Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A quiet kind of heroism

Once you've put into writing the truths that have hammered your life - your commutes, your streets, your nights, your finances - into a spreadsheet of fear, you're changed.

You take a solitary walk all around a PVR complex, and you get a cup of coffee on a night so cold that the mists rising from your lips and the cup mingle and waft into a drizzle, and you look for an empty bench and when you find it, you sit and gaze into the hazy throngs of young people - up and down, arm in arm - knowing that curious stares are hemming you in, but you sit, hands wrapped around a toosweet-toohot cup, unhurried, because you'll be damned if you can't do this; a stranger with big moustaches heads towards your bench but when you fix your eyes on him, he changes direction - for you sit bang in the centre of the bench, feet stretched, head at rest, in a wet bubble of falling night-sky - and you go on sitting there, looking at nothing, spotting a familiar boy hurry past with an unfamiliar girl clinging onto his arm, and when the coffee is gone and the sky is still, you get up, toss the cup in the trash-can, breathe deep, and walk away.

[Blank noise blogathon entry, 2007]


Unmana said...


Jay Sun said...

Happy Woman's Day :)

Have a great year !

Perspective Inc. said...


bluespriite said...

Happy women's day.. and dont tell me... my sms interrupted this?

Space Bar said...

Annie, this is OT, but I didn't know you knew Revathy. It's a small world, if w eonly know all the conenctions that bring us together. I still can't get over it...

sowmya said...

Loved the image this conjures up!

Jai_Choorakkot said...

I just finished reading your "street strategies" and it was a real shock to me, even though I know something about the hassles on the roads that women face.

Here is another take on this from the male perspective. I absolutely agree that none of these following points are anywhere near comparable with what you guys face.

1. I have occasionally been rather irritated when I observe women giving out very hostile vibes (frowns, grimaces etc.) when they pass any man they dont know regardless of what he is doing (which is more often than not, nothing. He is usually disinterested).

2. I have learned not to look at women I dont know on the street- if my glance rests on one for even 3 seconds, she is into this "cursing face". Unfortunately, with some women, the act of my taking my glance away seems to confirm their worst suspicions and I get really nasty glares.

3. I know not to ask a woman for directions, even if she looks local and is the only person to be seen around for miles- ESPECIALLY if she is the only person to be seen around for miles.

4. I have seen in *some* cases, the same women are fairly OK with looking at good-looking and well-dressed men.

5. I understand that looks and words are a one-way street (women can, men cannot) and am not seeking equality.

6. I have a better understanding now of the defence mechanism that runs behind this one-size-fits-all treatment and will be more okay with receiving it in the future.


Jai_Choorakkot said...

Addendum to my guide-for-guys:

2a. to preserve your dignity, the safest thing with women on the street is to pass by as if they dont exist.

- do not nod/ greet/ smile / acknowledge.

- You should not look and be clearly seen to be not looking at them.

- If you cannot avoid it(eg. a woman is in your direct line of sight) dont look away (shifty eyes are interpreted as a sign of guilt, read point 2 in prev comment) but look down at the pavement. This gaze will cover their legs upto maybe the ankles but they dont feel threatened with that.

- In case of a narrow section of pavement, stopping to let them pass may look like a gentlemanly thing to do but may trigger the defence look. The best thing is to stop with your back to them and lean away as far as you can.

- A woman that wears clothing she thinks may invite attention will exhibit even more of these defence mechanisms than others.


PS- None of these are meant to explain or excuse harassment in any way - harassers generally dont care how the woman is dressed -her very being female and alone is enough.

They are also really insignficant compared to the harassment women face, and after reading Annie's post, pretty understandable.

Sudha said...

annie: brilliant. a wonderful way of explaining how evn enjoying ur most basic rights needs a constant "quiet kind" of fighting.

Jai: to add to wat u said:
to preserve your dignity, the safest thing with women on the street is to pass by as if they dont exist.
how about rephrasing that as:
.... to pass by as if they are a man? You wud'nt be noticing so many things about them then, wud u? and wud't even consider nodding/smiling at/greeting/acknowledging a male starnger.
that is the exact reason why the corollary can't be true and a woman can't consider a man and woman passing her by the street in the same way and needs so many defence mechanisms. actually its more survival instinct!

Jai_Choorakkot said...

" .... to pass by as if they are a man? you wouldnt notice anything then"

Good rephrase but the assumption behind it doesnt work.

Actually I do acknowledge/ nod at male strangers and even a smile or half-greeting when I see them a little regularly, though they are still strangers in every other sense.

I notice mannerisms, gait, walking speed, how he/they look, how they are dressed and nobody is worried.

I ask them the time, ask for directions etc. and nobody is worried.

Just as some of the female commenters on street-strategies worried initially:
"maybe its something I did"

So do some of us guys when we come across defence mechanisms that we havent triggered.

"I must have done something bad, looked at her or something to set that off"

and feel bad about it.

I occasionally miss seeing female family & relatives on the road since I am busy NOT looking at anything female esp when its dark (they flag me down with "didnt you notice us?")

I am not contesting the need for these defence mechanisms, I understand that guys like me are probably in a minority.

PS- I do "get" the problem, I have read (NYTimes) about a woman who deliberately cross-dressed as a man for experiment and the enormous "freedom of invisibility" she felt.

Women looked at her occasionally (as a man) but she had perhaps adopted the male persona so successfully that that was not a problem.

