By Lata Jha:Â
As a girl, you know the look that makes you feel soiled. It’s a traumatising sequence of glances, where not one word is said, but it’s explicit in the most basic sense of the term. And notwithstanding the strong women we claim to be, it’s enough to ruin that moment of time, and often, the day for us.
I’m all for the need to rise collectively against any sort of harassment, inconvenience or violence that women may face. I also agree with and endorse the fact that males, as the sex that’s physically stronger bear the responsibility to shield them rather than use the power to defile and impose themselves over women, who are biologically gentler and meeker. But I also think the confidence to push over comes from the easy opinions and judgments that are made about women today. That they are subservient, they are ‘meant’ for certain things that they will give in. And the strangest and most disturbing aspect of all of this is that it’s a lot of the females today who seem more insensitive towards those people of their gender who have either gone to challenge norms of masculine superiority or in some way, succumb to it.
While it’s heartening to see our men genuinely incensed at the unsafe environment their daughters and sisters have to live in, I’m a little uneasy with what seems an apathetic, indifferent and often, malicious attitude on the part of a lot of women.
In no way, do I mean this holds true for all women. I’m aware of how consistently and rationally some of our activists have been campaigning for not just reforms, but a change in mindsets. Neither am I oblivious of the Abhijit Mukherjees of the world who seem to seek pleasure out of their blatant disregard for womankind.
I just feel a lot more women need to be a lot more accepting of and empathetic towards their own kind. I say this from personal experience and a lot of my friends would agree. You get more stares from middle aged women these days than men, when you’re out. They seem to be judging every little bit of you. Your clothes, your gait, your timings, whether you’re accompanied by a male chaperone or not, and so on. It makes you so uncomfortable. And it’s not something you understand easily, like when a guy ogles at a girl. It’s not blatant, but definitely brazen.
Its funny how more often than not, the female relatives of the family would tell you of the inevitable need to learn how to cook, to knit, to socialise and make a family. I find the males more chilled out, more accepting. They might not have had the courage to give their mothers, or even their wives the freedom to pursue their dreams, but they will definitely let their daughters fly and soar. This generosity of course, might have arisen out of the fact that they’ve themselves had many more opportunities in life than their female counterparts.
But I really think it’s sad that we, as women, prefer to not take a stand for our own people. During Holi and other times of the year when stepping out becomes a pain, I see women wanting to stay indoors. Not go out there, do what needs to be done and be there for other women who are also out and might need them. Coercive fondling or groping on the streets wouldn’t happen at all if there were enough people, enough women who’d be ready to deal with it, for and with each other. Our cities wouldn’t be this unsafe, I’m sure a lot of louts would be more scared of being beaten up by a crowd of women than being handed over to the police that they could easily circumvent.
Action, of course, would come from sensitivity and sensitization. In the aftermath of the rape incident, some of the most absurd statements came from women leaders and activists. From a banal ‘we need a safer capital’ to a ridiculous ‘she should’ve submitted to it’, it was disgusting to see such lack of sympathy, if not empathy, at all. We talk of the abysmal representation women have in the political structure today. Which enterprising woman would want to do something for the country faced with such lack of inspiration in every sphere of life?
Inaction boils down often to a sense of opinion and judgment. The fact that we feel people different from us are not right. We judge them, their actions, their decisions. We don’t see the need to take a stand against something that affects us as a community, a species, as humankind itself. You don’t have to be a woman taking a public bus at 9 in the night to be raped, or wearing a pair of shorts. You could be in a sari at 9 in the morning, and it could still happen to you. It could happen to you inside your own home.
We need to stop judging other women. We need to reach out more frequently and in better ways to them. We need to show more solidarity in crises. We need to condition our sons and brothers to develop inherent respect for women. When their fathers raise their voices and hands, we need to tell them in front of their sons that we shall not take it. In queues at public places, we need to ask the guy trying to jostle the timid little girl next to us to back off. We need to teach our men to be polite to the maids, to help their grandmothers climb the stairs, to be polite to their sisters’ friends when they visit. Solidarity is a lot about these little things. It’s also about taking a firmer stand on larger issues, like when a girl gets raped, or is burnt for dowry. These can’t just be things we spend our free afternoons discussing or writing about on social media.
The latter, I know, is easier said than done. But we can always begin by according the women around us the kind of respect they deserve. And this would hopefully go beyond and last longer than some of the verbose International Women’s Day speeches.