Indian Women Navigating Urban Spaces, and Altered Everyday Behaviours due to Sexual Harassment

I asked women to share the ‘little’ things they do every day to protect themselves from sexual harassment on the streets of India (and the world) and share their #MeToo stories. I then researched the sh*t out of it.

I have written this from the POV of a heterosexual cis-woman, but aim to encompass all women, women-identifying, and third gender. This post is by no means an erasure of sexual harassment men undergo themselves, but to focus on the large realities of women’s experiences through first-hand recounts and personal experiences in tandem with secondary research.

A summary of what you’re about to read: This article concerns every woman’s everyday obstacle race in our country, in its discussion about gendered spaces in our cities (masculine and feminine). ‘Women are coerced through consent’ to adopt into socially-conforming measures in navigating a city which ensures that public spaces remain largely male-dominated and heterosexual. Beyond sexual abuse and harassment, this article explains how women’s behaviours are altered over time due to programmed fear of violence or the threat of male violence, and its consequences in spatial relationships/manifestations. Harassment leads to restrictions on women’s mobility, emotional well-being, and causes loss of economic opportunities that in turn reinforce male domination of cities. The underlying pattern that arose from this research is the severe lack of women being able to make their own independent choices even today, in 2018, leaving us with the question: “Are women ever truly able to explore the breadth of their bodies, sexuality, and personalities as freely as men do?”

I’d highly urge you to read this entire article for a proper understanding as it has a lot of researched content and narratives, but if you don’t have 15–20 minutes to spend on this, here are the CliffNotes.

am a Madrasi. I have lived in Madras for over two decades and I take great pride in being an independent woman who loiters around the city on my own terms. As an artist, an architect, and a design researcher, I enjoy the process of dissecting/documenting the city through art, and investigating what it stands for. In the process, I create a social commentary about access to public spaces for women, among other things. It helps me to create mental maps of the city complete with the personal and the political, the socio-cultural, caste/religious, and economic layers that contribute to a holistic understanding of the city. I have been travelling alone since fifth grade because I was a national level gymnast having to frequently attend inter-city and inter-state competitions. It honed a side of me that taught me to be assertive and confident in public spaces and not be afraid of being alone somewhere, without someone to ‘protect’ me at all times. I barely had curfews growing up and have been fortunate enough to have parents who raised me to hold down my own fort…

…all that said and done about my love and the relationship I share with Madras, I still have the yearning for a few places that I have not had the pleasure of knowing on my own. I’ve always heard that sunrises from Broken Bridge are a beautiful sight. My male friends often rave about the beauty in the stillness there, the skyline of the city, and the sort of thrill the spot provides. I have lived in Madras for 20 years and yet, I’ve not been able to venture out there. While I agree it’s dangerous for both men and women, I’d like to emphasize that men have more access to this place than women do: I have seen men bicyclists/motorists randomly ride in there for no reason, photographers hitting the spot for some shots, two-person friend crews going there for no reason but to simply experience the place, or because they had nothing to do. I only dream of being able to do so because I can’t do that without good planning, contacts, and backup. I was brought up to be independent, but not foolish-

the repercussions of being a woman in some spaces in my own city are laden with layered issues that could compromise my safety. This leads me to question my right and sense of belonging to the city every day.

I know that some of you agree, and some of you disagree with me that it’s unfair I don’t get to do the things men do. I know a good number of you probably suggest I accept the practicalities and constraints women have to adhere to in some of these settings, that this is ‘normal’ and how it’s always been, and that this is for my own safety. In these varying degrees of agreement/disagreement, I urge every single one of you to read on because I am attempting to bring to light the nuances, the everyday hardship and humiliation women go through in moving through our cities and our lives in ways you probably don’t even notice.

These are things, events, people, and places that men are not traditionally trained to look out for, and hence, these factors are probably invisible to them. This article is me attempting to show you the intensity of physical and mental exhaustion, and barriers that accompany a woman being in a patriarchal country like ours.

