With the majority of Indian men.
Jugni, by Rabbi Shergill (aka the only Indian male voice that I can bear right now)
This is an angry rant. A very, very angry rant. I’ve been nursing a headache all evening and sleeping, occasionally waking up and trying to understand what’s really bothering me to persistently cause my brain to hurt like this. Today was not an overtly tiring or busy day. I had a presentation in Tsim Sha Tsui, checked out progress on a suit I’m getting tailored, ran some errands and came home just as my head started to ache. But somewhere in the night I realized the same thoughts are running through my head and the same images, and the culmination of all of it has been so overwhelming that I’ve had to wake up to write this post and get it all out.
I realized that I’m pissed off because something that I never thought really got to me that much has finally gotten to me, and justifiably so. I am sick and tired of being leered at. I am sick of being stared at by every freaking South Asian man as I make my way through Tsim Sha Tsui. I’m sick of lecherous, creepy looks and of stares that make me afraid. I’m sick of ‘hello madams’ and ‘can i have your number’ and smiles that make my skin crawl, smiles from men who are clearly thinking at that very moment that they are the hottest stuff to grace the earth and this woman should be grateful they’re flashing this horrible smile at her.
I’m sick, disgusted and exhausted with it.
Let me make something clear for all the arguments that not-rape is all about (though I shouldn’t have to). For all those idiots who think that its about the way a woman dresses, let me tell you that I am a very conservative dresser by any standard. On most days I walk around the city in business clothes, full sleeve shirts and business cut pants and skirts. I don’t usually wear make up. I don’t walk around suggestively or smile at random strangers. Almost every time I’m in TST I’m running from a meeting or to a meeting, and I always have my headphones on to block the world around me. I’m not a gorgeous woman. By most standards, I’m quite plain in my looks, and my figure is very Indian in its curves.
None of that matters. South Asian men will spot me from a mile and give me a look, a wink, a smile, try to talk to me as I pass by. I may as well have transported myself to any town in Punjab, UP, or Bihar, or some village in south India.
And that bothers me even more. What do I worry about the most when I go back to my motherland? These men. These stares. The leering. The eve teasing and the smart ass comments as you simply walk down the streets. A big part of what made my trip back home uncomfortable last April (and in December) was this same thing. My brother would walk with me, fuming and bursting with anger at all these men, ready to kick the balls of each of these idiots, muttering in anger, until I made him stop telling me. Stop talking to me about it. Stop telling me how low this is, because I know. I could feel the eyes, I could feel the thoughts behind them, and it left me feeling abused. It left me feeling dirty and troubled and unhappy in my own birthland.
And the same thing happens here, when that same class of people get lifted and trans located, and the same mindset and thinking prevails. Its okay to stare at women like this, as long as they’re not your mother or sister. Its okay to behave this way. Who gives a damn what they’re feeling like? Its a consequence of a sexually repressed culture, and of much more that’s wrong with the country and the culture today, that I just can’t begin to explain and understand.
I am so amazed at the women who live like this day in and day out. What I value most about my life in the States is my relatively higher level of comfort in this aspect. Sure, these men exist there too, but as long as you steer clear of certain areas, you could walk out in a bikini and not be assaulted by a million eyes. And yes, the same problems exist there, but I don’t associate it with my culture directly. I don’t go to Little India in Houston or the Indian areas anywhere in the States and expect to be leered at or stared at or whistled at. For some reason, it just doesn’t happen. Is it the fear of repurcussion that’s greater? Is it the fact that in general the culture isn’t so sexually repressed? I don’t know. But I feel safe in the States. And I can’t imagine how women deal with this on a daily basis throughout the year and their entire lives.
They do, and then shit like this happens. The Mangalore pub incident is a perfect example of the hypocrisy of the country. Men are free to do whatever they like and behave in any rotten manner, but women must follow this ridiculous moral policing. Jug Suraiya discusses it in his column:
“Both radical Islamists and what might be called radical Hinduists, share one thing in common: their deep-rooted fear and antipathy to anything that smacks of the empowerment of women. Women going to schools, women getting jobs and becoming economically independent, women joining politics and become politically independent, women going to pubs and showing that they are – or at least, want to be – socially independent.”
It makes me so angry. My blood boils when I think of the different moral codes a**holes have set up in India for the genders, and how these incidents show a very low, absolutely illiterate, disgusting side of India to the world. Quit complaining and whining about Slumdog and whatever underbelly it shows the world. How about we first see just a simple day when a woman can walk in the street in six yards of cloth and not be raped in the mind of almost every man she passes? Men can treat women as objects of lust wherever whenever, but as soon as a woman steps into a bar she’s verbally and physically abused? Or the policing gets far enough to control who she talks to?
What kind of messed up, deranged world is this?
Every Indian woman I am friends with has stories to tell. We have stories to tell of childhoods marred by incidents of eve-teasing, molesting, behaviors that would make any father’s and brother’s blood boil. We have stories to tell of teenage years whose innocence was destroyed by men who made sleazy comments, committed lewd acts, who stalked and whistled and winked and leered at every corner. They vary in their extremity, but we all have a story to tell of how we were routinely made to feel low and dirty in our own country, by our own countrymen.
