
There is a solution. One in which you may be able to have a larger impact than any of our efforts combined. Being a problem which highlights an acute polarization of genders, it seems valid for the solution, too, to be gendered- that men speak out against and punish offending men. Men condemn molestation in every degree and form, telling their fellow sex that their deeds and habits are inexcusable, atrocious, horrible, criminal. Men ostracize members of their clan, even those who wear the badge of 'friends'.
Molesters expect some retaliation from women. But instant and forceful condemnation by men might just act as the high voltage fence preventing them from ever trespassing again.
Which is why I commend the few male bloggers who have spoken out against the menace of street harassment. To all the rest of you, I say- Look around. Open your eyes. Accept the problem. Speak up. Hit out. Because for every woman who suffers this hell, a son/husband/brother experiences its invisible but certain corrosive ripple effects.
You are a part of a delicate societal matrix which, with each blow to its members, gets even more tattered, leaving them with only that much more space to cling safely to. Which is why, if not for anything but selfish reasons, you have the perfect excuse to take a stand now and speak out against sexual harassment.
No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine own were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.
-John Donne (Meditation XVII of Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions)
-Action Hero Girija