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The Time When I Was Told- The Problem Is, Women Have Too Much Freedom

By Stephanie Owens:

The poet Derrick Brown once said, “You belong everywhere.” As a self-proclaimed global citizen, I cherish this quote and all it stands for. Yet, on the eve of Indian Independence Day, when I asked people what I could do to join the celebration, this is what I was told: “You could go to the parade. But don’t go by yourself!” or “Hmmm. Best to stay at home and enjoy.” It seems as a single female in Tamil Nadu, I do not belong anywhere but my house and office. Not if I cherish my safety. And definitely not if I am alone. This is shocking to hear in a modern country that prides herself on being the largest democracy in the world.


I have been living in Chennai for about five months, and have never felt threatened or unsafe in any area, and people have been nothing but kind. But there is still this lurking unease any time I venture beyond the confines of my triple-locked front door, or mention to a concerned co-worker that I plan to go somewhere alone. When I have stepped out, one observation that always strikes me is how few women I see, prompting the oh-so-articulate query, “Where are all the ladies at?!” Despite my street smartness and general comfort level with being different from the people around me, I have a nagging doubt that if anything were to happen, people would blame me–for simply daring to leave the house. I vehemently oppose this mindset and do not wish for any woman to live with these constraints. If a tiger attacked a village, the townspeople would go after the tiger, not lock up all the inhabitants forever. Yet when it comes to harassment, instead of blaming and controlling predators, the culture here demands that the victims be careful. I’ve been told that I belong everywhere; I celebrate that independence and I do not expect to give it up in any democratic country.

While considering this issue, I came across this illustration. It discusses the problem of harassment of women, and focuses on street harassment, cat-calling, and eve-teasing in particular, which tend to occur in public spaces. It explains, “This kind of harassment is based on the problematic idea that public spaces are actually men’s spaces–and that women passing through them are subject to the desires, needs, and opinions of the surrounding men.” Seen from this angle, harassment is not about sex or desire, but actually a question of who is empowered and in control, and who is not. When we set curfews for women (not men) mandating a return to the hostel by 9 PM, or when we tell women to “stay home and enjoy,” we support this notion that women do not belong in public spaces. We imply that to be there would be a type of trespassing on men’s territory and, naturally, trespassers are vulnerable to attack. But how can it be that so much of the space we inhabit is not actually shared? That, for a woman, merely setting foot in a train station, walking down a quiet street, or riding the bus at night is tantamount to an invitation to be bothered or harmed? To quote youth around the world, “It’s not fair!” Although most men are decent and harmless, failing to question this concept of who controls public space gives our implicit consent to those who believe that women who occupy public space are targets for mistreatment.

What’s more, most of this oppression stems from people with good intentions; people who do not want to see their wives, daughters, sisters, or friends hurt or harassed. But following this leads to statements such as this one, that I heard from a local store owner, “The problem is, women have too much freedom. They go out and they get in trouble.” Is it too much freedom to be able to leave the house with peace of mind? Is it too much freedom to walk on the street without worrying about being cat called, groped, or worse? Is it too much freedom to have equal access to public spaces? As we celebrate the 68th year of Indian independence, we must redefine what independence means for all citizens, regardless of gender. This change can only come when the entire population is willing to fight for the independence of its female citizens and celebrate their freedom to have equal access to all that India has to offer.

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  1. Babar

    This article is based on emotional rather than logic, and implies that women are victims, while the fact remains that being out at night alone is dangerous for both sexes in every part of the world.

    1. Babar

      … based on emotional emotion …

  2. Templetwins

    Men are not expected to have any bodily autonomy. We set curfews to those whom we tend to protect, hence we set curfews for women and children. We often shame young men who would never harm a woman by insisting they must be “part of the solution” to end rape. If we tell young women they must be “part of the solution” to end rape just by being careful, that’s victim blaming.

