Groping and grabbing; a word here, a whistle there; some songs and some comments; a little body shaming in the day and some unwanted advances by the evening—these are just a few broad instances of what a woman has to face every day on the streets. They call it appreciation but we call it street harassment. Because harassment is exactly what it is.
“If she didn’t want to be admired, why did she dress like that?”
No woman is attracted to a stranger following her or whistling at her. No woman wants to be told how great her tits are or how cute her butt is looking by unknown men. She does not want to know how she needs to smile some more. Lecherous gaze and vulgar songs don’t make her feel appreciated. It is neither fun nor flirty and it is surely not a compliment. It is not admiration. It is non-consensual. It is a form of violence. It is scary. It is plain abusive and I haven’t even started talking of groping yet.
Often the blame of harassment is thrown on the shoulders of the woman who was harassed. Why? Because in most cases she is considered to be asking for it and men feel that they are obliged to act. However, the reality is that there is nothing in a woman’s makeup, her dress or even her behavior which calls for harassment of any form.
Then what is the root cause of such an everyday abuse? The answer is quite simple and can be summed up in just one word—patriarchy.
It is the deep rooted patriarchal culture which has been forcing degrading attitudes towards women since ages now. They are considered as mere objects meant for gratifying sexual desire. The power dynamics tilt abnormally in the favor of men and they don’t let any opportunity go to assert their dominance. Their feeling of entitlement knows no bounds. And street harassment is one of the many ways which allows them to exercise this entitlement.
The notions established by patriarchy are so vile and twisted that they give men the ability to resort to even the gruesome acts of murder or rape when their advances are refused.
Bollywood has romanticized the idea of harassment and abuse for decades now. This is yet another proof of what is wrong with our society. The patriarchal culture has been shoved so deep down our throats that we have accepted it as a normal. It is disturbing how we as a society have come to believe that when a woman is harassed either on the streets or inside an office, it is men just being men; that it is okay when a woman is forced to take a different route to reach her destination to avoid lecherous men; that it is normal for a woman to be scared for her safety for every minute she spends outside her door.
Who is to blame? Is it the media or is it the society which has allowed these notions to be perpetuated? We can play the blame game for as long as we want. But the need of the hour is to understand that when it is non-consensual, it is a form of violence. Street harassment is abusive and has to stop.
For all those who have been meaning to shout at the top of their lungs that not all men are like this, I want to make something clear. Yes, as women we know that not every single man is responsible. And no, it is not sexist on our part to put the blame on men when sharing our experiences of sexual violence or harassment. In fact, when the sharing of such an experience is countered by #notallmen, it is in its true essence an attempt to dismiss the woman sharing it.
So ask yourself first why every time a woman raises her voice against her perpetrators that you are reminded of how not all men are responsible. What does this argument say about you?