This story is part of the 16 Days Of Activism campaign against sexual harassment. People are invited to share their experiences and shift the onus from the survivor to the perpetrator. To know more and take part in the campaign click here.
Women have long been regarded in this wondrous country as beings indebted to a man (father, husband, brother) who also happens to ‘own’ her. Therefore, if we are not ‘with a man’ we’re free to be harassed. Not being with a man also means ‘slut’, ‘shameless’, and a few other things.
I was in one such situation when, returning from a friend’s house at 9 am, I walked down a stretch of street in broad daylight in a t-shirt and jeans, looking to flag down an auto. For all those who somehow think what a woman is wearing is relevant to sexual harassment, that it justifies it somehow and vindicates the perpetrator, I was in a t-shirt, jeans and a hoodie, my handbag in one hand and mobile in the other. 9 a.m. on a sunny street, and I walked from end to end. I was followed by an awful man on a bicycle for a good 10-15 metres. Having taken it in silence, I glared at him and scowled angrily. He then lunged his bicycle towards me, shouted ‘arre aam bade acche hain!’ – referring to his enjoyment of my‘mangoes’. Before I could react, he cackled like the disgusting lunatic he was and sped away.
Similar to this, two men on a motorbike seemed to find it okay to slow down whilst I was driving to a destination, then place their bike across my car at a traffic signal, and make obscene gestures on a relatively empty street. Again, this was in broad daylight. Before the 100 seconds were up, they had also managed to make a rude ‘women driving’ gibe and sped away when I attempted to attract outside
attention to protect myself.
To all the men who stare at women on the street – you are harassing us too. It is ridiculous how many ‘MRAs’ (“men’s right activists”) seem to feel slighted or ‘victimized’ for ‘just looking’. When you ‘just look’ or ‘just say a word’ with the worst of intentions, when every tiny look is dripping with repulsive innuendo, when you make women feel like you are invading their personal space, it is sexual harassment. If you look when you weren’t asked or permitted to , when you stare, when you make somebody feel threatened, it is harassment. It’s not ‘appreciating something that looks nice’. Women are not ‘objects to appreciate the beauty of’. If you want something beautiful to look at, go look at a tree, or a rose-bush, a plant, a painting in a museum, artwork, or something that is an real object and not a person or being you have conveniently objectified.
Dear road starers, screamers, cat-calling maniacs, roadside Romeos of India – keep your eyes, arms and bodies where they belong. Your unwelcome stares are harassment enough, even if you didn’t ‘touch’ or ‘molest’.