GENDERED SPACES IN CITIES

To start with something really broad, cities, in general, comprise of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ spaces. Conventionally,

  • Masculine spaces are the public sphere of everyday life (that includes roads, recreational spaces, modes of transportation, workplace, etc.).
  • Feminine spaces are traditionally the private or domestic sphere, which women are more likely to inhabit or are contained in (I chose to use ‘contained’ because even as women have broken through barriers and traditional, oppressive norms/practices, we are still restricted in our access to the city, and its offerings).

These are referred to as ‘gendered spaces’. They’re established with a clear social ‘understanding’ of what is appropriate a place for one gender or another.

For instance, chai shops and ‘meeting points’ (ubiquitous little stalls that provide fast food, tea, and biscuits, sells wares like newspapers, cigarettes, etc.) are masculine spaces. You don’t always find women there. If/when you find a woman there, she is very explicitly made aware that she does not belong there. I am someone who hangs around local tea kadais (chai shops) in the city a lot. I know the stares when I stand around enjoying a cup of chai, and how these spaces can make you feel. Every cup of chai I drink at a tea shop is an act of defiance, it’s political.

Think about how skewed it is to have public gathering spaces that are almost only for men to hang out at, one almost every two streets. Now, deliberate if women have any such equivalent spaces barring one’s own homes? There is a huge gap in the demand and supply of public spaces for women, or rather still, latent tension in women trying to use existing spaces.

This is a key social and political problem: cities and the society are largely dominated/created by men, who actively or passively re-enforce existing gender norms with/without their own knowledge.

Men have the upper hand in the power dynamic between genders, and cities are created and sustained to maintain that social norm. In a patriarchal society with most public places assuming a masculine identity, it is no wonder that harassment and assault of other genders are rampant. A lot of you well-meaning men don’t realize how easy and convenient it is for you to use and experience our cities, the luxury of which, women do not have.

See, men and women experience different realities. They have access to the cities in very different ways.

Men walk the streets announcing their presence, most women walk the streets trying to make their presence less known. Men are free in their use of public spaces, women walk around with fear of violence.

This underlying, constantly creeping fear of violence changes everything for women. This fear can manifest itself as uneasiness, or as a crippling situation that restricts us from doing things we want to do (paraphrasing researcher Hille Koskela)

It should also be noted that the likelihood of attack, frequency, and intensity of the attack/harassment itself is dependent on the woman and where she lies at the intersection of several factors like…

…class, race, religion, caste, economic and social status, education, ability/disability or mental illness, age, sexual orientation, and identifying gender (who is not cis-hetero-male) among others.

For instance:

  • A disabled woman might face a higher degree of harassment as she may not have the ability to protect herself physically,
  • Lower-caste women are at a higher risk till date to be oppressed using these tools of power,
  • LGBTQ members face harassment when viewed as the non-conforming entities of a social structure,
  • Women in the lower economic status are at higher risk when not being able to afford private transportation, etc.

Women and women-identifying/ the third gender experience harassment at different levels and to different intensities based on their structural vulnerabilities. It’s a commonly overlooked/omitted a detail when usually have conversations surrounding this issue. It is important for us to not equate all women’s experiences.

SEXUAL HARASSMENT and GENDERED SPACES

The famous political geographer and urban theorist Edward Soja noted in his work how ‘space is simultaneously the medium and the outcome of social practices’ (Soja, 1985). Simply put,

the degree of freedom/confidence that women and other marginalized genders have/exhibit in moving through their city is representative of the patriarchy in the society.

The loop of the gendered power relations and the urban fabric — one reinforces the other.

This freedom that we women have changes in gendered spaced based on three main factors, among others:

  • Geographical area (for e.g. Broken Bridge, Kovalam private beaches, highway dhabhas, TASMAC wine shops, roadside eateries, etc.)
  • Social event/situation (for e.g. New Years’ Eve celebrations on the streets, crowded public spaces on festival days, FDFS of the movie of a regional star, game night, etc.)
  • Time of the day (particularly late nights and mornings before dawn).

P.S: The time of the day can also be interpreted as ‘social time of the day’. By that, there are social roles and expectations assigned to genders for certain times of the day, and people are expected conform to it. An example, considering the question- ‘what is a woman doing in this area at night?’ — it wouldn’t really matter what exact time it is. It matters what the social idea and norms of ‘night’ are, culturally and socially).