Jai_Choorakkot said...

Part of the problem, for guys like me, is the famous female gut instinct.

We trust it more than we trust our own (mine Im pretty sure is as lazy as the rest of me) so when a lady goes into (or is already in) 'defence' we assign more credibility to her than we do to ourselves.

I would like to know, (if anybody is still reading this, that is) if the female gut instinct is ever wrong?

Have taken more space than warranted.Sorry annie. This is my last comment here.


pawan said...

That's the spirit. Admire you, as always.

Manas said...

Like Jai, I also have at times favored the _female gut instinct_ more than my own. And it bothers me only a bit. For a society to be truly pluralistic and free ...

There are some soft-spoken guys being treated in a manner different from what would have been if they were more aggressive. I see sexual harassment in the light of unfair power play.

In the work place (even in academic world), there are some mental blocks that are difficult to dissolve (e.g., Lawrence Summers).

I believe that two sub-populations (whom we now call male and female) evolved to be sexually (and in many other ways) differentiated, but the environmental pressures that existed at the beginning are no longer there. So this differentiation is doing its job (reproduction), but not in other places.

I believe that each person has an innate path to be taken (something similar to Maslow's self-actualisation), but also that the humanity as a whole now possesses enough knowhow in educational technology to train almost anyone in anything if there is the right motivation and resource.

I suspect that this is a case of a struggle between "is" versus "will". When something starts to change (and it must, because that is the law of nature), people do not know that they are changing for better, and some of us are scared and keep on living as we always have been. I know of guys that have put a woman to difficulty just out of a mental habit (i.e., male stereotype) and regretted later. It is not easy to change what one has been subconsciuosly for long.

To go back in time and re-invent the experiences and beliefs and all the things that one picked up on the way. And perhaps shed off some of it ...

annie said...

unmana, jay sun, perspective, sowmya, pawan: thanks

bluespriite: no, you didn't interrupt this. this was much earlier in the evening. am not brave enough to attempt this past midnight. yet.

space bar: yes, though of course, not as well as you seemed to know her. she taught us in journalism college. I remember, she gifted me a copy of 'six' once, when she realised I was keen on poetry. now, the thought of it makes me ache a little.

jai: this is the sort of thing that shocks people all the time. and it happens all the time. curious, no? thanks for the male perspective. however, would like to clear a few things.

- please don't hesitate to ask women for directions. we are wary when approached by men at any time. I personally have lost count of the times when men approach me to ask for directions, and when i have given those directions, have offered to 'make friendship'. but I continue to stop and give directions as and when asked.

- women are okay with looking at any man (handsome or otherwise). they are not okay with being looked at, because given their experiences, they may view it as a sign of aggression or danger. in different contexts, this feeling may change. for instance, if they are themselves attracted, they may want to be looked at too. I understand that this is a very difficult situation for men who want to just look and mean no harm, but they'll have to deal with women's defense mechanisms until we get to the point when women do not feel physically threatened by men.

and maybe you would like reading the blank noise blog. women have been writing in to express their deepest desires vis a vis public space. many of us actually would like to be able to smile at strangers. I do smile at women sometimes, but dare not smile at men. imagine, if you get stalked and have 'friendship' thrust into your unwilling face, when you are NOT smiling...

sudha: thank you, and thank you, again.

manas: hope it does change. we sure are trying.

Science hunter said...

u can go ahead

Jai_Choorakkot said...

Did say no more comments but, to respond to Annie:

- there is something un-fair abt wanting to look but not be looked at. The best way to go abt this is to concede the un-fairness (as I think you are doing) but explain it as you have done.

- I know beforehand the why of the unfairness but it helps to come out with it anyway than to leave it implicit/ assumed.

- On another blog I read, criticism of blank noise for going after ppl who merely looked drew sharp debate and long arguments abt how offensive looking is, from women who I suspect are regulars at BNP.

- Only one commenter jyothsnay earned credit for some balance and nuance, how it depends on the womans own mood etc.

- that sure put me off BNP. Regardless, on your recommendation I will try it.


Jai_Choorakkot said...

I had a 70:30 kind of feeling on reading BNP. agree about 70%. The 30% confusion is:

1. ambivalence towards "kya dekh rahe ho?"

but I have come to appreciate that girls seriously expect to hold the rights on one-way looking wise.

2. some want to suddenly sing /dance in public, do anything crazy. Guys who did that would be stared at too. I actually believe that women who act girlish have more leeway to do this singing/ dancing bit in public.

3. serious disagreement with those who want to run the streets naked.

4. (probably irrelevant) While there is extra risk for women moving about at night, guys arent really thoughtlessly strolling out alone into the dark. Not with the crime scene we have now.


Google search for BNP also took me to some male blogger's counter perspective. His description of the contemptuous looks:

"...There have been instances when I have inadvertently bumped into a girl.. the contemptuous looks that they gave me have literally had me wince... They managed to say “Tumhare ghar me maa behen nahi hai”, without actually saying it. And trust me, it feels like shit..."

"...I do not like to be looked at in that sick contemptuous manner, as if I’m just back after raping a few twelve year olds...."


While I agree that the shit-feeling can be less injurious to us than the harassment is to you, I hope some women can agree that overuse of this sneering glare will be counterproductive.

Overall an interesting experience. Goodbye for this thread.


Opinionated said...

Such a well written post & spoiled by this useless argument. Totally takes away from the beauty of the writing. What is it with feminists???

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