Today is the Day, one day before Women's Day, in which we all make noise and kick some ass about that most routine and yet accumulatively humiliating type of sexual harassment that women are subjected to the world over: Eveteasing.
Shout out to the Blank Noise Project.
I vaguely remember the first time I was harassed on the streets. It stayed in my mind because it was a novel incident that I didn’t know what to make of, and because I was not aware of my body, my spirit as a sexual being.
It could have been possibly when I was 13 or 14? Boys had started looking at me with some amount of interest, nice boys that is, and I didn’t know what it was or why I liked it. I was just me, the girl whose mama forced oil on, the girl with the big plastic glasses who read in the bathroom and loved puppies. And it made me feel nice and want to include them in my Mary Poppins technicoloured dreams. But I hadn’t been aware that men would too. Men were a world removed – a realm of ideologically distant fathers and uncles, and faceless strangers one didn’t bother about.
So it was a rather rude shock indeed when slowly, the mirage in which I dwelt threatened to crash down around me as the impudent leer “Ayy sexy” sounded around the vicinity of my year. My budding breast, cocooned in the breathable fibres of my literary space, that had always created a diaophanous barrier protecting me from the world, was jolted into reality by the jolly shoulder of a faceless man. My insides widened as I walked on reflexively, while he disappeared into the heaving railway carriage of passengers that comprises Mumbai streets.
I didn’t know what to think. At that moment a flurry of questions swept around in my blood. “Did he say *gasp* sexy?”, “Did he mean me?”, “What is sexy anyway?”, “How can I be sexy?”, “It must be a bad ‘adult’ thing”, “That means its bad if I’m sexy”. But these thoughts were forgotten soon enough as exams loomed on the horizon and study and friends put an end to my meanderings around my house.
The second ‘memorable’ incident occurred when I was 16. Fresh and blooming in every respect one could think of, which men took no time in taking notice of and trying to appropriate, however evanescent the possession was. I was walking to Sterling Cinema, hanging on the arm of my first boyfriend, my everything in the world, when I felt my breast being rubbed in a way even he hadn’t dared to touch by a file of three men who roughly brushed past, who muttered something about my sex. By then, I was old enough to not be spared the implication, and the humiliation drove me to the verge of tears. I couldn’t believe my ears when my boyfriend, attempting to allay my pulsating emotions, said that in a way he felt proud that men considered his girlfriend attractive enough to want to touch. I felt like screaming that they HAD succeeded! And that they were not the sort of men I would WANT to touch me! I felt betrayed, not just by a stranger’s disrespect but by a loved one’s pacifism. That night, my imagined invisibility was shattered, as was my feeling that I could be secure even with someone who passionately declared his love for me.
For I realized that a woman is only a person in societal imagination, and after much much abuse. She is a commodity when unattached, and symbolic property when attached. She is the elusive trophy in the perennial territorial game between men. A stranger’s brush against her body signifies a kabaddi-esque penetration, and bears an unspoken challenge, one that usually walks away defeated. Even if the stranger is confronted by the male companion of the woman, and is even beaten up and reduced to apologetic pulp, he has still won the set, though his future sporting career is questionable.
I’m not a commodity that can be cleaned with a simple superficial caress when its sullied! The clear muslin of my mind both holds and allows experiences to seep through, rendering each more concentrated in its separate identities.
I had been gifted with a not only a horror of penises, from the constant fondling ‘down there’ that I was forced to witness, to an octogenarian chasing us, pulling apart his dhoti and rubbing himself, but also a repulsion for my own body and the sexuality it represented. I was afraid to wear shorts, to wear sleeveless tops, to breathe too hard, to run, to in any way make my presence conspicuous. I felt as though a burqa of black canvas were snaking around me, stifling my freedom.
Till suddenly, it all changed. But one day I felt free of the binding, of the stares, of the murmurs. I discovered the delightful portability of music, and the world became my ramp. The rhythm taught me control of my steps, the words once again transported me to my erstwhile alternate universe, as I dodge the passersby oblivious and at peace.
I realized that I don’t WANT those experiences. And I don’t have to have them. The panacea for all evils is the mainstay of this decade, and that lesson is ATTITUDE.
There are times when I still need to hold on fiercely to the few remaining shreds of my silken cocoon, but it is precisely those dreams that protect me by a hair’s breadth from the careless tearing hands that long to strip me to my bones.
Those dreams that taught me to walk tall. To look straight towards my destination. To not apologise for what nature has made me.
I am a woman, and I am beautiful. You can look – you can’t help it, poor thing, but YOU’LL be damned if you touch.
- Action Hero Aranyi