When I started writing this I had no idea I would get such a huge response. I went to my WhatsApp and asked many people one question. “If you have had an experience with sexual harassment and would like to share it with me for an article please message me.” There was a tidal wave. So many people sharing their stories. So many women telling me about how helpless they felt about how horrible it was. I didn’t know how to respond even to some. There were people I’d never spoken to before sharing their stories. This was definitely the toughest piece I’ve ever written. I’ve kept all names confidential. I also never want to read this piece again. It was hard enough to write.
I always thought that if I were ever touched inappropriately I would kick up a fuss. Probably break the perpetrators hand off. I was wrong. The first time it happened I tried to shrug it off telling myself it was just a mistake or it was something. That he didn’t mean to do it. But the second time I knew it was not. It was done purposely and it was real. It was happening. In my state of shock, the feeling of awkwardness that overtook me was something so overwhelming that I, the one who would always encourage people to stand up for themselves and speak out, was unable to say a single word to defend myself. To defend my body which was so subtly and yet disgustingly violated.
But this is something that as women we face not just everyday but all the time. From dress codes policing our body to the old creepy men on the road who stare at us to the complete stranger trying to get a phone number. We face it all. And it is scary. In a discussion with my friends, I told them how angry I was with myself for not retaliating to what had happened and they told me that they too had gone through the same. It seems that this is something that we have numbed ourselves to! We just simply go along with it as if it’s a regular part of our day! S tells me how a man pinched her breasts when she was in the 8th grade, when she was on her way to church. She was too shocked to understand what had happened. “When they show girls going into a shell after anything like this I always wondered why.” She said. “Then I realised, you feel so violated it’s sickening!” She tells me that every time she thought about what happened she had felt like throwing up.
When A was in 11th grade, on the bus home from school she was harassed. “He was leaning against me and I didn’t mind so much because the bus was crowded” She later realised he had been rubbing his genitals against her shoulder. When she glared at him he moved away but she said she could feel him staring. “I just got off the bus.” In some cases, retaliating makes us look like crazy emotional monsters. People stare weirdly and no one comes to help. T tells me of how when her butt got smacked in the middle of a busy road, not one person came to help her. When she screamed at the pervert who did it she was laughed at by bystanders and ignored by the policeman standing there. “It was just so embarrassing!”
It feels like staring has become obsolete. Groping and touching is the new in thing now. And it is spreading like wildfire. Forget what a woman is wearing, forget what she is doing. They are just silly excuses that we hear. Silly excuses to defend the entitlement of patriarchy. “There was this time when I was in 8th. I was walking back home from school. My home was in a posh and calm neighbourhood, so I had my guard down. I kept walking down the road to my house, when this man- a worker from one of the construction sites nearby- stepped in my path. I was taken aback, but merely curious about what he wanted- up and until he pulled his dick out of his pants. That was where I freaked out and ran, all the way back to my home. I couldn’t sleep properly the next couple of days, because it disturbed me that much.” R tells me. She went on to casually point out how there’s always something that happens in crowded buses, shocking me into realisation that this is exactly how much we’ve numbed ourselves to this kind of thing. K and G haven’t though. G says, “Once I was sitting in the bus on the way back home when the guy sitting behind me slipped his hand between my seat and the glass window and groped me. It must have looked like I was sleeping which is probably why he thought he’d get away with it, but I turned around and fired him. He acted like he didn’t know what I was talking about and everyone else looked at me like I was deranged.” K had a similar thing happen to her. However, she smartly took pictures of it happening and the conductor of her bus and the people around made the man get off the bus immediately when they got to know. K also recalls the time she was stopped on the road by a man she’s never met before who offered her a ride back home in his car, telling her he finds her very pretty. She says he told her, “Please don’t think I’m a creep I was just hoping to strike a conversation with you!” it was only when she told him strongly to stop that he actually did and finally left her alone.
The fact that something like this is becoming so regular and almost common place is ridiculous. So many times women are harassed and molested and nothing is being done. We are told that we should not have been doing things and we should not have done things. It’s like we are punished for having bodies. Instead of telling us to refrain from going out in the dark, and wearing clothes they call ‘inappropriate’ what should be said is not to us but to those who harass, instead. Unfortunately, the punishment for being born anything less than a “man” is such. The worst part is that the artful way in which such disgusting acts are so often carried out are often glossed over by many. The discomfort and awkwardness that is created is never understood. I guess you really don’t understand till it happens to you.
(All names have been kept confidential in order to protect the identities of the women I have spoken to in order to allow them to speak freely.)