A guest post by an Indian teenager. Part I of ‘Confessions of an Indian Teenager’
I wasn’t always a feminist. I started identifying myself as a feminist when I was 16. Ever since I knew what feminism was, actually.
These confessions are experiences that happened both before and after I identified myself as a feminist. The difference is how I looked at those experiences and how feminism gave me strength.
Ours is a nuclear family. My mother, my father and me. We live in a city (not a town) and both my parents work. I’m going to start college after a few weeks. My parents did not force any subject or ambition on me. They allow me to go out with my friends, do not force me to wear salwar-kameez and don’t think I’m inherently less intelligent than a boy because I do not have that Y chromosome.
Sounds pretty liberal, right?
Only on the surface.
My father wants me to “tone down” because otherwise my husband will divorce me in three months (he guarantees me that it will be so) and kick my butt out of the house. He assures me, that he is telling me all this “as a man, not a father” and that the fights between my parents will actually be negligible when compared to the fights which will obviously happen between my husband and me.
I’ve been telling my mum that I don’t wanna marry (since a few months) and that I want to be a single mom. But, my father tells me not to be “over-smart”. Because, you know, the only aim of my life should be to GET married and STAY married, regardless of what I have to do for it.
He tells me to keep my room tidy because women are supposed to clean (and cook) stuff. Otherwise “what kind of a girl” am I?
In short, he expects me to be this totally important person, and at the same time asks me to tone myself down. It does not suit a woman, you know.
The mixed messages I get in my house is pathetic. Actually, it is not mixed. Its like “I hope you become really successful but your first priority should be to be a dutiful daughter, wife and mother”. And we all know what that is in the Indian context.
Do Not Have A Voice.
It gives rise to a whole bunch of other stuff – Don’t wear this skirt, don’t wear that top, don’t do this, don’t do that! Don’t, don’t, don’t!!!
Sometimes it seems like every single thing I do has the potential to be something “provocative”.
You might be wondering why I’m not saying anything about my mother. The thing is, well, it is complicated to explain but fairly common in our much-valued Indian society.
I went outside my home.
No big deal, really. My dad sends me out at even 9 pm (late by Indian standards) sometimes to buy a few eggs because he loves eggs but feels totally lazy to go out. So, he gives me this amazing opportunity to be a dutiful child (notice that I’m not a girl here, I’m a child).
And because I’m a child, I can do stuff that a girl is not allowed to do. Things traditionally thought of as a son’s duty…
Anyway, I wanted to get a recharge for my prepaid account. It was six in the evening. My mother was all like “You can’t go out now… Your father will…” blah blah blah. I reminded her of my fairly regular egg-scapades and she (very) reluctantly allowed me to go (come back as soon as you can). I went out.
Now, let me give you an idea of what I was wearing – A grey tee and a red almost-to-my-knee shorts (the fact that I’m even telling you about my outfit at all is evidence enough to point towards the screwed-up state of our society). I live in a flat. I went down the stairs and onto the street. Two men were coming towards the way I was headed and my first thought was “OK, they’re just walking – let me stare unto my mobile and pretend to text”.
I continued that until I reached the end of the street and I was thankful, yes, thankful, that I didn’t see any person on the lane connected to the street. I say person and not man because if you wear anything other than something which shows only your neck and face, most women give you these horrible judging glances and somehow, it is truly disturbing.
I know misogynists aren’t only men. I know it. It still shocks when they size you up depending on what you wear (as if that is the most important aspect of your personality).
The next street was totally dark – not even a streetlight. By that time, I was feeling very jumpy and nervous. I was afraid that if a guy comes now – or a group of guys – I would be molested. Dark street. Nobody around. We’ve all heard it from the stories, right?
I did NOT want to meet ANY person AT ALL. Just go to the shop, get the damn thing and return home. The shop was somewhat close to my place so I went in the clothes I did. I know clothes don’t really matter – I’ve had enough personal experience – but still. Social conditioning is a powerful thing. Actually, clothes don’t matter at all.
One thing is there, there is an unnatural obsession with women’s breasts. No matter WHAT she is wearing or how old she is.
Anyway, so yeah, I went to that shop. But guess what? I didn’t get what I wanted.
And here is where things get really interesting (or really repulsive).
