Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Trivial injustices

Street sexual harassment seems to have become an anecdotal topic. My friends and I speak of incidents offhandedly, revealing how we kicked some serious lecherous ass, or how we surprised ourselves by not doing anything at all.

The other day, while negotiating the crowds on Brigade Road, Akshay told me to walk in front of him. If anyone touched me, he’d be ready to throw a couple of punches. That eventually nothing happened bothered him.
‘Dude, why not now? When I’m here covering for you?’
I was about to object to his ‘covering for me’ when I realised that the situation had been different when I was walking up the street to meet the boys. I mentioned minor traumatic incidents later over lunch and the guys seemed outraged.
‘You women are all alike. You let these creeps do whatever and some two hours later come and tell us.’

Usually nothing happens when a woman is associated with a man while on the street. There have been times when I’m holding B’s hand and walking on a crowded footpath and men will stay away because I have a man with me. The same goes for when I’m with baba, or any guy friend. But when ma and I are out, there have been ‘situations’. (I’m feeling euphemistic just now.)
Presumably, the woman is an easier target when she’s alone. Though it really doesn’t matter whether I’m holding someone’s hand or not; I’m quick with profanities and my hand is ready to hit the person if he’s been particularly offensive.

I also believe that I react differently on different days. Sometimes, I make eye contact with everyone who looks in my direction. (This is often interpreted as Look How Bold I Am Won’t You Please Put Me In My Rightful Subservient Place.)
Other times I feign indifference at stares and advances, trying to exude the impression of the I’m Used To City Streets And I Know I’m Attractive So You Can Give Up Trying To Fluster Me type. (This is also interpreted as Look How Bold I Am Won’t You Please Put Me In My Rightful Subservient Place.)

I notice that I’ve stopped reacting to certain types of harassment while others, I address. This could be construed as a sort of self-censorship, where I begin slotting offences according to my own pre-determined categories.
Can Be Overlooked. Can Be Mistaken For An Accident. To Be Dealt With. Deserves Slap. Deserves Rude Retort.

Now singing in my ear as I walk past is ignored.
As are the loud conversations by groups of college boys referring to body parts.
And the high-pitched unnatural kissing noises.
The seemingly accidental brush against my thigh is dismissed with a click of my tongue.
Someone blowing on the nape of my neck in a queue is accosted with ‘Excuse me? Please move back.
A man staring at my chest would get nothing more than a glare if I were tired or preoccupied.
Sometimes, if I’m irritated or have had a bad day, I retaliate by making the common mother-sister references.

Sometimes I confront a man pressing up against another girl on a crowded bus.
Sometimes I scream so loud it draws a crowd.
Often, the crowd consists of men who hang around silently and size you up from head to toe.
Almost always, the men deny having done anything.
A couple of times, a man has apologised.
Once a man hit me right back.
Sometimes I’m afraid of what might happen to me while walking on a deserted road.
And sometimes I disappoint myself.

Please visit and support the Blank Noise Project if you feel strongly about this issue. Hell, do it if you feel anything at all.