    Yet when it comes to harassment, instead of blaming and controlling predators, the culture here demands that the victims be careful.

    You can identify a tiger by just looking at it, how do you identify a predator who looks like you ie a human being. There are no actual solution to this but I guess you just want to rant about the restrictive comments of your peers.

  3. Babar

    When we set curfews for women (not men) mandating a return to the hostel by 9 PM…

    There is a difference between men and women. Men and women are different physically, mentally, emotionally, biologically, and anatomically. Men and women think differently, act differently, and behave different. They are different.

    Men house their wives, let them drive their car, take them to restaurants, on vacations, holidays, buy them jewellery, take them shopping, spend on their clothes, cosmetics, sandals, purses, spa, beauty saloons, pedicures, manicures, etc.

    It is men who propose to women, it is men who ask for dates, it is men who ask women out, it is men who leave their seats for women, it is men who die on jobs daily – men die while working as coal miners, construction workers, roofers, in the army, among an endless list of dangerous jobs, and the fact remains that the top ten most dangerous jobs in the world are worked by men.

    During ship wreckages, life boats are always reserved for women. Even on the Titanic, it was men who said, “women and children first” knowing that they were going to die, and could have chosen to leave.

    What happened to equality? Or is it only applicable when it works in favour of women?

    1. Ruby

      So what if men die as coal miners? Why don’t they offer females such jobs too? Or are we too worthless to even be given such a job as coal miners because we simply are incapable to do them?

    2. raj

      No, its not that there is any recruitment ban on women from being employed as coal miners. It is women, who choose not to be coal miners. Do not try to be a pervasive victim.

    3. Arundhati

      Men house their wives, let them drive their car, take them to restaurants, on vacations, holidays, buy them jewellery, take them shopping, spend on their clothes, cosmetics, sandals, purses, spa, beauty saloons, pedicures, manicures, etc.
      I see. Just because your mommy was some kind of princess (who probably spoiled the hell out of your ignorant ass or hated you for the little shit that you are) doesn’t mean all women just want to live an easy life and spend their lives primping and preening on someone else’s dime. Your entire post reeks of sexist generalizations and sheer stupidity.

      I’m assuming you live in India. Please go to any nearby construction site, if mommy and daddy can ever stand to let their precious baby out of the house, and take a look at whether there’s anything different about what work the women are doing. I’ll help you out here – you will find women, who can’t even afford to make it to an anganwadi, also keeping an eye on children. If you’ve ever actually engaged with “fact”, you would know there are numerous studies that have calculated women working longer hours and getting paid less for much more productive work.
      Please don’t add to the stupidity surrounding the equality of sexes. No one is saying that men and women are identical. The equality is in the right to a certain quality of life and all kinds of freedoms. All this excessive machoism imposed on men – be strong, aggressive, etc. is also problematic and again if only men work dangerous jobs, it comes from a patriarchal structure where women were told not to engage in such work by men. Things are changing, but slowly. So your argument, which seems to be that women until they start contributing equally with men will not get the same rights as men collapses on itself because the fact that rights have been denied to women historically is what has affected their capabilities and presence in certain areas.
      Also your notion of what women do/want seems to be straight out of a teen magazine. A teen magazine for people who attend polo tournaments and have summer homes and shit. It’s like you’ve never heard of women who work in hazardous jobs managing waste or construction and mining, and are exposed to all kinds of airborne pollutants. So, what, poor people aren’t good enough to be included in your worldview?
      You sound like a total asshole, so don’t mistake the things you’re saying as being anything bearing even the flimsiest resemblance to intelligent debate. Get your head out of your ass, treat your inflatable dolls better, stop feeling ashamed about crying in bed at night and shut the hell up the next time anyone brings up an important issue.

