Fighting like a girl



Me too.






me too

Image credit:  Hindustan Times


Me too. Me too. Me too. No matter how many times I say it, it won’t be anywhere near enough.

Strangers on the street, boyfriends, acquaintances at parties, “friendly” uncles, neighbours- the reality that our bodies belong to everyone but ourselves is one that women realize rather early into their lives.

The first time I got an inkling of this was when I was about 10. Walking into my housing complex after school became a nightmare, thanks to a guard who insisted on grinning at me in a way that made my skin crawl and following me to my building.

I was 14 when a stranger walked into a space that I considered home and groped me- it was then I knew that as a woman, there is no such thing as a “safe space”.

I was 16 when a stranger groped me outside school, and smiled at me while he walked away and I stood there stunned.

At 21, I left home for the first time. At one of my initial internships, I was warned of certain men in the office. “Don’t get too friendly”, I was told. When I asked why these men still worked here, I was told they were “too senior” and “well respected”.

At 21, I knew that a man I thought I was in love with, who I had trusted could call me a whore for putting on makeup, for having the audacity to make friends, for simply having an opinion. “When did you become such a f****** b***?” he screamed in public, when I asked him why he was an hour and a half late for a lunch date.

At 24, I knew that men didn’t think your “no” really meant “no”, because you’re a cool girl who isn’t looking for anything serious, right? But hey, they’re in good company, since  our judiciary too thinks a “feeble no” may mean “yes”.

At 25, I am tired. But I take comfort in the fact that over 12 million women worldwide have opened up about what they’ve been through. I take comfort in the fact that men are finally, hopefully, feeling profoundly uncomfortable- because it’s about damn time.


The Dangers of Being a “Good” Girl

Imagine this: You’re at a party with a bunch of your friends. You’re a little buzzed. Eventually the music dies down and you all end up crashing at your friend’s house. You wake up the next morning and you know something’s not quite right. Something happened but you’re not ready to talk about it. You feel ashamed, you try to forget.

You don’t want to make things awkward, so you don’t say anything. You meet your friends again- he’s there, and you pretend that nothing’s wrong. This goes on for weeks, till you can’t take it anymore. You finally confess to your friends- he molested you that night after the party.

“Why did you wait so long to bring this up?”

“Didn’t he apologise? Just let it go”

“Lets not make things awkward for the group.”

“Maybe you just misunderstood.”


Why did you stay over at his house even though you have a boyfriend? A decent girl wouldn’t do such a thing.”

I wish this was a situation I just made up, but I am drawing from experiences of women I know- and unfortunately I am sure it is something a lot of women can relate to. Few can understand the courage required to open up about sexual assault- especially in a culture that will blame you and shame you into believing it was all your fault in the first place. Because of course, a good girl would never get attacked, A good girl wouldn’t provoke men. A good girl wouldn’t go for parties. A good girl wouldn’t drink. A good girl who “belongs” to one man would never stay over at another’s- and if she does, she is going to be assaulted- what else do you expect, really?

All our lives we are told how to be good girls, how to be good women. Keep your voice low, and your neckline high. Keep your eyes down, and your guard up. In college, I was told that good girls shouldn’t smoke. In college, my sister was told good girls don’t get tattoos and piercings. Hostel wardens tell us good girls don’t wear shorts and shouldn’t meet boys.

A friend was told by her ex boyfriend not to wear low cut tops, lest it tempted men. I was told I was using lipstick in order to lure men- I said I did it to feel good. He said I was becoming too outspoken.

A few weeks ago I visited an NGO working with women as a part of my course. I heard several accounts from women who were beaten, sexually abused, forced into marriage and into prostitution. A part of me was shocked, and a part of me wasn’t even mildly surprised. One story in particular stayed with me- one woman told us about her abusive husband- he used to beat her regularly- he once hit her on the head with a rock, she went into a coma and he then cut off her nose and upper lip (to those who think we don’t need feminism-let that sink in for a while).

When asked whether she tried going to the police, she told us she asked for her family’s support in order to file a complaint, and her parents didn’t let her- because, “court aur police jaane waali aurat buri hoti hai” ( women who go to the court and to the police are bad women).

This idea of a “good” girl/woman doesn’t just work to limit women’s choices, mobility and voices- it also puts us in great danger-so ingrained is this concept in our minds that we would rather tolerate abuse, tolerate harassment, than be seen as “bad” women.

I have finally come to realize that it is okay to have a voice. It is okay to say no. It is okay to speak up. And most importantly, it is okay to take up space- intellectual, political and physical- in fact, it is a right that we have been conditioned not to exercise. So go get pierced, tattooed, wear skirts, go for parties, or stay at home, its up to you. Lastly, speak louder and walk taller- because you never ask for it and it is never your fault.


The Politics of a Stare

About a week ago I made the mistake of visiting Charminar- my friends and I had been quite excited-we couldn’t wait to shop for trinkets and try the much talked about biryani and kababs. However, I soon regretted it. The minute we stepped out of the cab, it started pouring, and the men started harassing.

It’s not like I didn’t anticipate it. We’d been told to dress “appropriately” since it was a conservative area (as if dressing conservatively ever stopped a woman from being harassed). We followed the rules, dressed in patialas, kurtas, with duppattas. Surprise, surprise, we still got stared at, and leched at. Apparently we were “byudiful, gorjuz girls enjoying the rain”. Thank you for that, creepy man on bike, we definitely needed your vaildation to feel attractive.

