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As boys learn what it means to be a man from their fathers, the role of a father in raising a humane man is critical.
#AskingForIt is an initiative by Breakthrough to mobilize communities and get every individual, both online and in the ‘real world’, to speak out and not treat sexual harassment as ‘normal’.
We have been sharing various perspectives around experiences of harassment as well as acting agains it. You can read them all here at the #AskingForIt blogathon
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One of our many insidious gifts to the world includes the inclusion of the words ‘eve-teasing’ in the Oxford Dictionary. The entry says, “Definition of eve-teasing in English: noun [MASS NOUN] Indian – The making of unwanted sexual remarks or advances by a man to a woman in a public place.”
I agree with some NGOs who have suggested that it is intellectual dishonesty to label the act of sexual harassment as ‘eve-teasing’ and that, “considering the semantic roots of the term in Indian English, Eve teasing refers to the temptress nature of Eve, placing responsibility on the woman as a tease.” [Wikipedia]
I, as a man and as a father of two daughters have failed to understand the reasons behind such obnoxious criminal behaviour, and my straightforward answer to those wondering why sexual harassment takes place would be that it is a product of sick minds and needs to be punished severely, surely and swiftly.
I know I am being simplistic; such sick minds are a product of a sick society where such attitudes have survived, and have been encouraged by acts of omission or commission over generations.
Two recent events, though not involving sexual harassment, point to the fact that parents either don’t believe that their sons can do any wrong, or will just not admit it. One involved the public display of arrogance by the son of a legislator in Vijayawada, and the other involved a road accident involving the son of a rich businessman in Mumbai. In both cases the fathers refused to acknowledge that the sons were to blame; the first said it was a ‘small matter’ while the second refused to believe that the son could do any wrong (in this case, the son already has an earlier hit and run case pending against him).
But then sexual harassment cuts across social classes, age groups and economic background. Remember the recent case of a middle-aged businessman who inappropriately touched a young woman on a flight, and was caught on camera grinning and ‘apologizing’. Examples abound, but in almost every case the woman at the receiving end gets the blame- why was she wearing what she was wearing; why was she out at so and so time; why was she in an ‘unsafe’ part of the city and so on. And there are apologists for why men behave the way they do – here I recall the infamous words of Mulayam Singh Yadav that ‘boys will be boys.’
Indeed, boys will be boys, but if I were the father of a boy who misbehaved with a woman, I would not only hang my head in shame, I would also do a reality check as to where I failed as a father. I would ensure that even if it was a one-off incident, my son would be punished so severely that he would spend a lifetime regretting what he did. My son would not have to prove his masculinity by being crass and criminal; he would have to earn the respect of women, his peers, parents and family by being human, by being decent; and by caring for the feelings of others, especially women.
I address this to all parents, especially fathers – teach your sons to be men, not animals. One quote by Gloria Steinem comes to mind, (I have quoted it in an earlier post as well) – “We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons… but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.” Believe me, if we learn to do that we shall be looking at a world where men and women are equal, where decency is the norm, and where words like ‘eve-teasing’ and ‘sexual harassment’ do not exist.
father and son image via Shutterstock
I am a former bureaucrat, and have worked a lot on gender issues, disaster management
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