Going to the terrace

It was 11PM and I had stepped out to put some things in the common corridor. I got a sense of deja vu and all those memories came flooding back.This innocuous act of stepping out of the house in the middle of the night to go to a corridor/balcony/terrace, I take for granted now and do without thinking twice is often not allowed in India for women.

I have always loved sitting on the terrace and watching the night sky. I remembered people (neighbours etc) telling me on so many occasions to step back into the house because it was considered inappropriate. It used to irritate me that I was not allowed to enjoy something I loved in my own house because people could see me on my terrace. Despite this, I have spent countless hours on my terrace but it reminded me of so many women who do not have that opportunity because their families didn’t let them. A young unmarried girl sitting alone in her own balcony/terrace is threatening to so many people. The only reasons any female would sit alone on her terrace/balcony would be –

  1. She is meeting her lover clandestinely
  2. She wants to attract attention, so she deserves to be harassed

The whole logic is retarded. We have built so many useless rules around women to control their behaviour in every tiny situation. Most of them do not make a difference in anybody’s lives but everybody takes it upon them to enforce these dumb ‘rules’.

Over time, my memory of these restrictions has dulled as I haven’t faced them in years, some even when I was in India though I knew people who did. Other examples of minute freedom not given to women include –

    1. Wearing a proper night dress without petticoat underneath and a dupatta over it
    2. Going braless at home
    3. Going out anytime of the day or night
    4. Cooking or not cooking
    5. Wearing whatever clothes they feel like
    6. Not wearing jewellery
    7. Doing certain things/touching certain things on periods
    8. Staying home alone

These examples may seem trivial when compared to major issues like lack of healthcare, education, child marriage but they are equally important because we deprive women of leading wholesome free lives by controlling them for irrelevant things and chip away at their life quality.

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15 thoughts on “Going to the terrace

  1. All I can say is…

    The world is nothing but a sad state of affairs. Narrow-mindedness, chauvinism, sexism, violence is more prevalent than having a sense of humanity and decency/respect towards all despite race/religion, gender..personal beliefs.

    We females (in traditional/conservative Asian context at least) are nothing but an object that who from birth is to be trained to be a daughter in law. This is one reason that makes me ashamed to be an Indian. And I just realize now that I was a victim of this in my early teens/20’s. Thankfully I know better now and have some support just in case this happens again.

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  2. I totally agree with you. I come from a traditional family with some very conservative relatives. I can relate to all the taboo you have listed. In my extra conservative relative’s house, If I was on a terrace talking to a cousin, an elderly aunt would join in. I have also seen my relatives bitching about women not wearing proper inner clothes. This is also because we often live in joint families in India and the women in the house always need to be dressed appropriately while the men of the house would roam around shirtless in front of anyone (some times to the road).

    Rules are skewed for women. The whole tradition is manipulated to “control” women and show power over women. I know of a cousin who was not allowed to work after the marriage because “women of our home don’t work outside”. Essentially, it is to have control over women. Financially independent women make their choice. Our insecure Men cannot take this. I believe only economic and financial independence can give some confidence to women to stand up against such rules.

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  3. Three responses to three points in the article. These were just things that jumped to mind:

    1. Other people (i.e men) being able to see you, even on a terrace: That reminded me of a scene in Wadjda, an Arabic movie in Saudi Arabia, where a well-meaning teacher tells the girls that their shadows can be seen on a terrace. Never mind that these girls are *children*. Kids for heaven’s sake. Nevertheless, it’s a good movie, and allegedly the first in modern SA and definitely the first directed by a woman. SEE IT.

    2. Going braless – enh, I’m kind of over it. Or maybe I’m not, as the only clothes I wear when I’m braless are loose. My excuse is I have fibromyalgia, I’m always in pain, and the bra is, frankly, a torture device that is suffocating my chest. “I love you so much honey, that I bought you this lung-crushing device. Sexy, isn’t it?”. I do have to add, I was once at a meditation camp, where we were segregated by gender. The upside to this was: NO BRA. I can’t tell you how good it felt not to have to wear one, all the time, every day, for TEN WHOLE DAYS.

    3. Staying home alone. Conventional thinking says, ‘OMG won’t the Mata be missing her Pati and famileee?’ To which I must point out one of the great TV mom characters. Indian readers, when Mrs. Claire Huxtable, from the Cosby Show (I know, he did terrible things, but it was a great show. Such a pity), got her own room, where she could be ALONE, she lay down on the floor and hugged the carpet. Mothers are people too!

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    • I watched Wajda and liked it. Patriarchal societies from this end to that end are all the same.Nothing is exclusive our “Indian culture” as elders like to point out in arguments.

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  4. That begs the question: why do smart financially independent women put up with this? What are these relatives and random people going to do? Ground them? Then move the heck out. If you pay your own rent, no one can tell you what to do.

    There will always be people ready to put you in “your place”. If your aim is to be independent above everything else, you will win. If your aim is to be and stay married despite being independent, and live under someone else’s roof, get used to being treated like a burden and outcast.

