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Sunday, July 05, 2009

Where there is an Eve ...

One of the things that I love London for is that I don't have to put up with eve-teasing or sexual harassment when am on the street, minding my business. I can wear what I like, do what I like and even then, rare is the occasion on which I might hear whistles or catcalls.

Which is not to say the populace here is completely sterile. More often than not, strangers might walk up to you and say "You're pretty/gorgeous/beautiful blah di blah", but that is that. You respond (smile, say thank you, whatever) or not, and you both move on.

Personally, I haven't ever felt threatened by some man on the street checking me out. Unlike in India where every outing is some sort of battle against every other random male you encounter, hell bent on stripping you of your dignity and making you feel hunted, desperate and even ashamed for something that isn't even your fault.

To be classified an eve-teaser here, the requirement is to be some sort of labourer, going by what I've seen, heard and read on occasion. Building workers, painters etc are bound to take on the role of eve-teasers out here with their jeering cat-calls and rather frequent passes at every passing thing remotely-female. They call you 'love', wish you whatever time of the day it is and try all the time to strike up conversations. Having had painters work on the office building for a good month or two, I've been subject to all of that. They discovered where the ladies' loo was and we had to out up with several instances of them hanging out right there making it difficult to use the facilities. Except that if you told them to go away, they would. Never mind that they returned.

And having faced much worse back home, this does seem rather harmless. Which is not to say it ought to be condoned, but it's easier to deal with. Somewhere, a society that is sensitised to women being more free in their dressing and behaviour with the opposite sex seems a safe place to be. Relatively though. Because apparently, there is plenty of eve-teasing going on here as well. If it isn't the rising cases of 'up-skirting', it is the numerous instances of women on bikes being targeted (mostly a summer phenomenon because winter would dictate the use of clothing that was more voluminous).

What intrigued me mainly is the reaction to both these pieces (do follow the comments). While there was much 'Why wear a skirt then, wear trousers' sort of reaction (which gave rise to the "Yes of course, it's always a woman's responsiblity/problem. Why can't men act more civilised?" argument) on the piece about up-skirting, the reaction on the piece on women-bikers has been more constructive input on what to do, a lot of it from women readers.

And I suppose that is where the Indian society and the 'West' part. There isn't any 'Wear approporiate clothing' 'Do not make yourself conspicuous' sort of advice coming from other women, nor do the laws not take eve-teasers seriously. And nobody is giving women strictures on how dressing conservatively/modestly will earn them the respect of men.

This isn't abour comparing crime rates in either place or a comparision of whether there are more psycho stalkers here than in India and so one or the other society has merits over the other.

This is about how women are treated with far more respect (without having to dress conservatively) out here than there and what a vast difference it makes. It may not be a completely safe society but where a problem exists/arises, there is the assurance of it being dealt with.

Which makes one wonder. What does it/will it take to bring about a similar state in India? Is it that men here are used to the company of women, and their liberal attire, for it to be distracting? Or is it something beyond?

One of things one notices as an immigrant is other immigrants. Specially of the desi variety. Now, very loose and general observations gleaned are how hitherto conservative girls tend to 'bloom' on getting here — what with adopting modish raiment that shows far more skin than they have ever dared to back home, perhaps even getting into the drinking/smoking culture. What is far more evident is the utter cluelessness and consequent disastrous attempts of a huge number of the male desi immigrant population at mingling with the natives and other nationals (read girls).

A lot of times, they tend to believe firmly in the assumption that is the bequest of bollywood — that foreign girls (specially the white ones) are 'easy'. And everything they do, tends to stem from here. Which doesn't make for pleasant encounters.

A friend of mine (a native) went out for a drink with this Indian chap she met at some random inter-college party. She came back saying it was a very 'bizzarre date'. Which is to say the guy kept insisting she have another drink (and boy, the smell of wine on her breath that night was VERY strong) and when she made to leave, he'd get upset and his behaviour took a drastic 180 degree turn. Having been far too used to this sort of a male, I told her that she probably should not have gone out with him in the first place. What upset me is that such men tend to spoil the game for everyone else, leaving a bad taste lingering. I've met a lot of decent desi guys who know very well how to behave themselves, whether around firang company or not. What makes the rest so despicable then?