The above list encompasses the very physical environment we consume every day. A woman’s consumption of a city- its malls, local eateries, recreational spaces, the streets, transportation, and sometimes even judicial points of interest like police stations etc, is very different from a man’s based on a combination of these above factors.

A small story to illustrate this: when I went to watch a FDFS night show of the movie ‘2012’ at Albert theatre, in Madras, a few years ago, I was accompanied by many of my male cousins and friends. I was one of the two women in that theatre that night, among hundreds of men. One of my own friends saw me and said, “Look around you! Do you see any women? Why did you have to come out tonight?”. While I am thankful that my cousins indulged me in my midnight escapades to get ice-cream or watch a movie at a local theatre, it’s a matter of deep shame and disappointment that I can’t do these on my own, that I need to be chaperoned by other men to go out after a certain time to take part in regular, everyday activities — that I have to continuously wage a war (with my family first and then outside in the world) to do it. When one notices the linguistics and the way in which these questions are asked (“why did you have to come?”), you’d recognize

how it implies that women are to attend/indulge in an activity if only she must, that the act of being there be a necessity with a socially-appropriate reason that validates her presence in that space, at that time.

Cities and (their architecture, into which I am not going into — it’s yet another rabbit hole) were initially planned with traditional gender roles of the provider (public, men) and the caretaker (private, women). Considering the temporality of the subject, we can acknowledge the (positive) constant changes in the society with regards to division of labour and gender roles. But, it also still remains that women are expected to have ‘reasons’ to be out in the streets, reasons that patriarchy determines fit/unfit for all genders even today.

For example, going to work at reasonable hours (a lot of families don’t permit their girls to work night shifts), places of worship, visiting relatives/friends (‘be back by 9!’), or attending school may be some of the reasons that may be considered appropriate. Watching a late night cinema, clubbing, wearing ‘inappropriate or provocative clothes’, or plainly loitering about, or being in male-dominated spaces for no reason at all are not.

Women do not even have the luxury of freely being at leisure in our physical environments like men do, or feel entitled to public spaces.

We have social rules and are constantly deliberating the possibility of male violence for the fear of openly disobeying social norms. This fear, it’s not inbuilt but programmed.

Some of the measures women take to protect themselves as told to me.

Women were not born with fear, as children. It was ingrained in us through parental warnings, curfews and rules, tales from our girlfriends, and news coverage about incidents, the victim-blaming that ensued while analyzing reasons for their presence in the city at the time of an untoward incident. Women’s hostels have a strict curfew whereas most men’s hostels do not.

There are very easily observable rules that have been laid down, that limit women’s movement to hang out in public spaces. There lies a male gaze onto our public spaces that make women feel uncomfortable every single day.

In discussions surrounding this discomfort with some of my male friends, I realized that this constant baggage that we women carry around is something men are so free of, something they are so blind to that it left me wondering:

How it would feel like to be so free in public spaces?

Women pay equal taxes to the government. We should have equal access and opportunities to public spaces/infrastructure. Yet, we are regulated by social factors that force us to set ‘voluntary boundaries’ for ourselves to ensure our own safety. The common woman doesn’t have equal access to enjoy the infrastructure, opportunities, and recreation a city offers the common man.

The onus of responsibility in most of these cases has never been on the man or the society to make a positive behavioural change but asking women to engage in ‘precautionary’ measures that remove us from ‘dangerous situations’. It’s like asking a victim of murder why they got shot, instead of punishing the murderer.

Of course, women’s sexuality, their choice of clothes, and misunderstood everyday interactions are often cited as reasons for sexual harassment. This is reflected/propagated in the media and movies which in turn reinforces these regressive social norms as ‘normal’. Tamizh movies frequently revolve around abuse in the name of ‘love’. Stalking is trivialized as an expression of love. This is a social issue.

