Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Why Do Some Men Think It's All Right to Harass Women and Girls?

Most, if not all, women have a stories to tell about street harassment. Women are subject to all sorts of assaults the minute they step out into the streets - whistles, cat calls, lewd comments, propositions, stares, gawks, casual brushes of the hand on their bodies as they are walking along, being pressed against in crowded places (and no, this is not the variety that is merely brought on by lack of space - the intention of the perpetrator is quite clear to both him and his victim), and in extreme cases, groping of private parts in full public view. The stories are all too common and they are based on incidents that occur every minute of every day on the streets.

That is the thing about street harassment - the fact that it is so pervasive.

When I'm walking on the streets here in India, I literally have to do a 360 degree survey every few minutes - a sort of a reconaissance mission - to see who is around me. If I see a man anywhere within five feet of me, I then look out for flailing hands.

Oh, they look so innocent, those hands, but within a matter of seconds, I've seen them brush against someone or squeeze some female body part as if it were the most natural thing in the whole world. By the time the woman or the girl turns around in indignation, the perpetrator is making his way merrily up the street not once turning to look back.

An equally galling thing is that this behavior is not limited to any one male demographic - they could be young or old, in rags or in smart clothes, in middle-class areas or in upper-class areas, they could have respectable jobs (I know because many of these oglers stand outside company office buildings during breaks). And sure as hell, most of these creeps are married with kids of their own.

And this is for all those who say, well, the women invite it by the way they dress. Where do I begin to counter an inane assertion like that? First of all, no matter what the woman is wearing, she gets groped anyway. Second of all, what does a woman's dress have to do with how a man reacts to her? What gives a man the right to think he can feel up a woman no matter how she is dressed? Do women, then, have the right to do whatever it pleases them to a man because they did not, for instance, like the color of his shirt or the cut of his pants?

Moreover, the woman's age does not seem to matter either - she could be young, old, married, unmarried, in groups or all alone, with children, without children.

This whole issue and the conversations surrounding it get lost in sociology jargon - invasion of private spaces, for example. The argument goes, "In India, no one has private space. Everyone gets crushed in public transportation. So women should expect it too." The argument has thus veered off on a tangent.

There is no need to resort to jargons to describe what happens on the street to a woman. The idea in a man's head (I am sure there are men in our society who do not indulge in any of the behavior that is the subject of this post, but I sure as hell can't tell one from the other when I am out and about) is, "Oh, look! There's a woman! Now what do I do? Should I whistle, should I slide up close to her? May be if I put my hand out, I can grab something and squeeze it. Choices, choices."

My question is, why do men think this way, especially here in India?

Why are not women seen as another being, having the right to walk carefree on a street or ride on a bus and to reach their destination without being abused, assaulted and battered, without feeling frustrated, guilty, angry, simmering with rage, reconciled to being violated, tearful, afraid for their safety, feeling like shit, feeling dirty, or without feeling like an object of someone's uncontrolled lust?

This sort of behavior sure cannot be what is taught them at home by their mothers and fathers, nor what can be endorsed by sisters, sisters-in-law or female cousins.

Is it the movies? For sure, there is enough violence against women in movies - rapes, harassment, stalking. But do men really model their behavior on the villains and goons in the movies? Well, it's not just villains and goons, is it? The hero initially indulges in this behavior as well, before the heroine falls for his persistence. May be that's the message men take away from the movies - if I'm persistent in harassing a girl, she will be my heroine. Is this really true?

(I am reminded of the new Pepsi ad in this context, the one in which John Abraham, the Pepsi refill guy, overcomes an initially reluctant female employee who tries to thwart his advances. They both end up doing the tango. The message here clearly says, "Don't take 'no' for an answer when the woman does not like your advances initially. If you are more aggressive, she will give in." Totally the wrong message to send to anyone, but especially to young male minds that could potentially be influenced by John Abraham.)

