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One way to stand up against harassment is to refuse to heed the advice that the streets are dangerous for women. Go out. Reclaim the streets.
#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’.
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“Where are the women?” ask people visiting me from other countries as we walk through the streets of Delhi. Women are conspicuous by their absence, by the minuscule numbers of them in public spaces when compared with the crush of men.
Why is this? Perhaps because it is such an unpleasant experience to be away from your safe zones if you are a woman. Women are targeted in all kinds of ways if they’re out in public with men under the assumption that because they’ve chosen to leave the ‘safe’ confines of home, without a man in tow, they are ‘asking for it.’
Being stared at is the mildest form of harassment we face. In fact, it is so common that some of us don’t even pay any attention to it. I do though. And so do my daughters. I’ve seen each of them confront an ogler with a “Kya dekh rahe ho?” (What are you looking at) peppered with choice epithets.
The ‘tried and tested’ reaction to this onslaught of unwanted attention is to keep women ‘safe’ at home, giving in to the threats and harassment leaving those ‘dangerous’ public spaces for men.
Outside on the street, at bus stops and in parks, men pee out in the open, handle their crotches as though they are alone in a room, stare at any stray woman who has braved going out of doors alone (unlike places like Saudi Arabia, we have no written rules but many unwritten ones) and generally own the space. They , read, sleep, snort, spit, pee, shout, argue or march down the middle of the street fearlessly. Which woman can do that?
There are fewer public loos for women than for men but have you ever seen a woman squatting in a public place to pee?
Walking down a street, we have cyclists brush their hands past our boobs (personal experience), bikes whizz past catcalling and making kissing sounds, carloads of men yelling ‘Choot’ at us, scooter rickshaws drive into puddles to splash us and buses swerve threateningly at us.
Since the ‘tried and tested’ method of handling this doesn’t work, let’s try a different approach. Let’s reclaim public spaces. Let’s flock outdoors unafraid as women and girls. Let’s walk in the street, unafraid of what might happen. Boys who yell ‘choot’ only enjoy doing it as long as we look shocked or are scared. When we stop giving a rat’s ass, they can chant it continuously to every woman they encounter and it won’t matter.
By staying away from the street, the park, the square as suggested by our parents, brothers, spouses and male friends we show that we believe that we should stay at home. We show that we have internalized the injunction that women are lesser beings.
That isn’t true, so lets not act like it is. We too can eat on the street, drive two wheelers, pee if we want (although neither men nor women ought to pee on pavements), adjust our bras, smoke outside the pan shop, drive at night, wear what we want, speak loudly, ask for direction and sit alone on park benches. The more we do this, the less unusual it will be.
Try it. It’s liberating.
Read all posts written @ #AskingForIt blogathon
Pic of feet on a park bench credit Shutterstock
A freelance journalist and teacher, Kalpana is a feminist, an animal rights activist, passionate about
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