The constant objectification of women and misogynistic punch lines that garner all that applause and acceptance scares me. Some men have told me ‘it’s nothing serious, just for fun’. It’s essential to understand how no part of this is funny to the minority group that the ‘joke’ is targeted at. Rape jokes are not funny. A woman’s response to a ‘rape joke’ is fear that a criminal offense and threat is taken so lightly, their safety thus compromised.

Let’s stop victim-blaming. Clothes are not why women are harassed.

Movies like Sivagasi where the heroine is victim-blamed for her clothes as the reason for her being molested by a passerby still has heavy support and following. The ‘hero’ confronting the assaulter spanned 25 seconds (who was then allowed to run away, not handed over to the police), but the victim-blaming was a good minute and a half (in the midst of a busy market and many people, while asking a woman why she stands there in her ‘undergarments’).

There is a dangerous line between portraying a character in films and portraying an entitled alpha male that conforms to twisted ideas of masculinity in the society into a character simply to reach a wider audience. That’s the exploitation of the progress of a society for commercial means and popularity, not something any respectful artist would/should do.

Tamizh movies constantly stray on to the other side while reinforcing regressive ideas of women. Some of them scream that rape/sexual harassment is a response and not an action a man needs to be held accountable for. That sends a shiver down my spine. I urge you to pay more attention to the ‘recreation’ you consume and how that could adversely affect women by reaching impressionable minds. I wish actors and heroes in the industry realized this and disagree to do such roles.

HOW SEXUAL HARASSMENT ALTERS WOMEN’S BEHAVIOURS, their SPATIAL MANIFESTATIONS

By now, it is common knowledge that almost every woman has experienced some form of sexual harassment. The constancy and normalization of the same have led us to not always speak about it openly. I am glad that with the #MeToo movement, women are able to voice their troubles. It’s the start of a long process. However, the effects of harassment will continue until a larger change comes about in society.

The cumulative physical and emotional damage sexual harassment caused over the years leads women to create high boundaries around themselves, create defense strategies and coping mechanisms to deal with the situation(s) and alter their behaviours, to avoid becoming a victim of harassment.

These ‘behaviour alterations’ in turn (in a loop) affects how women use their cities spatially, and their presence in the society simply because of this ever-pervading fear. A lot of people are asking women why we’re speaking about these incidents several years later. Well, for one, the society wasn’t ready for it, and we also didn’t have such a commonplace medium to express our issues with dignity, like we have the Internet today. My mother would have had to stand on the streets with a megaphone if she had to talk about this and tell others how it goes, and our society doesn’t like loud women.

WHAT I ASKED WOMEN ON THE SUBJECT…

“I remembered listening to a podcast (Hidden Brain, 2018) where one of the women who accused Israel Horovitz of sexual harassment, Laura Cook, mentions how she and the other women would always wear red lipstick when he was around because he hated it.Women and other survivors do little things like that to protect themselves, things that most men aren’t even aware of. What are some of these everyday little things you do?” — This is the question I posed to my fellow women, and survivors on my social media art and personal platforms.

Doubling up on secondary research (in behavioural geography, gender and urban design studies, law, feminism, and design), I opened my platform up for dialogue on social media. The responses began to pour in as comments, Instagram DM’s and into my Facebook inbox. Women began lissting of all the things they did (by now sub-consciously) to protect themselves.

To best represent their narratives, the themes/patterns, and socio-cultural layers that were mapped when this question was asked within the commonplaces of narrative inquiry (temporality-past, present, and the future, sociality- the personal, cultural, and the social, and place/spatiality- environment and institution), I created this visual model to better understand the core of the issue.

THE CITY SPHERES AND SEXUAL HARASSMENT

Every city sphere has stationary centres/nodes. Modes of transportation help people travel between them. Harassment happens in every single such node or mode of transport. It’s spread throughout the spheres:

