From an Eve to the Adams: It’s time to address inherited sexism
If the headline reads odd to you, it feels a million times more so to women when you use the term eve-teasing for harassment.sex and relationships Updated: May 12, 2017 20:56 IST
Eve (noun): The first woman, and mother of human race. Adam’s wife, as per the Old Testament of the Bible.
Teasing (verb): make fun of or attempt to provoke (a person or animal) in a playful way.
Usage (not in dictionary, genius): By more than 70% of the educated population in India, including by ‘experts’ on professional mass media platforms, to describe blatant sexual harassment including verbal abuse as well as molestation, groping, disrobing of a woman by one or many men, at a public place.
Does it bother you that while we are becoming more and more aware of the horror that most women go through in the name of harassment (thankfully so!), we continue to sink deeper into ignorance when it comes to describing it in words. Several women groped, assaulted, molested during New Year’s celebrations on the busiest street in the busiest city called Bengaluru, allege media reports. Drunk strangers tried to tear off their clothes, cheered on by a mob, as they screamed and ran around for help, add these reports. I don’t know if all this actually happened or not. That’s for the cops to look into. What I do know, however, is that the ticker on at least two popular news channels the next day read ‘scores of women eve-teased in Bengaluru’. EVE TEASED? Like, really? A colleague informs me that a Hindi news channel, and several papers, described the incident in these words — “31 December ki raat ko sadak pe ladkiyon ke saath jum ke chhed chhaad”. I’m banging my head on the keyboard, jum ke, as I type this.
Pata hai, the intent of all these news channels or newspapers was praiseworthy. The fact that media takes a stand to expose such ugly incidents, and the angry response that everyone — right from the common man to the celebrities who took to social media — give in return, makes me hopeful that someday women in our country would feel safe whether the sun is out or not. But why should any of us use trivial terms like ‘chhed chhad’ or ‘teasing’ for incidents that could leave a person traumatised for life?
And what’s with the word ‘eve’, for God’s sake? Ek baat toh yeh that eve teasing, which literally implies a woman tempting or teasing a man into straying out of desire, is so grossly wrong in the context of harassment. The women who are molested or harassed on the streets in our country have no intention, inclination or desire to tempt. If anything, groping or molestation leaves a woman feeling repulsed, violated and helpless. Eve teasing, in that sense, is a completely unfair way of subconsciously putting the blame on them. It’s kind of the same when a scumbag comes on TV and says that girls are asking for it because they dress in western clothes.
You know how shitty that argument is, right? So even when we unintentionally use terms like eve teasing, we are diluting the overall seriousness of the issue. You all must have heard of the term ‘chhed chaad’ in a very playful banter, raas-leela kind of a way in Bollywood films and songs. What happens with a woman on a street or in public transport or in parks, day in and day out, is not light-hearted chhed chhad. It is full-blown disgusting behaviour. And hey, what’s with the term ‘eve’ anyway? Do you ever say four adams were walking down the street? You don’t, right? Theek karo yaar, bhasha ko.
Yesterday someone was telling me about this YouTube prankster who has become ‘popular’ by uploading videos where he is seen stopping women on the road on some pretext, suddenly kissing them, and running away. The women in the videos are shown freezing for a moment out of shock, and then running after him crying for help. He calls it funny. The 1.5K people who subscribe to his channel may find it funny. But, I’m pretty sure that a majority of the 1.5 billion people in this country — women or men — find it disgusting. The last I heard, he has apologised and taken off his channel. Appreciate that he left some scope in his head to let good sense prevail.
By the way, have you noticed the absence of the term ‘girls’ in all that I wrote above? That’s another language-related peeve I must share here. We have some kind of an obsession to address grown-up, adult women as girls. Sample this headline in yesterday’s paper: 23-year-old girl raped by neighbour. Do we address twenty three-year-old men as boys? We, in fact, take pride even when we tell an 16-year-old that he is a grown-up man. Then why the hesitation in calling a woman, a woman? To be honest, even in this usage, the intent is not to demean anyone. I, like you, have also made this mistake several times. It’s like how many of us use the term ‘class ke sab bachchey’ even for students in the twelfth grade. But the problem here is that when we continue to address adult women as girls, we are subconsciously being patronising. In the process, we are somewhat reducing them into being immature and childish.
I know what a lot of you must be thinking right now. In Hindi, we suddenly can’t start addressing a 20-year-old as an ‘aurat’ or mahila. Many of you would giggle at the very thought. Even the 20-year-old would hate you for making her feel like an ‘aunty’ (Oh, we are not short of sexist terms, are we?). It’s so deeply ingrained in our day to day communication that while a group of people (including both male and female) can be comfortably called ‘guys’, we’ll never be able to address such a bunch as ‘girls’. The term ‘girls’ denotes sissy, it gives you the imagery of pink dresses, giggles, tears, and helplessness. ‘Guys’ or ‘men’, on the other hand invokes the feelings of ‘power, brotherhood, strength. Sigh. Not really sure how long will it take for the womenkind to graduate to the position of being taken as seriously as men in this world. But we can sure make a start by at least using the right words. Whatsay?
Sonal Kalra has heard of several classes for eves to learn the art of self-defense. How about classes for adams to learn the art of basic respect? Mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/sonalkalraofficial. Follow on Twitter @sonalkalra.