I was determined to get what I wanted and started to go to a shop nearby (it was nearby, actually. About the distance from my home to the first shop. But, the distances don’t matter, the people in the streets do).
I told myself what I always do, “It is not your fault. It is theirs. You can totally do this. TOTALLY. Nothing to be scared of”.
So, I went.
As I stepped out of that shop, I saw two women go by – in salwar-kameez – and it made me feel that they would harass me and not them. Although I KNOW it is not true. Social conditioning.
I started walking. Some men were hanging about the street corners – I promptly took out my phone and pretended to text. Apparently, texting was very important to me. So important that I couldn’t even be bothered to look at the road.
I looked quickly when I didn’t hear the sound of men and in my head, I went “I shouldn’t have to do this. I shouldn’t have to do this”.
A few fringes of hair fell over my eyes and in my head, I went “Should I comb my fingers through the hair? But, wait! Will that be thought of as me giving some unspoken signal to them? Better not to do anything at all”. I ignored the hair over my eyes.
I walked and in my head, I went “OK, how am I walking? Is my butt sticking out too much? Are my breasts jutting out a lot? Do I look like I’m trying to be sexy?
There was a man in front of me who was a real slow walker and in my head, I went “Oh My God! I have to go FAST! Should I walk by this guy? Will he grope me? Will he stare at my butt?”
And then, I told myself – “It does NOT matter. I have to walk fast, that’s it!”.
By this time, my heart was pounding frantically and adrenaline was rushing and I felt cold all over.
I pretended to text again, ignoring everyone who stared at me or commented.
Ignoring. Outwardly. Inside I’m like “OMG OMG I have to get home FAST!”
I walked on, hitting random buttons on my phone – keeping the light on. I’m totally a text addict y’know, so, like, what is going on in the streets doesn’t even bother me. Nope.
So, I’m walking and hoping nothing will happen to me today. I’m hoping, I’m hoping. I’m ignoring everyone – even the perverted stares of men old enough to be my father. By this time, I’m out of breath. I go to the shop and get the stuff – hoping none of the customers will try anything.
Now, I have to go home.
I ignore everyone – *texting* again.
Keep my eyes on the cell.
Thankfully, I don’t trip.
Right now, I’m kind of sweating, but not really, since there is a wind blowing.
I think, “These men behind me – I hope they don’t do anything”.
I think “These men in front of me – I hope they don’t try anything”.
Men, men – everywhere.
I see a woman.
It passes – we both move on.
I’m in a totally *!#+ed up state of mind now.
I walk as fast as I can.
I wish that I don’t have to go out anytime soon.I’m really close to my home now.
There is a man walking beside me – maybe of the age group 45-50 yrs. He is staring at me. Walking alongside and staring continuously. Not at me, but at my legs, my arms, my breasts, my thighs, my butt, my face.
He is doing it very obviously.
I feel like a cornered animal.
I glare back at him.
At first he seems surprised – maybe he wasn’t expecting me to acknowledge him.
I keep glaring until he averts his eyes – I mean, how DARE he look at me like that and NOT think I will call him out on it?
I don’t know why I didn’t do that to the other guys.
Maybe it was really dark at that time. Maybe I’m in a familiar area now – close to my home. Maybe it is just one man now and it was a group earlier. Maybe after all that, it was simply beyond my endurance.
I walk ahead.
I see my house.
I walk up the stairs.
I’m sweating now – its hot here.
I enter my home.
My heart is hammering. Adrenaline is flowing. I feel hot now. I’m sweating. I feel like I can run a 100 miles and not get tired. I want to run, to run.
I remind myself that I’ve reached home.
I wash my face.
I breathe deeply.
And, I dunno why, but I suddenly remember an incident.
I was 11 or 12 years old at the time. I was on the healthier side (which changed after I hit puberty) and my breasts were just developing.
I was out with my mother. Talking, laughing and walking. Suddenly, she went rigid and snapped back. I did not understand what was going on – what changed so suddenly.
My mother said “Watch how you walk. That policeman was staring there”, pointing with her eyes at my chest.
I do not always pretend to text. Sometimes, I pretend to call too.
It is really sad that I and plenty other women have to resort to such elaborate tricks and subterfuges only to feel a sense of security. And even then, we aren’t really safe, are we?
Because, like she said, it seems like every single thing she does (or doesn’t do) has the potential to be something “provocative”.