Image credit: Maria Qamar, Hatecopy

I remember this like it was yesterday — standing at a shop on Nainital’s Mall Road, a cute blue top with black stars caught my eye. While wondering whether it was worth the 400 rupees, I turned around to ask my friend her opinion, when I noticed a guy noticing me. He was definitely attractive. I’ve always had a particular type and he fit right in.

However, I was on a school trip, chaperoned by a battalion of teachers, and flirting, at 17, was not my strong suit — and it probably isn’t still. So he smiled, and I smiled back politely, and all of us — my batchmates and teachers — began walking back to our hotel. The boy in question and his group of friends seemed to be going in the same direction. He was trying to get my attention, asking for my number, but flattered as I was, I ignored him to the best of my ability and walked on.

I thought I had handled the situation pretty well, but my teachers didn’t seem to agree. What followed was a lecture peppered with words and phrases like ‘decent’, ‘proper’, and ‘leading on’.

 

To say I was shocked was an understatement. Had this just become my fault? Did I do something to ‘provoke’ this guy? I didn’t think so, and I just let it go.

Why am I talking about this over ten years later? Yup, the Bois Locker Room. It comes as no surprise to me that these boys from ‘good’ (code for upper class) families from ‘good’ (code for expensive) schools would indulge in behavior like this. Why wouldn’t they, when they’ve grown up watching their female friends and relatives being chastised simply for having a body. 

Cover your legs, put on dupatta when you go to the grocery store, don’t wear shorts because ‘uncle’ is coming over  — the policing of our body begins early and so does the misogynistic socialization of young boys. The kind that leads them to grow up and look at women as conquests, while simultaneously telling them to ‘not be so easy’.

Cut to five years after the Nainital incident, and I was at a party feeling miserable about myself for multiple reasons. I was chatting with a guy who was considered cool and popular, and it made me feel cool and popular. Until he said. ‘You know, men would give you more attention if you just played hard to get.’ I felt like shit — is that what all the men I knew thought of me? That I was easy?

It’s been a while since that night, and I can now confidently say that I don’t give a shit if men think I’m easy. I don’t give a shit if they’re high-fiving their fellow dude bros, talking about how they’re so sure they can ‘get’ me. I’m going to flirt with whoever I want, share pictures with whoever I want, and do whatever it is I want — my own little assertion of power in a world that does its best to keep women in ‘their place.’

In a world where I’m supposed to feel ashamed, I choose to be proud — I just wish 17-year-old me felt the same way.