The City Spheres and Sexual Harassment: THE PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT
  • PRIVATE SPHERE: Assault or harassment that happens within one’s own homes (private) lack a political voice, and goes invisible in a lot of cases. Domestic violence occurs a lot, and parents tend to not notice signs of assault in their children by their own neighbours, family friends, and even relatives. Even if they do recognize it, they are sometimes in denial. I had women write to me about their own grandfather or uncle molesting them as children, and the matter went ignored or unknown.
  • SEMI-PUBLIC/PRIVATE SPHERE: These are usually institutions with their own policies on sexual harassment, like the workplace, schools, etc., where there is some sort of visibility. It doesn’t ensure safety all the time though; women are called ‘unprofessional’ for bringing up these issues, are overlooked for promotion, or earn a ‘bad name’ for ‘causing drama’. People ignore these ‘open secrets’. Take the case of Malayalam ‘Women in Cinema’ collective members, they aren’t able to find work anymore.
  • PUBLIC SPHERE: Harassment here is a strong political matter, and a social one, too. Everything a woman does is under scrutiny.

Despite these distinctions,

…whether women are in a certain sphere or moving from one place to next, there is little difference in how women behave in these spaces: our guards are still up. Only the intensity of fear we may feel changes.

“With violence — and with a threat of violence — the city streets are kept as male-dominated, heterosexual spaces.” (Rose, 1993)

HOW WOMEN’S BEHAVIOURS CHANGE

Emotional Effects/Changes

Men often don’t realize the scars that ‘harmless’ actions leave on women.

Every time we are stalked or followed, wolf-whistled, winked, leered at, or catcalled on the roads with explicit references made to our bodies, it draws fear, humiliation, creates a breach of personal space, and loss of power from within us.

The society has us believing it’s our fault. It’s not.

The mere act of a man being able to indulge in these ‘harmless/flirtatious’ acts is a sign of their power over us and our bodies; our presence in that social space is overridden.

It leaves us feeling helpless, isolated, ashamed, humiliated, and embarrassed for no fault of ours. “This domination is achieved not only through numerical appropriation of space, but through assertive and aggressive behavior which intimidates and embarrasses women.” (Koskela, 1999)

Many argue that women need to be strong, brush these so-called harmless comments off, and walk away from these situations. I have been witnessing people online who clarify they believe in “gender equality and not feminism”. Men casually remark that women need to raise our voices, and slap the offenders immediately. While it is a viable choice and a good change to encourage women to fight back, I need to make it clear that women aren’t always comfortable with this. The crowd around us might not help us, the police may trivialize the matter, and the man might just come by the next day with an acid bottle, what do you do then? Do we have measures put in place to protect us in the aftermath?

I just want you all to remember that any of these responses are absolutely valid a response:

Fight. Flight. Freeze.

Please don’t go around chastising women for not fighting back. This shouldn’t be yet another thing we’d have to do every day- preparing for a physical fight.

In any instance, this is not a one-off incident. This happens EVERY SINGLE DAY. There is a cumulative effect in the constancy and the frequency of non-consensual sexual advances and threats. This leaves us feeling insecure, vulnerable, and not in control of our lives. You’ll see this in the upcoming sections about altered behaviours and #MeToo stories I received.

I wasn’t able to illustrate all the stories people sent me. So, I compiled them in a new post. If you want to read all the #MeToo stories I was sent, and the things women do to protect themselves, click here: MORE STORIES)

Physical and Spatial Effects/Changes

…physically with regards to women and their own bodies, women are left with a taste of perceiving themselves the way their harassers do.

A woman shrinks her presence in a public space.

I had someone tell me how they are made conscious of their large breasts that they tend to slouch all the time now. Women beat trauma into their bodies:

  • They shrink into their coats and try to make their presence unknown or invisible when inhabiting male-dominated spaces.
  • They avoid wearing clothes that may be considered provocative, or rather, wear clothes that remove the idea of their own bodies in a public space.
  • You’d also notice that a lot of women put themselves in a room’s corner when they’re outdoors.

Women become self-conscious, and ‘un-feminize’ themselves to avoid unwanted attention.

Little defense systems of every day life. Why should we have to prepare for a battle everyday?

…spatially, women respond differently to the city’s spaces and working.

  • Women tend to avoid closed spaces with no visible exits, dark roads, and alleys, empty car parks, large open spaces, frequently deserted places like parks, woodlands, rivers, beaches, and countrysides.

Spaces that can be therapeutic to men can be a huge source for anxiety and fear for women. For e.g. trails and parks.

