Eve Teasing

by f

We call it “street harassment” here, but “eve teasing” sounds cleverer. It’s the Indian term for street harassment. There’s a reason why the Indians use such a creative term for this problem. Actually, I wouldn’t call it creative — I don’t like the term — and I’ll explain why that is later.

I worked in India during the summer of ’07 and I was on the receiving end of much eve teasing. I never dressed provocatively. For the most part I wore shalwar kameezes. Sometimes I wore jeans and t-shirts. And though genetics has blessed me with big tits, that wasn’t the real issue (though I admit, it didn’t help). I was a woman on the road, and that’s all it took.

The sustained harassment made it very easy for me to see men as beasts. Not the nicest tactic, I know. But it stopped me from living my life there in a cycle of desperation and anger. If I treated these aggressors like crazy, schizophrenic squirrels with sex drives, the problem became simpler for me to understand. I dehumanized them the way they dehumanized me, and psychologically, it worked. Condescension is a powerful weapon.

But I know I got off easy. Not like there’s any shortage of harassment in Hyderabad — where I worked — but it’s a lot better in the southern cities than it is in the north. Delhi, for example, can be a claustrophobic and terrifying city. Women who live there are trained from a young age to minimize the impact that this awful behavior has on their daily lives. Every man — from the well-educated doctor and engineer — to the guy who sweeps shit is perfectly capable of pinching your ass or copping a feel or whistling a Bollywood film tune in a woman’s direction. (The summer I worked in India, I had been catcalled to by a man whom, I later found out, had a PhD!)

Here‘s a beautiful post by a blogger from Bombay whose details the way routine and accepted harassment has irrevocably damaged her life. The part that most moved me was this:

Don’t hitchhike.

Don’t sit alone by the sea for more than ten minutes.

Stop thinking about watching the sun rise over a field, all by yourself.

I can’t imagine not being able to watch a sunrise on my own. Read — just read it. The heart-wrenching comments are worth looking at, too.

When I read these personal statements from women, I wonder how it affects the way men think. Though I haven’t asked anyone I know about it (and I should — when I get answers, I promise I’ll be forthcoming) I did do some independent research.

I came across Libran Lover, an Indian expat living in the US. This is his take on eve teasing. As an admitted eve-teaser, he says that men become Roadside Romeos as the result of frustrated sexual libidos. Men, frustrated by the social prohibition to date or lack of premarital sexual experience, take out their feelings of powerlessness and desire on walking targets. Change will only come with societal mores are loosened and until then, ladies, get a fucking grip. (Although, really, he feels your pain.) Feminists, he says, have made eve teasing about expressions of male aggression and power when they are rooted in lack of sexual opportunity.

I don’t agree; but even if I did, I don’t give a shit.

Why do we debate the whys of harassment? I just care that there is harassment. Whether it’s sexually motivated or otherwise, am I sitting around figuring out motive when someone’s coming onto me like a pile of bricks from Acme? No, I’m not. I’m busy feeling shocked and violated. For men who believe that this comes out as a unilateral attack on them, it’s not. If you take it personally and defensively explain your behavior, you’re not helping matters. It’s a problem — for whatever reason. Words hurt. We’re not going to just buck up and move on. It’s only gotten us more of the same. At some point, it’s just going to come to a head.

*

Events did come to a head one morning on my way to work, however. My office was in an apartment complex that faced a back alley. A man sat on his idled motorcycle, propped up against a concrete wall. He rubbed his crotch vigorously and made bleating noises like a horny ram. He looked like he was in his late forties or early fifties, I think — and he was dressed for work in a thick pinstriped suit. He had beads of sweat on his forehead. (Those had nothing to do with the heat.)

“You know the way to Mahendra Hills?”

I shook my head no. I did, in fact, know the way, but I didn’t want to tell him. He asked me again and I told him that I did not know, and that I wasn’t going to suddenly pull a clue from my ass. I was about to walk away when he said,

“You is having big boobies,” he said, gesturing at my rack with his neck as he rubbed hard on his crotch. “May I touch them, please?”

I am not proud of what happened next. I lost my shit.

I just threw myself at the man against the concrete wall and pinned him by the collarbone as I punched his face. Repeatedly. I smelled the drink on him. He was too inebriated to fight back, and I was very, very angry. Then I wrestled him off his motorcycle and kicked him repeatedly until he held his hands above his face in supplication. I kicked him once more and then let him go. I didn’t want to see the damage I’d caused. So I looked somewhere — anywhere else. And that’s when I saw it.

