Trust. It’s a big word for everyone, especially for women. We are socialised not to trust others – strangers, men of all ages, etc. But our trust can be broken by anyone. Human perversion exists in every inch of our realm. But as women, who can we trust?
It has happened to me and surely it has happened to most women. We face harassment and eve teasing on the streets, we are groped in crowded buses or trains; during a vulnerable moment, perhaps when you are drunk, a male friend might try to touch you without your consent. It might also happen that someone you meet online can harass and threaten you. You might be sent unwanted pictures. Shockingly, even the person you choose to open yourself to might break your trust at some point – and yet, you might choose to overlook the episode because you consider them too close to be capable of violating your trust.
My personal encounters with trust breakers started from a young age. They began with the male teachers of my school. Male teachers would often hit female students back in the school I studied in. At that time, it didn’t stand out. But thinking of it retrospectively, I believe those were the first moments when I felt the unease generated from people of the opposite gender.
I remember, as a child, being groped in a train as I lay half asleep on the train bunk. I was too young to understand why men would try to touch me in certain places. I remember one instance at the age of 10 – as I was walking on a crowded platform with my mother by my side holding my hand, a man with a baby in one arm touched me several times. As I grew, so did my share of stories of trust breakers. Then came the #MeToo movement. Countless women posted about the harassment they had had to face on their Facebook timelines. But how much is too much?
I remember being asked in an interview once, “Why are you opting for this? Why not get married instead?” I felt muted rage, but I could only manage to answer cockily, “I have no plans to get married this young.” Would the same interviewer ask a male applicant the same question? The funny part is that it wasn’t a job interview. My plans for marriage shouldn’t have mattered to the organisation. I was applying to get into a short-term engagement. But why should a woman be asked such a question and not something more relevant like, “Why are you not pursuing MBA or research instead of applying here?”
I remember one time when I walked into a doctor’s chamber and told him that I found it difficult to swallow pills and so I would prefer tonics instead of pills. The doctor upon hearing me exclaimed angrily, “You can’t swallow pills! Don’t you realise at your age women get married?”
Every time I was unable to do something, I was reminded not only by strangers but also people close to me that at my age, many women get married and that they are managing whole households. Why can’t I be given some examples of women of my age who are successful in their careers or in any other field?
Often times, I would be reminded that my own grandmother got married at the age of 14 and already had children at my age. In no way do I disregard the value added by women to their household after marriage but I don’t believe that success at household management post-marriage to be the ultimate test of a woman’s capabilities.
I remember one time, when a classmate from school with whom I hadn’t talked to for a long time harassed me online, unprovoked. I remember being harassed online by strangers – which wasn’t as bad as being harassed by someone you know from childhood. So, who can I trust?
Women inhabit a dangerous place. We are surrounded by potential harassers. At all times, we have to navigate our way warily, avoiding these harassers. In our lives, we encounter countless trust breakers – and we must learn not only to evade them but also to fight them when need be.