Being conditioned to ignore such things, we walked to a restaurant to pick up some food, where we were told by one of the waiters that we should go upstairs to the air conditioned area, because you know, it would be more “comfortable”. It felt like an insult to my intelligence, because even a cursory glance around the place made it obvious why we were being shuffled off upstairs. The ground floor was fully occupied by men who were staring at the five of us as though we’d just walked out of a UFO.

Cut to a few days later, in the midst of a heated discussion in class that had turned to voyeurism, personal space, and sexuality, a classmate turned to me and asked what I thought about men who stare at women. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I had an articulate answer, so I asked where exactly this question came from- turns out, a (male) college professor had told her, that women shouldn’t get offended when men stare at us, because they are merely appreciating our beauty. She seemed genuinely confused, as though it was wrong to get upset when a man stares at you. I was so angry I could barely get any words out. I hope I can answer her question better through this post.

We have the right to be angry when a man stares at us. We have the right to be angry when a man passes a remark about our bodies. Because no, it is not a compliment. It doesn’t make us feel beautiful. It is not “flattering”. We get to decide when a stare makes us uncomfortable. We can tell the difference between a man “appreciating our beauty”, and a man who tries to “keep us in our place” by making us feel like we don’t belong.

We all know the stare I’m talking about- the kind that makes our skins crawl. The kind that makes us avoid eye contact. The kind that makes us retreat into a kind of shell, just so that we can make ourselves invisible. So no, it is nothing remotely romantic, it is not personal, it is not friendly. It is an expression of power designed to make us feel inferior, to assert the masculinity of public spaces

In class we were once told that everything is political- every interaction is an expression of power inequalities. Street harassment is political, and the beginning in a continuum of sexual assault. It is not “catcalling”, it is not “eve teasing”, it is harassment, plain and simple, an instrument to assert male dominance over our bodies and spaces.

I myself have never had the courage to directly confront a harasser. I don’t know if I ever will. When I look back at the multiple times I have been harassed in some way or the other, I think of all the things I could have done and said. But the reality is, when it happens. most of the time you choose to ignore it, or you freeze up. I don’t have any solutions or advice to give. I just want to tell my classmate, and  every other woman who has been asked to “enjoy” harassment by an utterly clueless and insensitive man- that in a world where you will probably be violated in some way or the other multiple times over the course of your life, where you don’t have the right to your own body, don’t let anyone take away your right to get absolutely bloody furious-because, in the words of Leymah Gbowee, “it’s time for women to stop being politely angry”.


The Art of Being ‘Careful’

Monica : Careful. Careful. CAREFUL!
Chandler : I’ll tell you what, for the rest of our lives, I’ll be careful until told otherwise.

Having just moved into a hostel, I’ve been trying to reconcile what is supposed to be a new found freedom with a set of rules and moral codes that I have never had to think about before. When to come home, what to wear, when to go out etc etc. While sitting with a few of my new classmates, one of them said- ” Yeah we can go out and all…but we were told not to wear shorts and skirts.”  I just nodded.

I went for a walk this evening with a friend. It was around five, there was still light out. I was in a good mood- I’d made a new friend, I felt like I was settling in-when we were stopped by who I am sure was a well meaning gentleman, and I was told that it wasn’t safe for women to be walking around in the evening. My (male) friend then assured him that I would be back in the hostel soon. I was totally zapped, I said that it wasn’t even dark yet, and we kept walking.

I didn’t appreciate being made to feel like I didn’t have an equal right to walk down that street, and I definitely didn’t appreciate being made to feel like a liabilty to the person I was with. But as always, we just accept it, and move on. Because, no, we don’t have the right to walk down the street, but apparently potential rapists do.

Now if there is anything I hate  more  than other people telling me how I am supposed to keep myself safe, it’s men telling me how I should keep myself safe. Because, here’s the thing- you aren’t giving me any new information. We women have spent the better part of our lives trying to keep ourselves safe. Being careful has become an art, manoeuvring the various boundaries that society has set for us. We know when and where we can wear shorts, when we need to carry a stole to cover ourselves, when we need to travel in cars and when we can take the metro. We know we need to carry pepper sprays or deodorants. we know we should go out in groups, we know by what time we need to be home.

Simply being alive puts us in a state of danger. We’ve been told to be careful as soon as we’ve been able to walk and talk-careful of strangers, careful of over-friendly uncles, careful of drivers, domestic helps, and the list goes on. It only gets worse when we’re older-that top is too low, that skirt is too short, carry a jacket, don’t leave your drink unattended, don’t come back alone, just don’t attract attention to yourself.

So don’t you fucking dare tell me what I need to be doing when you have the privilege of being a heterosexual man in India who has no goddamn idea what it feels like to be under threat every time you step out of your house.

Now I could go on and on about the same thing-I wonder when public spaces will be made more inclusive, I wonder when women are not going to be viewed as objects that need to be locked away from the lecherous male gaze. I wonder when I’ll have the freedom to do whatever I damn well please- until then, like Chandler, I guess I will be careful for the rest of my life, until told otherwise.


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