  • Women have fine-tuned radars up at all points, always attentive. They even tend to avoid wearing earphones out in the public, always listening for a sound in the bushes.
  • They avoid short-cuts and take longer, safer routes home.
  • If women perceive a threat, they change their modes of transport. For instance, if a woman feels like she’s being followed, she may take a cab even if her house is three blocks over. If women don’t get a good vibe from a ride-share, they tend to get dropped off at the closest landmark to their homes. They then walk from there to keep their home addresses unknown to the person.
  • Women constantly share their locations through apps or phone calls, especially while on public transport, or in cabs/auto rickshaws, and make driver details known.
  • When searching for places to live, women tend to look for extra security and avoid first-floor homes. Personally, I have rented a first-floor apartment in the past, and I’ve never left my windows open a single night.
  • Women locate safe spots en-route to our regular nodes if we need to reach out for any help.
  • We feel unsafe in places where we lose visual contact/visibility with other people, and also tend to avoid crowded places.

These are only some of the measures put in effect. By now, most of them are subconscious and ingrained, and so is the fear and social conditioning. “Living a spatially restricted life because of fear constantly reminds women of their relatively powerless position” (Pain, 1994). A good number of us have been subject to childhood sexual abuse, as well, and that begins in our own homes. It makes me wonder where are we safe, really?

in moving between one place to next, women’s MOBILITY is severely affected.

  • Restricted mobility affects women’s economic opportunities. If there is a high-paying job that a woman loves in a place that is hard for her to safely get to, chances are that she will give it up.
  • Increased dependency on male friends/family for commuting purposes.
  • Restricted mobility reduces/comes in the way of women having their social bonding time on the go. They end up planning every step of their day:

For instance, if a man is going from his workplace to a pub, he makes quick decisions. Men tend to immediately figure out how to get there, at what time, and maybe with whom. The decisions involved are usually taken at a relaxed pace, one step at a time.

A man has the freedom to choose his next steps in an urban fabric based on his current spatial and social position. Women tend to make plans in the longer term, usually with plans A, B, and C, always equipped with backup strategies. They often worry about how they’re dressed in these spaces, and the demeanor they carry.

In essence, a man makes his decisions based on convenience. A woman makes her decisions based on safety.

For instance, if I as a woman am going from my workplace to a pub, I’d first be concerned about what I am wearing and if it will be ‘appropriate’ to a pub, consider my mode of transportation reaching the pub (public vs. private) and who I am going with (do I trust them or not), decisions on whether I should drink that evening or not (if I am drinking, then who is keeping an eye on me, making sure I never leave my drink unattended, and who is driving/taking me home), if the pub has parking close by, are the roads well-lit, are there safe public modes of transit for getting back home, is the security good, what the pub’s closing time is and in relation to that, the time I need to leave to reach home at a safe hour, etc— these are just some of the factors I will take into consideration before I decide whether I go someplace or not. If on top of this, you have to add layers of race or caste/religion, easily identifiable socio-cultural markers that have its own threats, it adds another layer of conditions (my African American friend and I were discussing this one night over dinner when at the end of this string, she quietly pointed to her skin color and said, ‘add this to the mix, I’d rather just be home’).

All these factors constantly remind us how almost none of the decisions that women take are a result of our independent choices.

“Much of the power which modifies women’s behavior can be regarded as being control through ‘consent’ rather than through ‘coercion’(Green et al., 1987).”

I can’t emphasize enough just how mentally exhausting it is for us to make NASA-level plans to go from one place to next. If you’re a man reading this, I’d like to ask you simply apply all these questions before you go somewhere, answer and relay them in your head, and tell me how it feels like.

WHAT CONSTANT BEHAVIOURAL ALTERATIONS DO TO WOMEN

…women tend to eventually become something that they are not, or be perceived as someone they’re not.

Women tend to don ‘bitch faces’ even if they’re happy, avoid eye contact on the streets, and earn titles like ‘grumpy’ or ‘guarded’ or ‘boring’. They make themselves adopt a completely different persona in public, make themselves unattractive. I had a fine lady tell me how she began to adopt an ‘asexual vibe’ to maneuver through all these issues. At the end of the day, women don’t feel like they belong in the spaces they inhabit because they’re constantly reminded that they are the ‘other’.