One can map their behaviour rather precisely. Having spotted some hapless chick to bestow their unwanted sorry attention on, the next step is to somehow manage to be in the same vicinity as their target or get her number, by hook or crook. Then comes the calling her (repeatedly, if she doesn't answer the first time) or wrestling in on the conversation only to make her the target of all their comments thus effectively achieving three outcomes — making a spectacle of themself while alienating self from other gathered company, bringing to a halt any conversation that has hitherto been going on and embarassing said chick to no end. And then, they 'ask her out'. At which point, if the girl says yes, the following date is going to be an experience she will want to forget in a hrry but will not. If she says no, then this is the cue for them to act VERY upset and issue statements such as 'Oh I am SO sorry I hurt your feelings, i should have NEVER asked, I really regret it' and then proceed to slag her off as a 'slut' in front of friends. In the middle of all this, please include clumsy lines such as 'I really liked blah di blah about you... and I never give compliments, you should think yourself fortunate tat I am complimenting you.' (Oh really? And just WHO THE HECK are you that the girl ought to be so so honoured and grateful for your 'compliments'?)

I fail to understand where the anger comes from. Is it because all these years they've been so conditioned to think of themselves as the bees' knees by their mammas and families, little rajkumars who can have everything they want, never mind if they deserve it or not? Why is it so hard for them to accept a no as a no and then go on? I would draw a comparision here and say foreign men are better able to deal with 'rejection' but I am not entirely sure if that is true.

Where does this tie in with eve-teasing though? Often, it is reasoned that the lack of opportunity to interact with women regularly makes men behave thus, in trying to attract the attention of women. Which is a fair point. Indian society still doesn't quite sanction casual platonic interactions between the sexes, gossipping aunties are testimony to that fact.

Technically that should mean that the attempts of men to attract attention ought to be innocuous to a large extent. Why then is it that women feel threatened on the streets of India? Why is it that eve-teasing in India isn't as harmless a thing as it is here? Personally, I feel a marked difference between men there and men here. Out here, men may look, whistle, call out and that's okay. You know they're funning, they know they're funning and it ends there. In India, I always felt like there was something sinister lurking behind every time a man so much as looked in my direction (I am talking of a certain type of man here so hold your horses). There was something rather unsettling in that gaze, in their voices, their manner...

The trouble is, one cannot put a finger to it. It's just a feeling. But it's there. Why?

14 comments:

  1. Coz you know they're not being funny when the laws aren't there to back you up, when people are more likely to say you were asking for it than to condemn their behavior and coz you've read one too many stories about guys following girls home, throwing acid on them when they refuse etc - I could go on all day, I'm afraid.

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  2. oho...eega me feeling very immodest and doubting myself...!!!!
    aadre....nanna latest blogpost oodi heeli...nowadays illi the exact opposite is happening.!!!

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  3. vaudevillian1:47 AM

    dead on with across-the-seas comparison. heard a lot and I mean a lot about indian men here, and wherever abroad just blatantly staring at women. actively playing a major role ruining national identity. heh, delightful bastards keep staring at you even though they know that the person who they're staring at noticed them and knows they're staring at them. worst, they're reproducing among themselves and spreading like wildfire. the denial thing, that's just hilarious. oh the plastic pride and egos stretching miles. it's very sad eve teasing doesn't look like it's phasing out anytime soon back home. not nearly easy taming a billion buttholes in an instant. what a shame.

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  4. we are so used to eve teasing that one look is enough to say whether it is all kosher or not. Woman's instinct? I think so. We just know.

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  5. Will u blv me if I said that of the 4 blogs that I read today…ALL of them deal with the same issue..about the raw deal that women get? Of course ur post is dealing with that n more…

    So firstly about the linked articles : I kept thinking that the MCPs and other morons in India only, thought that it was a woman's fault if she was eve-teased n taken advantage of by men,that the only reason perverts behave the way they do is 'coz of the clothes the woman wears! Infact I didn’t even know that this level of eve-teasing happened around Europe, UK and USA. But I'm obviously wrong, such people n views can be seen across the globe. Many of the comments do say “wear trousers”..they are not suggesting anything else…’coz salwar kameez/ chunni isn’t an option they are aware of. N I guess it is kinda unsafe there as well(though not in equal numbers as in india) ‘coz I did see a comment about a woman’s breasts being grabbed while she was riding her bike! N some of the women are really proving that when it comes to such things... a woman's most dangerous enemy is another woman itself and not a man! Those articles n comments did shock me!