Or is this just an ugly manifestation of a patriarchal society that thinks that a woman's place is at home and if she has the gall to go out and about, then she is going to suffer for it? Or is it that the men think they are more powerful and are able to harass and so do it whenever they feel like doing it (like peeing on the sides of the street whenever it strikes their fancy)?

Someone, pray, tell me. Which one of these is it?

If we know, may be then we can at least begin to hope that our children will inherit a kinder, gentler society in which to live.


zambezi said...

I feel your pain. I am male and it has been 7 years since i left Bangalore. I spent 4 years in jayanagar doing my undergrad and i saw the filthiest of things happening to women.Believe it or not, i used to be on the look out for guys like this. I was lucky enough to be bigger and stronger at my age and almost had a violent side to me because of the way some of these assholes used to treat women in public spaces. I used to keep looking out for these guys and used to see it happen all the time to friends and to other women around. I also used to scare the shit out of these guys either by beating them up or making a noise about it. I am not a violent person but i propogate and practice violence against these dirty creatures.
I once beat the wrong guy in a crowd and then got belted myself.
It seems like such a long time ago. I have been a Jersey boy for sometime now and that side of me has since disappeared. Atleast the sleazy guys are a little less obvious here.

Michael Higgins said...

Hi Sujatha
From what I am reading about, "eve-teasing" seems to be much more prevelant in India than in the U.S. It strikes me that the men/boys involved are simply immature.

But this begs the question: "Why would Indian males show less maturity in their interactions with females than in other places?" My guess is that one bad side-affect of gender segregation is that males lack empathy for females. That seems odd when you consider that many of them have sisters (and obviously all have mothers). But I think that the key difference with a sister and "the girl next door" is that there is no sexual attraction to the sister. These boys need learn to control these sexual feelings and they never needed to before because the situation rarely arises.

It might be wise for schools to attempt to bring boys and girls together from time to time to work together on project. The purpose would be for these guys and gals to gain experience working tegether and interacting positively with the opposite sex. And the subject of the project might be sexual harrassment - you would get a double lesson this way.

twip said...

You are so right.
Why cant men control their carnal desires? All they need to do is to use their brain, their "sixth" sense which humans in general are supposed to have.
But any sign of protest from a girl results in the girl being branded as a "whore" or a "chalu" type, whatever the hell that means.
Our patriarchal society unfortunately has encouraged this appalling behaviour, by stating that 'men will be men' and we as women are responsible for being modest, soas to not stroke their desires.
What hogwash.

Anonymous said...

I love this discussion where men have been stamped as the horniest and most uncontrolable bastards around...well well well..its just a matter of time and space..women are no lesser..far more men would have been raped and harrassed had women got little more muscles on them..but their minds are dirtier than men..I had this mis fortune of going to a girls college at Pune with a friend..and there what I saw was filthy..group of girls hooting on single men...girls have a great double standards..majority are bisexuals..and the rest use their fingers :) So its just a matter of oppourtunity all are waiting for..and the way they write..like few in this page..I feel like kicking their dirty butt.

remainconnected said...


What you have mentioned is correct to the core and that does happen in India.India these days is headline news in every domain be in business,economy,education,etc etc but then when you sit and analyse how have we changed as a society in the last 40 years in terms of values and morals.

Answer : No change.

Reason : Still we have patriarchal mindset. We need a 360 degree change in our attitude,mind set and the way we look upon and respect the females be it anybody my maa,sister,daughter or whomsoever for that matter. Else the world would be speaking ga ga about the business and the techincal advances we will be making but heart in heart we are evil morally.We would ourselves know that all the advance that we see in India are all empty facades.That's why they say first build your character and morals and then look for anything else.

Great post and nice to see your comment on my blog...

Keep blogging..


a correspondent said...

Why all these question that are essentially just repetitions of 'why? why?'

Don't we all know why?

Men harass women because othey possess more power. Physical, monetary, political, social. Those who have power misuse it.