I know that in my anger I am generalizing and stereotyping all men. I wish I could be more rational about it, but unless you’ve been in the sandals of an Indian women, you could never understand. You can’t understand how it feels. After finishing a meal with a group of American friends I left a restaurant and as I was leaving a middle aged South Indian man gave me a lecherous stare I will never forget. I quickly averted my eyes and started talking frantically with a friend ahead of me. She’d noticed, however. She asked me if I had and when I nodded with frustration she said “you should have stared back at him girl! Shown him how it feels!”
Would that have helped? I don’t think so. I think in the sick, deranged mind of this man, my bold stare would have just added to his feelings of self confidence. It would have fed his ego so he could continue to taunt other girls in this way. Whenever I’m walking anywhere in TST with any of my friends, I suffer the same embarassment. I don’t have to look to see the stares, I feel them, and I also know of them by the sympathetic glances my American friends give me. By their occasional “wow, that creep was really staring at you! eww,” or their quick realization that I want to get away from this place as soon as possible. The other night a friend and I were returning from a meeting in Wan Chai and stopped for the light to change. A group of Indian men stood outside one of the bars negotiating prostitutes for the night (I kid you not). We stood about five feet away and as we discussed with each other how uncomfortable the situationalready was, it became ten times worse as, and I could have predicted it, the men glanced over at me with a defiant look. The light changed and we rushed across.
Just as I would never travel or live alone in India, or let any girlfriend of mine do it, I don’t walk alone in TST. I avoid walking in any Indian-concentrated areas in HK alone at any time. And I think about how sad that is, that I should have to avoid my culture and my people like this. A walk into the Chungking Mansion to get groceries is troublesome. Not just for me, but for any young South Asian girl. She could be wearing a burkha and they would still be leering and trying to catch a glance of her face. I have walked past masjids with its crowds of Muslim men (who should stare at no woman in this manner) and have noticed no difference in the behavior (which reminds me of a joke by a female Muslim stand up: “In Mecca I felt someone grab my ass and told myself: I’m in Mecca, surrounded by my Muslim brothers. It must be God.”) I have been in mandirs and had the same experiences.
And some days it just gets me. Days like today, it overwhelms me and it swims through my brain, the images and the sounds and the words. On days like these, all the stories come back to me and flood my brain, and I’m thinking back to my mother, to my aunts, to my cousin sisters, to my girlfriends. I’m thinking about my daughters. I’m thinking about my future and about how the men who repel me the most in the world are men from my culture. I worry about this anger and this hatred within me, and I feel helpless. What can I do? Seriously, someone please tell me. How do you deal with this? The Indian men who pass by here who DON’T think I’m an irrational, exaggerating bitch who’s just dissing all Indian men, and who actually UNDERSTAND and KNOW (I know there are some out there, because I have family and friends I love and trust, but who I just don’t place in the same world that these men must come from), what should a woman do? How should she deal with this? How should she protect herself, what should she tell herself to handle this?
Because I’ve done the most obvious: just avoided it. I’ve also just tried to banish these incidents from memory (doesn’t work). I’ve tried walking with blinders on, in a sense, looking down or straight ahead, my music loud and my eyes refusing to flit around, but I tell you that is not easy. And you still can’t avoid it. I’ve tried the stern, cold, bitchy stare. I’ve tried the shocked, disgusted look. But how do I help myself? Do I block these memories with effort and continue to do that at a regular basis? Even if I do that, what about my fear and my repelsion of my own countrymen?
Something is very wrong with my culture and my country. When a woman can be respected as a Goddess in one breath and brought down to the level of a slut with a look that matches that same breath, then there is something very wrong with the very moral fiber of this country. When a woman gets unwarranted attention and fears for her safety and her well-being just taking a normal walk in a busy place in broad daylight, then there’s something that needs deep change. Indians have lost perspective somewhere. How can Bajrang Dal and Hindu fundamentalists or Muslim fundamentalists focus on policing the women when men can’t take two steps without being aroused by every woman that walks by? How can the males not need any moral policing? Azar Nafisi discusses in Reading Lolita in Tehran how the Taliban’s rules worked: the nape of the woman’s neck and even her wrist is arousing to men. Ergo, a woman must cover these up. If she doesn’t, if it peeks out and comes to the attention of any man (who, poor thing, is aroused), then SHE must be punished. Its HER fault he was aroused. A man behaves in a disgusting, degraded manner, and the woman is to blame. What freaking justice is that? The same that requires women to sit behind men in certain temples (and follow after men in all the rituals), because if women sat ahead, they would ‘distract’ the men from prayer.
How can ANYONE find these arguments sane? How can anyone support them? I can’t fathom this kind of reasoning and I don’t understand what my sisterhood can do when this kind of fantastical rubbish becomes reality!
When you really begin thinking about it with all this in perspective, the women of the Amazon tribe really were onto something. I hope they really did exist, and to be honest, I can completely understand why they would.
(This rant makes me feel better, but thinking about another unavoidable afternoon in TST tomorrow doesn’t.)