A woman’s entire life, is thus, comprised of coping strategies, of meticulous planning of the next move, of being in constant anxiety and fear employing ‘precautionary measures’ to ensure her own safety and with a full knowledge that she’s likely to be blamed after all this.

It made me think…

…whether we women truly ever get to examine the entire breadth of our bodies, lives, and personalities with as much liberty and freedom men do.

Women don’t know what it means to have that level of freeness or liberation in ourselves, that male privilege allows men. Our routines, comfort, and freedom, independence, and economic choices are compromised every step of the way.

Nobody dare ask us again why we don’t smile.

IN CONCLUSION…

One of the primary reasons I wrote this piece was to reach out to my well-meaning male friends, family, and acquaintances. I recognize those of you trying to understand what we go through and supporting us towards achieving equal rights and access to our cities and a hassle-free life. I thank you for the support. I wasn’t sure, however, that you understood the sheer pain and intensity in women just having to be women to do the things we do every day. I want you to take accountability and take the steps to educate yourselves and others (men, mainly) if you can. It really shouldn’t be our ‘job’ to educate you on these matters.

Here are some little measures you can undertake:

  1. In the private sphere:
  • If you find a friend committing a ‘harmless’ act of ‘flirting’, stop them. If it’s not consensual, it’s not correct.
  • Please don’t mansplain, listen to our experiences. Be sensitive.
  • Read up about rape anxiety and the ‘fight, flight, freeze’ responses.
  • If you notice signs of domestic violence or abuse, immediately report it. If you have children and they’re uncomfortable around some people, pay closer attention. Teach them about consent (I have begun to ask for consent when it comes to hugs from my own five y.o. niece. It’s a learned behaviour. TEACH CONSENT).

2. In the semi-public/private sphere:

  • If you own an organization or are in a position where you have employees or a team, create an open line of communication for them to talk to you. Brush up on the Vishaka procedural guidelines/state workplace harassment guidelines and put it to work.
  • Boycott, or stop economically supporting artists, politicians, and others who are brought to be light as sexual predators. Don’t support the cinema and actors who think it’s fine to crack ‘rape jokes’ and use victim-blaming misogynistic punchlines. Be more critical. If you’re willing to spend money on a predator, that’s enablement, this is especially the case if you’re an artist in the industry.
  • Schools and institutions need to introduce zero-tolerance policies when it comes to sexual harassment. Demand school counselors, and sex education classes.

3. In the public sphere:

  • Keep your hands and legs to yourself. Ask your friends if they’re okay being hugged. I have a good friend who asks me if he may lift me in a hug every single time. He reminds me that consent is ongoing; I love him for it.
  • If you notice someone in distress, please, please, offer help.
  • Be mindful of whether you’re being ‘flirtatious’ or embodying male-entitled-possibly-predatorial-behaviour.
  • Emphasize during city meetings the need for better and inclusive planning of cities and new developments. Elect women to those position of powers.
  • Check your privilege at all times. Before you may dismiss a woman’s concern, or even gaslight without yourself recognizing it, check your privilege and look into why she said what she said.
  • Also, everything I said for the other two spheres.

I explored narrative inquiry as a mode of research for this subject, and narrative inquirers are required to meet justifications: personal, practical, and social for the research. By now, I hope I’ve made that pretty explicit.

But two of the important questions in the process are “so what”, and “who cares”. I’m sincerely hoping you have the answers for those two questions.

Please do share this essay as much as you can. It would be useful for people to really understand our position as women in our societies.

Maybe, one day, I’ll meet you at dawn at the dangling end of Broken Bridge, and we can have a cup of chai together, bodies loose, hair flying, and all souls free of fear.

Cheers!

Thank you for patiently reading it until the end. I appreciate it. Now, spread the word.

Hemu

Facebook | Instagram: Find me on social media!

References

Artist, design researcher, architect, poet and writer, and everything at those intersections | Social innovation | Community building | Cash me outside w/ chai.