Even in the West where there is mroe quality between man and women, women get harassed because after everything, they still possess physical power.

So, only real solution is equality and sensitisation of men. That is not going to happen however much noise bloggers make. We are talking decades or centuries, and meanwhile, why don't women take whatever precautions that cna be taken so avoid immediate harassment and harm?

bharath said...

I like every other person is apalled by these things, and empathise with the situation you describe.

I pray ask, what good is there in asking "why does a person divorced of better judgement act in this apalling way?"

I ask, "Won't the women who are empowered enough to be in the streets on their own, and who have better judgement in every scenario you mention, realise that they do have rights and they can assert them?" To answer it, I think some of them do. Its probably a reason why things are changing for the better.

Be it men or women, we have rights and we must assert them when it is being eroded. This should be the first step.
Be it men or women, any one that has reasonable faith in democracy must join hands to make sure the perpetrator is punished immediately.

Honestly, I think both of these are possible in India.

and most blogs are going the other way, asking the victims to be on their guard. To me that is not freedom. When we fight for freedom, we bestow on all future generations the gift of it. Its our choice.

Sujatha Bagal said...

zambezi, thank you for your comment and very gratifying to hear that you actually stood up against these guys!

Michael, I think it's a good point you make. These days, there is much more mixing of the genders in the cities, but in the rural areas and in the smaller towns, the thinking is still very parochial and as we know, that's where much of India resides and there is a lot of migration from those areas to the cities. So there's a long way to go for that idea to work, but whatever is already happening in the cities is hopefully a start.

Also, for many young men, "eve-teasing" is the main entertainment. Don't know how that's going to change though.

Megha and Tanay, thanks for visiting and commenting. You're right about the partriarchal set up encouraging and fomenting this problem, but then it's depressing to think that that is not going to change any time soon.

Anon: Thank you for sharing your views.

Dancewithshadows: thank you for your comment. Writing about this issue is one way to sensitize men. Granted the men that read these posts are not necessarily the problem, but it can only help the cause to co-opt their help as well. In the meantime, you're right. Women have to make themselves heard in other ways as well.

Bharath: thank you for comment. The solution you recommend is for the long term and there is no guarantee that it will work. In the meantime, we all have to do what is best and that includes being on guard.

Anonymous said...

Great post with very insightful observations. In my personal view, a very large number of Indian males are very sexually repressed and they are afraid to admit that truth. Coupled with that inherent social repression, there's that "moral uprightness" factor that every male in India claims, in the face of many challenges to his perceived 'manhood.' Be it Mummyji or Daddyji at home; girls in school and college or the perennially plump movie stars, the Indian male is a very confused animal when it comes to sexual identity. Many many are plain wimps, spine-less weasels who just get their jollies by attacking innocent women. Most are clueless and badly socialized. No one has told them how to behave with women. They eventually get married to someone they've no knowledge of, but eventually seek shelter in Amma's pallu or seragu (as they call in Kannada). So that's how this vicious cycle of spineless "men" is bred and fostered in the great Indian civilization. The only solution is to get'em 'straight' at home from very early childhood!

The Guy Next Door said...

Megha said "Why cant men control their carnal desires? All they need to do is to use their brain, their "sixth" sense which humans in general are supposed to have."

Well, the ones which do use their brain , dont do these kind of stuff.

Few major reasons why this happens so often in India:
- No sex education in schools
- Sex-Deprived men (what is the average age of men when they have sex for the first time - Not rocket science, is it)
- The corrupt and extremely red-taped bureacratic system(police,judiciary,etc), When someone knows they wont be punished for something wrong, they dont think twice before doing it.

And yes, I agree with all of you pretty women of India - It has to stop and only we can stop it , No one else will come and do it for us.

Nice Blog you have here

Anonymous said...

You women have an ostrish like attitude.

First You need men. Accept that fact.

Next man in india needs Sex education and access to prostitutes for less charge.

Do women in india protest for the above causes of the indian male?

