Why I Always Put On A ‘Stern Cold Face’ Every Time I Step Out

Posted by Ashly Abraham in Society
October 28, 2017

I realised I had been groped during my college days.Does that sound familiar? Yes, especially to those who were never told about the dangers or existence of sexual abuse, as a child.

I grew up, normalising many such experiences. I think perhaps most of us did so when we weren’t aware of what else to do. I remember I used to have such (internalised) anger and I didn’t really know how to deal with it.

I came up with some tactics on my own. When I started to travel on my own in public places in India, I used to put on a very stern face. A sort of cold, angry look.

Yes, that was my not-so-wonderful defence. I thought it would lead to fewer people giving me dirty looks or passing comments at me. Well, it did help sometimes. But, there were times, I wasn’t too lucky. During my college days, I started questioning about these growing up experiences, around me. I started to wonder, if it was like a traditional ritual or something, that every girl growing up had to face, once in their lifetime? Yes, I acknowledge that every individual irrespective of what gender they identify to also face sexual harassment in their lives. But, this post or similar posts like this, are not about putting down all men as preparators. It’s about acknowledging the sexual violence against women in our streets and our homes and acting against it or stopping such an act the next time you see in front of your eyes and spreading awareness in your families or schools or colleges.

For years now, women have been viewed in the lowest position in the social hierarchy ladder. Unfortunately, this rigid view is one of the main reasons for acts of sexual harassment against women. And the chances that the sexual offender is a male, is more, because of unequal power relations, gender discrimination, inequality between the sexes and patriarchal mindsets practised in most families and societies.

I did put on stern faces for a long time before I started raising my voice in public. And I must say, I wasn’t shocked when I received little or no responses from the public around me.

Once, I remember, I was travelling in a Kerala KSRTC bus. I was standing near the door, due to lack of available seats and enjoying the view outside. And there was ample standing room in the bus. Suddenly, this guy, next to the door made a movement and I saw it out of the corner of my eye. I wasn’t too sure about what he was doing and panicked a little. Then I thought that I should know what is happening and maybe I could have imagined it.

I turned to the weirdest sight, ever. This guy was holding onto the edge of my dress, lightly, which was swaying in the strong breeze, coming in from the window. I was screaming my mind off the next minute. He actually had the nerve to tell me that he was admiring the design on my dress and touched my dress, by mistake.

The immediate response I received to this incident was disheartening. I was told that nothing had actually happened and that I shouldn’t have created such a hue in a public place as I was a girl. Of course, I was in Kerala and shouldn’t have hoped for much support anyways.

So they thought that, even though I was uncomfortable, I should have kept quiet and struggled those moments, in mental pain. And if it got worse, like if he actually touched me or violated me physically, only then I should have created a ruckus. And hey, I was just a girl, it’s not like I am important or have my own individual rights. Yes, the guy got off the bus when the conductor (the only person to speak in my favor) asked him too. I was left standing, to the stare of 20 pairs of eyes, on me. It was so obvious; the majority had kept quiet and the few who responded were not in my favour.

It will always be ironical, that being the most the literate state in the country is no motivation at all, to get rid off these age-old patriarchal thinking.

Should I really be the one who should be ashamed? And this is just one of the weird experiences I had. It really pains me that in such painful experiences, people look at me, wanting me to take the blame on myself and I’m just left looking, for any support. Yes, they grew up in a different generation or atmosphere than me but is that an excuse for not being more human or logical or practical in life?

We all know of how many lives could have been saved, if we acted more humane in public spaces, in the case of road accidents. It’s really disturbing when I think of it and it is definitely, a whole different topic of reflection.

Having all the latest infrastructural mechanisms in place by the police or government is not, alone, going to change the mind of those who commit acts of sexual harassment. And it’s also not creating fear in their minds. It’s about changing our mindsets for a safer and better tomorrow. It’s about adopting sustainable approaches and methods to tackle the issue of sexual violence not just against women but against all genders in different communities and societies. And all of this, doesn’t happen, singlehandedly.

It’s time, I take off my cold, stern look. #itsnotyourfault

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