    There might be some truth about “lack of opportunity to interact with women” being the cause of such behavior..but the bigger reason is plain lust and the man’s strong physical need and mabbe even the need to feel superior and “in control” and of course a screwed-up mind!..why else would a man rape a 1 yr old BABY?
    ________________

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  6. So far I have left comments twice and they have disappeared!

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  7. Such a well written post DDD, very nice read.

    The Indian eve-teasing has much more dirtier and frustrating effect than the 'i am being a jerk simply for some fun' kinda eve-teasers in countries like UK, US. And for most of what I think, it is because of the what you correctly pointed - men in these countries are more used to liberal attitude and dressing of girls around them.

    Also, add to the fact most of the male species in India take females for granted - dubbed meek and submissive while countries like the US or the UK have treated women better, at least relatively.

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  8. @ clueless: Crap!! I'm so sorry! I honestly don't know what the issues is... will see if I can prevent that! Try again though!

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  9. I exactly know why I am more fearful in India about eve teasing than in the US. Because, once a jerk was harassing me at a bus stop and I walked over to the police station on the other side of the road to complain. Guess who was the one who had to listen to a lecture?

    And so true about desi guys and their "feelings" when someone says no. Sometimes, they just don't understand the word "no". And I was not being rude either! Yes, I have had to listen to crap about how he thought I was a "good girl" and now he will reconsider (like I care!)....And then comes the stalking. This happened in US in the university I was studying. I could not take it any longer and complained to the dean. And again, guess who got the flak from, of all people, desi girls for ruining some poor guy's life? I showed them all the threatening emails I had received. You know their response?? "Tie a rakhi...thats what we did". And thats when I got to know that this jerk had made a habit of stalking girls in the university and the desi girls were just enablers!

    If only international stay in a liberal country could automatically teach you self respect!

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  10. Those desi men you refer to (who behave well) are probably gay :P
    Jokes apart, I must say Delhi has become about 3000% times safer than about
    2-3 years ago, when there was an instance of rape almost EVERY DAY! Touch
    wood for that!

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  11. Little or no fear of punishment, coupled with inadequate (healthy) exposure. Over several years, this has led to the evolution of a pervasive mindset wherein it becomes their birthright and perhaps even a twisted social obligation (a moral duty to set right the loose women) to tease as they please. Sad but true.

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  12. Because in our country men aren't held responsible for their actions. Because "men will be men", and all the self-loathing mother teach their little daughters how woman are always supposed to sacrifice etc.

    Also, disagree with unsung. Not every straight guy out there is a despo. Most of my friends are guys who treat their girlfriends/wives with respect and not as their personal vending machine who alternatively dispense out sex and babies.

    Was that too much?

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  13. Well said D2!!!! And I think it's

    1) simple bottled up frustration &
    2) baap ka raaj hai mentality.

    Have I told you my fave eve-teasing story? I had recently moved to India and came home crying coz these guys used to make comments everyday towards me. So my nana (he was a retired Army officer) calmly gave me a solution to deal with the ben**od bullies. Gather up all the dogs in family (4to be precise) and bring them along and face the eveteasers. Let them know very nicely how sharp your dogs' fangs are and how they can rip their balls to pieces.

    I will never ever forget their faces :-D One guy almost peed his pants when one of my dogs lunged at him :-D *sigh* Good times, good times ;)

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  14. Just loved this post, amazing analysis and comparison... !! I am on a blog break but had to express my appreciation!

    And we feel uncomfortable because the threat is often real, and the chances of being blamed for being victims is very real too! Glad you wrote this piece, shows even more clearly how useless and ineffective in controlling the crime is blaming the victim.

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