If you are not going to attack these core problems for the cure, we can expect thousands of blanknoise or white noise blog centers..

Just expect!

Anonymous said...

My take on this is in my post

Bharat said...

Hi Sujatha,
You titled your blog rightly, " Why do SOME men think it's all right to harass women and girls? ".
And, down the line, you say, "If I see a man anywhere within five feet of me, I then look out for flailing hands." Please give us men a break. Many of us walk the streets, not because we want to rub against or touch a strange woman, but, because we have some work to do. Since we live in a very crowded country with crowded cities with crowded streets, a bit of what is perceived as sexual harassment is truly unintentional physical contact.
NO....I am not denying that there is sexual harassment in public spaces. There is, there is...But let's not have such general sweeping statements from an obviously intelligent woman such as you. It's bound to colour the judgement of many.
The men that go groping on streets or buses cannot be clubbed with those supposedly respectable men that ogle standing outside their offices during breaks. One is a repressed and frustrated breed. The other is just taking a break from work and if some eye-candy is passing by, I'm sure they are entitled to look. When girls/women squeal at the sight of Shah Rukh Khan or any other Khan, I am sure they are not expressing their appreciation for the said Khan's histrionic abilities. Eye-candy is eye-candy, Ma'am, irrespective of gender.
All this doesn't mean that I condone the actual harassment that goes on in the streets.
Like Zambezi, I too believe that the capable amongst the good-guys should teach a lesson to the bad -guys whenever an opportunity presents itself. And for God's sake if the women can't fight, atleast shout out, so that the Good-Sams in the crowds can help.
Do not silently suffer. In most cases, it would be an example for future Lotharios as well.
Somebody suggested mixed schooling would help. Yes, it would and it would take a long, long time. Until then, be on the look-out.

Sujatha Bagal said...

Bharath, thank you for your comment. I agree with what you say. That's why I wrote in this post,

(I am sure there are men in our society who do not indulge in any of the behavior that is the subject of this post, but I sure as hell can't tell one from the other when I am out and about).

I think you will agree with me that I am not making sweeping statements about men's behaviour. I am making a statement regarding my frame of mind when I'm walking on the street because of the behaviour of a few men. And, not being blessed with metaphysical, paranormal and other powers of clairvoyhance, myself and most women are forced to be on guard against everyone. That is the point I was trying to make.

And rest assured, I do take your parting advice ("Until then, be on the look-out") to heart.:)

Bharat said...

Point taken.

P S :- I am Bharat. Bharath is the author of comment no.7 and a different 'Rose'.

Anonymous said...

I am a female in the western world... I have been with my partner for several years and when we go out we both see it all the time, you read in the papers how some girl will be raped after a night out on the alcohol and the whole country is aghast at it,,, but i have seen these same women sidling up to a man blatantly squeezing touching groping and doing things that would not be accepted by themselves or suffer to have done to thier friends, my partner and i have labeled them the dishonest whores, and unfortunatley that is how it seems, a woman will go out to a bar and expect the man spend all sorts of cash on her and by her drinks all night long, they do this in the day to day relationships also, they sell themselves for drinks, a bracelet, a pair of shoes. Women seem to want equality but when it comes down to it isnt true. This attitude is portayed on television shows all the time, in movies and all these 'reality' tv shows, and they are the worst. I think that men see all these women doing this , and sadly it is a VAST majority, and men just get tired of it, they want this they want that well i want this and i want that what is good for the goose is good for the gander, and they just take it. You( as a general) woudnt stand for having someone constantly being teased with your favourite thing in the world all the time and not be able to have you will get annoyed and say give to me or get lost,,, well it has gone past the poitn where people will say get lost, they are just too tired of it,,, Want it to stop, yes you will get called all sorts of names and yes it hurts like hell and it doesnt reallyhelp that YOU know what your like, but you need to makea decision and stand up for yourselves, a pebble CAN start a landslide. Stand up and be equal properly. have your independance and make your decisions and get out there and do what you can to make it right because unless we all try none of us are going to get anywhere.

