The answer: exhausting.
On a good day, you will go about without having to come up against casual sexism, harassment, inappropriate touching, or being raped.
One evening last month, I decided to go for a run after sunset. 2 km into what I anticipated to be a fabulous run turned out an absolute nightmare when a young man on a bike thought it fun to slap my hip from behind. I was shocked, but gathered myself in time to yell obscenities at him (which I think he rather enjoyed. What is the deal with men, really?!)
I informed my husband, shaking as I typed out the scene. He was beyond mortified, but didn’t ask me to come home either. With his words of support on Whatsapp, I decided to not let some doofus who couldn’t keep his hands on the handlebar win and continued running. Needless to say, I ran the rest of the distance in fear and watching my back constantly. I still do.
I didn’t share this with anyone else because I know better than to do that. I’m 100% sure the fault-finding would’ve started with my running in the night. Why did I have to do that? Why wouldn’t I run in the daylight? I’m sure that if my non existent brother or son went for a run at night, they wouldn’t have to come up against harassment or fear, let alone this being a topic of discussion. We live with this imprint and yet fight patriarchy every way possible in the hope for a better tomorrow.
You will be judged, no matter what
The tomorrow seems bleak, however. Women who speak up are slut shamed, harassed and straight up told that they’ll be the reason why workplaces will think twice when it comes to hiring women in the future.
One of my male relatives has an issue with my having a career after a baby, and he’s made his disapproval clear by bringing it up multiple times. When parenting books say watch what you speak in front of your children, they mean well. Because this relative’s son who does not even have a degree to his name yet has a problem with my working and working out after a long day away from my child. This is a just a fragment of the balderdash an average Indian woman has to deal with on a daily basis. Said relative also has a daughter who thinks it is normal to shame women who pursue a career after a child.
Personally, I was mortified not because of what he said, but because he said this in a room full of opinionated people and no one thought to contend him. My 2 y.o son was in the room too, and I took a stance because I do not want him to think it was normal to judge people for their choices.
I have come to believe that this relative is very insecure from the realization that I can be anything I want to be and successful at that than he will ever be. And it’s about time I break association with the family for my sanity’s sake.
Everyday misogyny and patriarchy
The most venerated movie stars in India have spoken dialogues in their movies that are offensive to women. An aspiring CM candidate of the most progressive state in the country- Tamil Nadu and his son-in-law have spoken enough regressive and outrageous drivel against women in their movies to invite backlash, but have expressed ZERO remorse for it.
Other aspiring actors or actors at the bottom of the pyramid discovered this formula working and propagated misogyny because hey, the superstar does it and the audience seem to enjoy it! The famous jokes by famous comedians are always at the expense of others, most often, a woman. I have a problem with standup comedy for precisely this reason (other than never finding them to be funny). Oftentimes, I’m labelled a spoilsport who can’t take a good joke. So be it, man.
Right from adolescence (wouldn’t be a bad idea to start from birth, given the current climate of women’s safety), girls in India are taught to make themselves less visible. If you can be invisible, nothing like it. Whereas boys are encouraged to go conquer the world. This gender inequality has percolated slowly but undeniably over the years that it has become a matter of glory for any man who “allows” his wife to work.
Relax gurl, not all men are like that
One of things I learnt early on in my life is to always make data driven arguments. According to statistics from the NCRB, I’m winning so far. (no link, because look it up if you really care) Show up with the data to support your argument, and let’s discuss this then? Also, masculinity is not a matter of pride. It’s just your gender- there, there I spelled that out for the feeble minded and innocent men who think women do not need the ‘special treatment’.
Okay, what’s your point here?
When a prominent figure of this country attributes his state’s high malnutrition rates to the figure conscious girls who are scared of getting fat, there’s only so much hope we can garner in the commoners.
Women in India and across the world are enjoying privileges (!!) today because of the persistent work of many feminist movements. We must keep talking, challenging the status quo, and fighting for ourselves because in the words of the great poet Vairamuthu ,“Puratchigal Edhum Seyyaamal Pennukku Nanmai Vilaiyadhu” (The good will not come to women without many a revolution).