News outlets are constantly talking about, and all sorts of government and non-government agencies are battling, ‘eve-teasing’. I shan’t attempt a treatise here on why cat-calling or groping and rubbing up against a stranger in public is wrong, or on how we most certainly need to stop doing this (if we are, for some reason). That’s the obvious bit.
To me, there is a more important, though perhaps less evident concern here. I take an exception to how practically everyone in India is framing an important national issue that pervades class, age and geography, and has been doing so for decades. I take a strong exception to the phrase ‘eve-teasing’. Yes, it’s a phrase that is used by the police, the news, and the activists alike. We’re constantly exposed to the euphemism – I don’t blame you for subconsciously having included it in your vocabulary. But enough is enough; it’s time we stopped ‘eve-teasing’.
Most glaringly, it trivializes what is – in no uncertain terms – sexual harassment. Notice how the phrase ‘street sexual harassment’ conjures up a very different image in your head than ‘eve-teasing’? This is by design. Euphemisms, historically, serve the specific purpose of replacing phrases, words, or concepts with ones that sound more acceptable or polite. Cat-calling and groping are never acceptable or polite. So even if you mean well, there is no reason to continue to frame them as if they could be. And granted, this is probably the example that most drives me up a wall. But it is just that. One of the many examples of how both globally, and in India, we trivialize gender issues by presenting them with words and idioms that intentionally make them sound less polite, or less harsh than they are. It’s never ‘revenge porn’; it’s always ‘MMS’. It’s never ‘statutory rape’; it’s always ‘molestation’. And until very recently, it was hardly ever ‘rape’ and almost always ‘brutal assault’. If, as society, we want to address the problem of sex-crime in our country, we need to start admitting its extent and magnitude, and stop mollycoddling ourselves into believing that they’re only a minor grievance.
Let’s deconstruct the phrase even further. Why Eve to represent all women? I hypothesize that victim-blaming is so inherent to how we’ve thought of, and portrayed, this question through time, that we were most comfortable linking this to a story of how a woman was responsible for making all the bad things. ‘She at the apple, she was asking for it’ fits nicely into the narrative of ‘she was wearing a short skirt, she asked for it’. Even if I were to concede that this choice of moniker wasn’t intentional, (I’m not conceding it but even if I did,) it doesn’t change that the term as it currently stands, alludes to some clear-cut victim shaming, and that’s unacceptable. Again, this is just one instance. Victim shaming is an overarching trend in India that ranges from the seemingly rational (it’s not safe for her to go out alone at night) to the blatantly bizarre (she was eating chowmein).
‘Eve’ doesn’t make any sense in this context. ‘Teasing’ makes even less. For one I’m not even sure which way this word is meant. Does it mean that the victims are being a tease – by virtue of outfit, location, body-type etc. – or does it mean that groping someone’s breasts is akin to pulling someone’s leg? The former interpretation serves a second helping of victim-shaming, while the latter only further trivializes the issue.
So can we please, stop saying ‘eve-teasing’? It’s a misogynistic euphemism and we can do better. It’s not that hard. Here, say it with me. “Street. Sexual. Harassment.”