A couple of weeks ago, against my better judgment, I got into an argument on Facebook with someone who shared an article on the women’s compartment in the Delhi metro being a “symbol of patriarchy” (*facepalm*). I found myself explaining (not for the first time), why safe spaces for women are necessary, why travelling harassment-free is not a privilege, and how separate compartments are an effective (yet flawed) solution.
What followed was a barrage of mansplaining: “Separating the “victim” and the “oppressor” isn’t a solution; women need to speak up against harassment. You need to defend yourself.”
Wow, really? My little feminine brain would’ve never thought of that. I was asked why I was getting so angry, after all, it was just meant to be a healthy discussion. What was just a healthy discussion to him was something women experience every single day of their lives.
I was angry, because my sister was sexually harassed in a temple at the age of ten. I was angry, because my best friend called me one night, about ten years ago, sounding frantic because a man was masturbating beneath her window.
Speaking up isn’t easy, when every day, on our way to school, college or work, we have to face stares (at best), lewd remarks and “accidental touching“. Speaking up isn’t easy when you’re standing on the footpath dumbfounded after a man old enough to be your father asks you for a blowjob while you’re on your way to the bus stand after college. Speaking up isn’t easy when what is meant to be a daily, banal activity turns into one fraught with anxiety.
Moreover, the simplistic solution of women “speaking up” against unwanted sexual advances gets complicated by the fact that men who violate women probably haven’t been taught how to handle rejection very well. Women would definitely speak up against harassment more often, if only there were no possibility of them being shot to death, being burned alive, or doused in acid.
So yes, we are angry and rightfully so, because every time we step out in public, we have to make ourselves smaller, inconspicuous, just so that we can get to our destinations without having our bodies and space violated. That is something that cis gendered heterosexual men will never understand. So no, you don’t get to tell us what to do when we’re harassed. And you definitely don’t get to decide what’s best for women.
Featured Image Credit: Everyday Feminism
Disclaimer: An earlier version of this post appeared on the author’s blog here.