The following post is for the Blank Noise Project Blog-a-thon which seeks to record testimonies, thoughts, analyses etc of street harassment. Please go read what other people have to say too. There are some really horrific, insightful, intelligent, despairing, heart-breaking posts out there.
Written in 2002.
I don't want to be here. Odours silence my restive cries as my mouth opens and closes several times like a fish. I lay still on a red and black seat - torn in places with cotton peeping through - as disembodied hands slide under the red tee-shirt I thoughtlessly chose this morning. Reality borrows the clarity of dreams, but disposes of the promise to wake me up. From the corner of my eye I can see the taxi driver through the rear view mirror looking forcefully at the streets ahead of him. I know I will die today. I know I will be cut into four pieces, tucked into a V.I.P duffel bag and tossed into the Arabian Sea."You're so beautiful..you're so beautiful", the words segue into noisy orgasms that only I can hear. I'm losing track of what's happening. A tongue entangled in mine...cars frantically making their way to work....my bra is being masterfully unhooked...we're taking a left turn...maybe it's a right turn...? "You shouldn't dress so provocatively...because..you're so fucking beautiful..fucking beautiful..." The rest of the sentence merges into the restlessness of a Bombay weekday. Abruptly,the cab stops at a red light. He sits up straight, stretching his hands. Then, he opens the door and steps out, peers in through the slightly open window and smiles. "Thanks".
A few months ago, I was at Bandra station at about 6:30 in the evening. As I made my way through the throngs of clammy chaos - dodging stray elbows, lewd comments, lecherous stares, "accidental" run-ins - I spotted a group of young men congregating by the rickshaw stand. I made a mental note to stay away from them; they wore the kind of sneers that meant trouble. A few minutes later, I saw a girl barely 18 or 19 years of age. As she walked by them, the young man closest to her reached out and hit her breast forcefully with the back of his hand. The others laughed exaggeratedly and congratulated his audacity with high fives. The girl - like everyone else who'd witnessed the incident - simply walked away.
I wanted to see if she was okay, but she'd scurried into a rickshaw already. Regardless I knew exactly how she felt. I knew her eyes were probably stinging with tears of frustration, humiliation, helplessness, anger. I knew that she regretted walking away, that she was probably rehearsing an appropriately scathing response for the next time it happened. Worst of all, I knew she knew that there would be a next time.
I don't know why we're so apathetic to street harassment - the majority of public spaces in this country are cesspools of misogynist behaviour. To me, being leered and leched at is as much a part of my every day life in Bombay as brushing my teeth. I'm not even really sure what gratification someone gets from calling a female passer-by a "saxxxxy item." You've all heard the feminist rhetoric before but it all does go back to power; they get off on knowing they can get away with their impudence.
It's only recently that I've realised that "eve-teasing" - I hate that word with a passion, but there it is - is actively condoned by Bollywood. I get the feeling that when a 15 year old whistles at me, he half expects my initial spurn to transform into perfectly choreographed pelvic thrusts, with hot-pink clad dancers mimicking my every move.
No, seriously, who remembers the song "Aankh Maare?" or "Aaja Meri Gadi Mein Bait Ja?" or really, any of the other 5462 Bollywood songs where a roadside romeo follows (read: harasses) a girl, interpreting her blatant lack of consent as coyness or irritation or a personality quirk? He is, of course, right and eventually she falls desperately in love with our eve-teasing protagonist who turns out to be quite the paragon of virtue.
I'm not saying, of course, that it's all Bollywood's fault, but my point is that we live in a culture that breeds and encourages sexist behaviour. We teach our daughters to "dress properly" and "behave modestly" but why can't we teach our sons to be more respectful, less aggressive?
In the words of one of my favourite sociologists, "The rules of masculinity and femininity are strictly enforced, and this difference equals power. The difference between male and female sexualities reproduces men’s power over women and simultaneously the power of some men over other men, especially of the dominant, hegemonic form of manhood – straight, white, middle class – over marginalized masculinities. (…)"
I used to carefully calculate my outfit before leaving the house - I had to make sure my shirt wasn't too tight, my bra strap was safely invisible, my jeans weren't too low, my skirt wasn't too short - and despite the (positively oppressive) precautions I took, I still got pinched, poked, grabbed. Day after day after day.
Now I wear what I want because it doesn't make a difference. I didn't ask for it, I don't ask for it. I never will ask for it.
I try relentlessly to stop feeling shame, to treat my own body with the respect it deserves. It's an arduous journey, but slowly and not without setbacks, I - like several other women I know - am getting there
- Action Hero Auri