His motorcycle.

I walked to it — grabbed it by the handlebars — and walked it away from the alley and back to the main road. Half a block away stood the entrance to a small colony of bungalows. I left it behind a clump of bushes in front of a peaceful family home and I went home. On the long way back I realized that this was the first time I’d fought back on anything. It’d be a fun anecdote to tell. You know, about that time that I Fought Back and nearly killed a guy.

(Maybe that’s just a little dramatic; I’m sure he’s fine and still jacks off to unsuspecting women.)

But it wasn’t so easy. I felt so sick and twisted about it, for days and even weeks afterward. I hated everything about happened, starting from the term “eve-teasing”. Because, you see, Eve was the temptation, and she earned the downfall of mankind. Eve teased, and the world catcalled.

I did not earn any of what happened. I didn’t deserve any of this. I am not Eve.

*

I mention this incident — and this whole spiel on eve teasing — because D told me about a game called Hey Baby. And then she sent me this post.

Hey Baby‘s a single person shooter game where you, the protagonist, decide whether or not to gun down your cat-callers, or send back appreciation. That’s all it is. It goes on forever, and there’s no winning. Exactly — as the Hello Ladies story mentions — the way it is in real life.

I also don’t condone violence, but I appreciate how close to it I can become sometimes. I’ve been up against a lot of stupidity without having provoked it, and that’s just the worst feeling in the world. There’s no responsible entity, only all-encompassing stupidity. People do things because they’re trained to think that there’re no consequences for their behavior, not even when it deliberately harms another human being. I think the video game does reflect the reality of it all. I don’t think I’d ever play the game, because it would mean confronting a reality with no scope for hope. That wouldn’t help me at all.

But there is hope. Nita, from her now-defunct blog Wide Angle View of India, wrote a post on how men can be rehabilitated from their sexist attitudes.

A Bombay intervention program called Yaari Dosti conducted various role-playing experiments on men to simulate street harassment situations in which they were the victims, and as a result, something astonishing happened:

Men realised what it was like to be treated like objects

One very significant ‘game’ that was played was one where half the men became ‘Objects’ and the other half became ‘People’. The men who became ‘Objects’ were ordered around and made to do humiliating things. In another game, some men had labels stuck on them and the other boys were to treat them exactly as per the labels. This was quite humiliating for those who were labelled ‘prostitutes’.

The result of this whole program was that the participants realised what it felt like to be treated the way they treated women. Interviews revealed that their attitudes altered to some degree. The men in the study became more sensitive, started helping more at home, and overall became more respectful of women. Even the eve-teasing complaints against these boys decreased. Many of the young men also reported that they became ‘quieter’ and less aggressive after the program. They said that they had become ‘changed from within’. Their self-esteem increased and their relationships with women improved.”

So see? There is hope. I mean, it’s small, and we’ve got such a long way to go, but there is some hope.

5 Responses to “Eve Teasing”

  1. Fantastic post.
    I agree with his “societal mores are loosened” point, but he never said “ladies, get a fucking grip” .. did he ?

    BTW, street harassment is the right word for “eve teasing”, never thought about it.

    • @bach: The ‘ladies get a fucking grip’ part was deliberately left outside quote marks. Sorry if it was unclear. Please let us know if you can think of a way to make it so.

      @f: I’d never heard it called ‘eve teasing’ before. Talk about a loaded phrase! And from men who (most likely) don’t even believe in the Genesis story! I’m remarkably unobservant when I walk around, so I can think of only one time I was harassed, and I still wonder if I actually heard what I think I heard. Because, really, who would be stupid enough to say, “Hey, Mami,” to me? That’s supposed to be sexy?

      Perhaps it is born of sexual frustration. But if that were the fundamental cause, it wouldn’t happen in New York, where sexuality is much more free. Or perhaps we’re just oversexed in this country, and THAT’S to blame. I call bullshit on both.

      And you’re right. The point is not what causes it, the point is that it makes women feel like victims. Knowing the cause will help us to change their behavior, but it’s going to be a generational shift. We must write about more programs that work to help boys become better men.

  2. No — he didn’t say “ladies get a fucking grip”. 😛 That was creative paraphrasing — and what I felt was his sentiment behind his dismissal of so-called feminist arguments.

    Thank you so much for your comment on this post. 🙂 I am very, very glad you enjoyed it.

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