I’ve been reading the #MeToo campaigns and wanted to add my own footnote.
My parents and grandparents were super protective and thankfully blessed me with a great childhood! However, the world is a big bad place and I too have my stories. These feature random men in public transport who would try to grope.
We’d often take a bus from Madurai to reach my native village of Cumbum. Men would happily sidle their feet into the gaps between the seat and grope. And that’s when my mother’s simple but sure-shot plan to ward off such perpetrators kicked in — poke them back with a pin. We jabbed at them with the pointy ends till they would gulp back their pain and screams and retreat. Worked every time!
As I grew up, I became louder and bolder so that every time anyone would fall on me in a bus or “accidentally” touch me, I’d turn around at the perpetrator and loudly ask them if they can keep their hands to themselves and have some decency. Most, shamefaced (thankfully), would become scared of me and move away. Others who made further attempts met relentless opposition and screams from me. I’d keep shaming them till they moved away. All the while, I’d be scared but not show it. I just let the anger rise and hide my fears.
These experiences permanently plastered an angry and irritable expression on my face whenever I travelled by public transport or walked alone on the streets of Chennai after dark. I’d look like I could beat anyone who crossed my path. This was probably how I successfully put off any boy who may have remotely had romantic interests in me for the major part of my adolescent life :P
Jokes apart, there was this one time that I was caught off-guard. We were on a college trip to Trivandrum beach and a man suddenly grabbed me. My classmate — Susana Joseph — boldly followed him, tried to beat him up and scream at him. A few other friends joined her. The guy fled. I was too surprised to react, learning that sometimes, you need others around you to act for you! (Eternally grateful to you, Susan for your thoughtfulness!)
Of course, there are numerous other encounters with creepy men who tried to gauge if they can take advantage of me. They probably became scared of my boldness and/or high decibel levels, and thankfully never made a pass. I would boldly meet them in the eye, unblinkingly stare them down with an expression of disgust or change the topic. But, I can vouch for the fact that I sensed the intention. Had I shown the faintest sign of weakness, they would have made a move.
From the numerous accounts that are flowing in, the one thing I have gathered is that, as a world, we have raised many of our men with a faulty sense of privilege and arrogance. I don’t understand how else these perpetrators have equated their masculinity to a right to violate another person, their dignity, personal space and freedom.
While it is wonderful to see the solidarity and raising voices against the Weisensteins of the world, let’s also find a way to identify what we are doing wrong. How did thousands (or probably millions and we only don’t yet know!) of men endorse this perversion? Can we include something in the educational system worldwide? Can we embolden all the victims in a way that they will not fear for their lives, safety, career, families and what not when faced with such a violation?
While pulling up people who have stooped down so low is crucial, we do need to find a way to empower and educate both men and women. I keep wondering if there are stories of men being abused by women of power too. I am sure there are! (Horrible bosses showcases one such story, albeit in a funny way) However, I think the false sense of “being a man” may shut down many from coming out into the open and identifying themselves as victim. It all comes down to how polarised our ideas of gender are. That needs to change!