    4. ItsJustMe

      @Arundhathi you can find women as well as men in construction sites, men who cannot afford education and what not. Men do twice or more work than women in heavy labor at about the same time. So make less money for same work for daily wage jobs than women do. Blaming patriarchy for women not being part of dangerous jobs. How about their incompetence? They cannot still pass an NSG commando training camp. Very few have even managed to pass the Indian army camp. Historically women being denied rights is not an excuse to get preferential treatment in present. By that logic Jews should get reservation in Germany, Indians in England and blacks in USA. They do not get any more rights and privileges than an average citizen. You know who gets preferential treatment everywhere? You dont have to be a genious to figure it out – WOMEN, every developing country gives preferential benefits to women, they have special privileges everywhere. And you have the audacity to bring forward historical mistreatment of women despite enjoying and privileges in the present. I have utter contempt for the likes of you who never understand the meaning of equality. Act equally, have some spirit to say that if men can do it, women can do it too, without any accomodation. Things are changing slowly. Yeah its slow, its slow because women can’t keep up. Try posting only women in Siachin or Kargil and we will loose Kashmir in a week. How many great inventions of today can you attribute to women (of today, not historically).Because thats where they stand, and every time you speak about denied opportunities, remember that. It is not men oppressing you, it is women sucking at what they do. Not in every field though which I agree. Men are behind in many fields to women, but the ridiculous cry for equal opportunities need to stop, if you cant grab the opportunity, it means you are not good enough for it. No corporate or institute wants to compromise on the job so that they can hire a man. Or would pay a man more for the same job (is it not easier and profitable for them to just hire a women and pay her less if that is the case. Try critical thinking for a change. Stop reading buzzfeed posts too much as well)

    5. Rahul

      Many women die during childbirth which (I think) is more important than any of the jobs you listed.

    6. ItsJustMe

      @Rahul, I completely agree. But I am talking about gender wage myth and not societal roles.

  4. Monistaf

    You have been living in Chennai for over 5 months and have never felt threatened or unsafe. Most men are decent and harmless. These are your experiences and your own statements. In spite of these observations, you perceive a threat based on statements and warnings from co-workers and friends. Seems like irrational paranoia to me. The press in India has to share the blame for this paranoia because they sensationalize crimes against women which are a little over 10% of the total violations of the Indian Penal Code (National Crime Records report for year 2012). It is not much different from other countries. You can check it out (Rapes per million people) and compare it with the United States or any other western nation here.

  5. Hardik

    This girl is simply sharing her views regarding a serious concern that she notices in our country…. and instead of acknowledging the issue, your shameful replies shows how unmanly some of you are. I think we should admire and help a foreigner who cares about our future daughters. So man up to admit problems in the society that we need to fix!

  6. fathima

    I exactly understand what you mean!! Look at the MCPs here too being uncomfortable as they think you are invading their personal space.. But we need to step out and claim our rights.. It is high time that we are quite…

    1. Babar

      By using the term MCP, you make yourself look more shallow than you already are. And you are correct. Men are not supposed to have rights. Men are not human beings. I hope we will hear something intellectual for a change from a misandrist like you.

    2. Fem

      Asking for women’s right means trampling on men’s right only when they are already laying claims on women’s spaces.

      Please try to make sense at-least once a day. If you try hard you can do it, I am sure.

  7. La la land

    ‘What’s more, most of this oppression stems from people with good intentions; people who do not want to see their wives, daughters, sisters, or friends hurt or harassed.’ This statement. That’s all I have to say.

  8. truth

    Well said. The above post describes the weakness in the society. Why is there a need to protect women? Because our society has evolved on victim blaming and their incapability to fight the problem. Everybody thinks he is the good one and needs to protect women of his family from others? Who are others? Are they goons, psychopaths, from a different world. No the others are just like me, they are normal men. But the problem arises when for example myself am eve teasing, cat calling because I do not care about future impact of my actions on the society, because subconsciously I had a notion that if a woman is out because she is of loose character, then suddenly if it comes to my own sister I’ll become the best brother in the world who will die saving my sister from someone like me.

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