Over the last month or so, Indian women have been inundated with gratuitous advice on how we should conduct ourselves in public so as to keep ourselves safe from sexual harassment and violence. Politicians, religious heads, media commentators, women’s rights activists, and well, pretty much anyone with a voice to be heard, has come up with new and innovative ways to keep the women in our society ‘safe’ from sexual crimes.
Right off the top of my head, these are some of the suggestions that have been offered in all seriousness. Women should not be allowed access to mobile phones. Co-education should be banned. Girls should be married off the moment they reach puberty to keep them safe from predators. Schoolgirls should wear overcoats over their uniforms to save them from the gaze of perverts.
Teachers should wear lab coats to prevent male students leching at them. Working women should not be so adventurous as to travel back home alone from work late at night. Women should not wear skirts or other ‘revealing’ outfits because that just excites the men and provokes them into attacking them sexually. And certainly, women should not complain about being ‘raped’ if they willingly go out with men, because honestly, what were they expecting?
That is, by no means, an exhaustive list. But I guess you get the general drift. The message is clear and simple: stay covered up; stay at home; stay silent; and if you’re lucky, you may stay safe.
So it is in the same spirit that I now offer my own two bits of gratuitous advice to men as to how they should live their lives.
* First off, don’t ever venture out into the night alone. And most certainly, don’t head out with a group of male friends. If you are seen prowling the streets late at night, we will assume that you are up to no good. That you are, in fact, ‘asking’ to rape someone. So, be a dear and get home by 9 pm. If you do have to venture out after this ‘curfew’, then ask a woman – your wife, sister, mother, aunt, any other female relative – to accompany you. If you fail to do that, then be prepared to face the consequences. If you are out late at night and ‘cross’ that ‘Lakshman Rekha’, we will assume that you are Ravana and treat you accordingly.
* Be warned. If you dress in an ‘immodest’ manner, we’ll be judging you. Put away those shorts you wear to the beach/mall/gym to show off those hairy legs. Don’t wear those tight, crotch-hugging jeans. And button up that shirt while you’re at it; nobody wants to see that provocative expanse of chest. What kind of message are you sending anyway by flashing all that flesh? Cover up already. Don’t you know how to stay within your ‘maryada’?
* When it comes to socialising or making friends, stick to your own sex. It’s much safer that way. If you hang out with girls; go to the movies with them; party with them; or, God forbid, drink and dance with them, things will get tricky very quickly. So, don’t risk going out with a girl unless she is your sister or you intend to marry her (not if she is your sister, of course). If you do, then we will know just how dodgy your ‘morals’ are. And that may well destroy your marriage prospects. Nobody wants to get hitched to ‘that kind of guy’, you know.
* While we are on the subject of marriage, do try and enter the holy state of matrimony as early as possible. It’s best if you are hitched by 21 but we will allow you some leeway till around 25. If you hit the age of 30 without acquiring a wife then we will assume that there is something seriously wrong with you. And if you are still single at 35, or worse still, at 40, it will be taken as a given that you are either sexually depraved or morally deviant.
* Don’t rock the boat. If someone passes a snide comment, makes a personal remark, invades your personal space, touches you inappropriately, makes unwanted sexual advances, just ignore it. If the harassment persists, submit meekly. Don’t make a scene. Don’t raise your voice. Stay silent and pray that it goes away. But never – no matter what the provocation – retaliate or even react. Just go with the flow. Because if you stand up for yourself, there is every likelihood that you will be ground into the dust.
Okay then, that’s my five-point ‘advisory’ to all men. And now here’s a question for all the men who have persisted in reading this far: how offended are you by all the ‘suggestions’ listed above? Very offended indeed, I’m guessing.
Good. Now you know how every woman feels when she hears people holding forth on how she needs to do a, b, and c (and avoid e, f, and g) to keep herself ‘safe’. And maybe that will teach all of you ‘experts’ out there to shut the hell up.
Follow Seema on Twitter at twitter.com/seemagoswami
From HT Brunch, January 13
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