Anonymous said...

I feel that it would take decades to completely eradicate this trend. What do you expect from sexually repressed, inadequately educated men in a lawless country?

Anonymous said...

I read your blog with great interest. I have been a victim of childhood sexual abuse, had a priest harass me on the job, am now going to report a worker for doing the same thing to me, and have, like all women, been the victim of objectification and street harassment. Let's not forget the teachers (two) who also abused me.
Am I victim? Yes and no. I am luckier than some childhood victims, because I have never killed myself, fallen prey to substance abuse, or ever had an intimate partner abuse me. I would not allow such a thing. Women are taught that if something happens to us, IT IS OUR FAULT. IT IS NOT!!
It is the fault of the abusive person, many times a man. Women can abuse as well, but this is, in my experience and indicated to me through the reading I have, not as common.
Why do men harass women? Because they can. Because they (I speak only of those who choose to abuse) are sick. Because they have more power. Because they know that often women are timid and fearful and insecure (or conditioned to be) and will not fight back.
Instead of showing girls in the U.S. videos about how they can expect to get date-raped, let's show them videos about how men can learn to respect women. And vice versa.
Until we operate from that basis, nothing will ever change. And it may take a few hundred years more, sadly. Because the world is just that screwed up.
Gentle men are princes. I am glad I have met a few, at least.

Anonymous said...

I went to this blog to see what I could do. When i walk home at night 7 black kids are always at the same spot. They call me Fat, Ugly, ''flat boobs'' Fat ass. Honestly I'm average size. I have a nice body and I'm not at all ugly. I feel horrible every time i walk home. I'd take the long way but I'm afraid to. I usally have some one walk with me. But it's like clock work. My boyfriend of 3 years tells me to call him when they say stupid shit. But because he has a broken ankle He can't help me. I don't know what to do. Ignore them? Call the cops? Beat the living shit out of them? I don't know.

MSK said...

I am an educated Indian woman and I too have been subjected to harassment on the basis of my gender. This is something that I have not told anyone. I was waiting for my friend at McDonald's near Mumbai's crowded Andheri station. I was approached by four rather rowdy men who wanted to take over my table. I refused to budge as I had arrived first and was waiting for my friend to arrive and I told them as much in a polite tone at first. They were persistent and took seats beside me despite my objections. They said that I obviously needed company as I was female and alone at a restaurant. I banged my fist down on the table and asked them to leave or I would approach the management and have them thrown out. Meanwhile, I looked around to see if I could garner any support. Unfortunately, none came my way. My sheer refusal to give into their demands and their intimidation made them utter a few profanities and leave saying that they didn't believe that I would be joined by any friend and that I was "too forward." I showered them with a few low blows of my own and continued with my meeting with my friend.

That was the first time I had ever faced such an incident in my life. It shook me up to realise that society and people in general judged me purely on the basis of my biology. To these men, I was not a human being with equal rights and dignity but an object to be controlled and "put in her place." My reaction to these men was a combination of bravado and stubbornness. Whatever the driving force behind that reaction was, it saved me from being humiliated or even worse, being sexually assaulted. I realised that in a different setting, the danger of being abducted was very real, and it does not take much creativity to imagine the fate of an abducted female in an Indian city. The reaction of the staff and the other patrons at the restaurant was shocking to say the least. I cannot understand how anyone can be a mute spectator to an innocent woman being harassed by four shameless and uncultured men. I understand that the problem was not that I chose to exercise my inviolable rights to freedom of thought, speech, expression and movement but it was that Indian society has sanctioned a rather restrictive and repressed role of women as mere homemakers and childbearers. That is not the way I have lived my life nor will it ever be the way I live my life in future. I have continued to enjoy my freedom, and it is my hope and my expectation that those 4 brutes who tried to harass me that day meet a horrible fate. May they rot in HELL.