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  5. Completely agree about the terrace. However, for some (appalling) reason, a woman alone on the terrace DOES attract unwelcome attention.
    When at my parents house, I often go to the third floor terrace because I love to watch our front garden from up above — watch the trees sway in the breeze.

    However, the area we live in has construction activity all around, tall apartment complexes are being built every where. I hate it when the construction workers see me alone on the terrace, and start whistling, or making catcalls.

    In India, a woman alone doing anything attracts a lot of unwanted attention.

    And yes, going braless is exquisitely liberating. I live in Mumbai, and last year, the sweat and humidity gave me chronic prickly heat just where the bra cups rest on the chest.

    The doctor told me to avoid wearing a bra whenever possible. So I take my bra off the moment I get home. I am so used to it now that I can’t wait to take it off when alone!

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  6. All these rules are about insecurity which leads to control. Seeing women laughing/relaxing/comfortable is threatening to many people. A woman’s enjoyment must be tied to her family’s in some way –
    – If she is bra-less, she must do it only for her husband in privacy, not for her own comfort
    – if she is going out late at night, it must be to pick up milk or bread for the next day, not for an evening out with friends
    – if she is sitting on the terrace, she must be playing with her kids, not by herself reading or day dreaming or looking at the stars
    Even laughter is frowned upon and a coy smile is preferred in some settings.
    A happy woman is also a free woman – that’s too scary for many people in many cultures.
    They make all these stifling rules and enforce them and then laugh at the stereotype of the nail-biting, nervous, guilt-ridden, indecisive, self-doubting, apprehensive woman (who, hello, was created from this extremely stifling environment).

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    • Yes, I have often thought about this. A woman thinking for herself, thinking of what really makes her happy, is deeply threatening to many.

      I was watching this style show that featured Sonakshi Sinha. With a laugh, she announced that she was the first actress in Bollywood who is remembered for her dialogues (“Thappad se dar nahi lagta…). Hard-hitting, memorable dialogues are never given to women in Bollywood.

      It really shocks me — this superstructure that normalises women’s secondary status, so much so that you can laugh about it.

      The fact that this is acceptable, and never questioned, always makes me feel like Neo in Matrix — I have a “red pill” moment, where everything that others see as innocuous, is suddenly so toxic and malevolent.

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    • Coy smile – This reminds me of my Hindi teacher in high school who told us that women should not laugh loudly. However funny it is, one must only give a slight smile and go away. WTH!

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  7. Well I could add more…1) dont leave your hair open… the ends must be tied..(more a rule in south india)… Women must be the first to rise in the morning and have a bath to enter kitchen… where such rules dont exist for men

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  8. If theres a rule ask ‘WHY’, I come from a traditional family but every rule put to me i asked why? if they could give me a fair reason then fine if not i simply said i was not following it. Initially my mum felt hurt but i did let my parents know i was not disrespectful infact they were not treating me as a human being by dictating to me. was i their slave or child. so they folded , then came the relatives, somehow i never cared what they said i made it very clear they had no say in my life, they can be nice to me but i didnt need their advise. sure i was termed unruly and all but you dont realise how soon they give up, they come to accept you are the kind who doesnt listen and simply let go. everytime someone says some idiotic rule question it, politely and make sure they know you dont agree, they will change slowly or at the very least think twice about spouting it again or shut up.

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    • I have tried this. Somehow, people come up with some sort of explanation to everything a woman is supposed to do. And I was lectured not to blindly oppose everything. For ex: I don’t wear mangalasutra or toe rings or bangles. I know of relatives of who will cite some research that, a toe ring presses a nerve which connects to uterus and it is supposed to keep you healthy, applying kumkum/bindi makes you touch the center point of the forehead which activates some energy, the black bead in mangalasutra does something else. And most recently i read a pregnant woman is supposed to wear bangles because her child can hear the clink and recognize the same when the baby comes out.
      There are plenty of them. I honestly do not know the validity of them, although some of them might be true.
      But my point is, I still don’t want to follow them and don’t like to follow them. I like my comfort better than the goodness of a certain ornament or something that is supposedly good for me.
      Following anything should be voluntary, the moment it becomes a “rule” for only one set of people, it is an attempt to control.

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      • Then dont, but the toe ring BS etc cannot be scientifically proven . so let them give an explanation say you dont agree and move on. or if you can dont even bother say NO and move on. IMO asking why usually softens the blow especially when i disagree with my parents🙂

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      • So, I’d argue, why deprive men of the benefits of wearing a bindi then? Why discriminate against them? Maybe they should start wearing it too.

        I always wait for the “mansplaining” by some random person about how all these rituals have a “scientific basis”. Thanks, dude, for letting me know.

        And yes, you are also entitled to do or not do something because it gives you pleasure. That alone is a valid reason. No “scientific reason” needed. Like loitering because you just feel like it, despite *gasp** being a woman.

        http://humweb.ucsc.edu/feministstudies/faculty/arondekar/loitering.pdf

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