Women and Driving

Now that I have your attention, let me make it clear..this post is not about the driving skills of women, that sexists like to make fun of. It’s about rape (women’s issue) and road accidents (driving issue). And the analogy.

I have been a pedestrian in India as well as in the US. I see some differences in how I get treated as a pedestrian depending on which country I am in. In one country, when I try crossing the street, the responsibility of keeping myself safe is on me. If I happen to come in the way, I get yelled at by the driver of a fast-moving car, “Do you want to die?” In the other country, the driver stops the car and lets me cross the street.

Why is there such a big difference in the attitudes of drivers? Is the impact cultural? Is one culture more respectful to the pedestrian than the other? Well, kinda but it’s because of a legal impact. Though laws could be the same, in one country there is fear of law, in the other there isn’t.

The pedestrian always has the right of way. When a pedestrian gets hit by a car, no matter what the traffic lights say, it is always the driver’s fault. Because driving is a privilege, not a right. Knowing this law, drivers are afraid to hit people and get into trouble. When teenagers get their driving license, parents make sure the kids are aware of the law and that keep away from trouble. “The pedestrian always has the right of way” is hammered on their minds. That’s where the respect comes from. In a car accident, it is the pedestrian that is the victim. But the onus of avoiding a car accident is on the driver.

Now apply the same scenario to sex.

Most sexual assaulters are men and most victims are women. If the law can clearly state that having sex is not your right, but a privilege that the other person gives you,  it is a “no” unless it’s a “yes”. If  a person knows that no matter what indications the other person is giving through clothes, body language, number of previous sexual partners, marital status, it is their job to make sure there is an explicit “yes” for the sex not to be considered rape.

Knowing that most sexual assaulters are men, if the law would put the onus of consent on men, the “respect” would come automatically. Blaming women’s clothes, behavior and attitude for being raped will be immaterial because the onus remains on the men nevertheless.

The only way I see women is India being liberated from the rape-blame is by doing 3 things:

1. Make the “Sex is a privilege” law

2. Convict the offenders ASAP

3. Make the common man fear the law. Save him from being a rapist.

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Intermingled stories

A few days ago, I went to see an Indian magic show. Tickets were sold at the entrance and seats were “First come First”. I saw a couple take one seat at the start of a row and the other at the end of the row. We tried to sit in the seats in between but they said, they are all reserved. This kinda put me off. I encountered this “reservation mentality” after a long time. A lot of people were doing this. I went up to the organizers outside of the hall to report it and ask if that’s “allowed”. They didn’t want to take charge of the situation and preferred the “chalta hai” attitude. Then one of the organizers walked with me to see what’s going on.  He saw the people and made sure I shut my mouth by saying, ” Oh, those people are already here. They have been here an hour before. They are just walking around before the show starts.” I fell for that lie. He was successful.

This incident reminded me of another one that happened in my college. On Saree-Day, when I was in First Year, a couple guys got camera with them and stood at a strategic location. When they saw a girl or group of girls they liked to click, they did. No permission asked. No acquantance required. I was one of those girls. When I saw I was being clicked, I looked  the other way just to rebel. But I still felt violated. I talked with a few more girls who felt the same way. I talked to the General Secretary (the captain) of the college. His reply was, “So what? What’s the big deal? They liked you. They took a picture of you. That’s it.” I fell for it and left.

That’s how voices are suppressed. It all depends on the people at the top. They create a culture; a culture of Justice or injustice, of respect or disrespect, by sorting out the things they should have or by overlooking things they shouldn’t have.

(Finishing off a story that formed over the years..)

A few months later, I came to know that one of the photographers was my friend’s (who was in Final Year) younger brother. All my frustration came out on him, “Is he your brother? You know what he did……” The photographer came up to me and apologized the next day. He said he will give me my photo back. Like a big moral police I said that I didn’t care about the photo but I wanted his brother to know what he’s up to. He said “ok” and left.

A couple years later, this photographer started hanging out with my friends after having lost a year. I was reluctant to be friends with him at first but then I was okay. I knew he wouldn’t harm me in any way. And one day, this guy proposed to me. And he was flustered why I said no. I asked him, “Did I ever give you an indication of interest?” His reply was, “Can’t I be interested first?” Fair enough. But little things give away a lot…I didn’t explain..

A couple years later, when I was going through the list of boys I turned down while talking to my boyfriend (who’s now my husband), he said, “How could you turn down a hunk like this photographer and choose me?” My only reply was, “Little do you know my criteria..”

And I should have taken the photo back, for I came to know that I was being used as a bookmark by boys I had never heard about😦

 

 

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Fashion Icon

In America, the President’s wife, the First Lady, always gets space on the Fashion pages of websites and magazines. I don’t understand why: she’s not a model nor is she a movie star or somebody who’s in show-business. I guess just because she is a celebrity.

When America gets the first female President, she better have a hot husband who is into fashion. Men need fashion tips and women need eye-candy too!!

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Take a stand

A few days ago, my school-mates with whom I wasn’t in touch with added me on WhatsApp on a school group. People share their opinions on this group and debate. The topic was live-in relationship vs. marriage. And surprisingly, everyone opted for live-in. This was a shock for me considering the small-town culture. I wasn’t ready to choose one, saying “It depends on the person’s choice”.  When forced to take a stand, I said, “I can’t choose one and say that’s the right choice for everyone. I envision a society where everyone gets to do what they want and make the own decision: live-in relationship or marriage.”

The response I got to that was. “STF, the Presidential Election is over”.

I couldn’t help smiling. Isn’t it great to live in a country whose President’s speech echoes what you believe in!!! Obama is awesome!

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A visionary in my family

My great-grandfather was indeed great! He loved his wife.  They would go out for walks in the evenings even during those times (1910’s, 1920’s), when there used to be a master-slave relation between spouses. The husband used to say, ” Get out of the kitchen. Let’s go for a walk. Why do women spend all their time in the kitchen? There should be a machine that allows them to cook for a week and be done.”

Can’t believe he thought of something like that! We have that machine now: A refridgerator. And it’s companion: a microwave.

And it makes me happy to think that even in those times, there were men who wanted to have a romantic partnerships with their wives.

 

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Hijabi

I have a coworker who is extremely attractive by modern Indian/Bollywood standards: Tall, slim, fair. She lived in a big city in India, modeled at fashion shows while in college, did a couple of professional photo-shoots. She came to the US. This girl is now, guess what, a hijabi. Meaning she wears loose clothes and is covered head to toe. The only thing that is seen is the face and hands. That’s a CHOICE she made AGAINST her extended family’s wishes. She can wear anything in the presence of females, but hijab is to be observed in front of all men(except father, brother, uncle,father-in-law and of course husband). According to her, that’s because women don’t see you “that way”, but men do.

Here are some of her characteristics:

  • I see her fuss every day at work, if her clothes are provocative. Every day she has a story about how she left in a hurry and forgot to either secure her hair inside her scarf or wear the scarf properly (such that it completely covers the neck and shoulders).
  • She wears make-up at home to fulfill her desires of dressing up. According to her, dressing up FOR the husband gets her points (sawab) from God.
  • She gets drawn to beautiful earrings until she realizes that ladies-party is not too often and they are not worth the price. She sighs. (The scarf covers her ears)
  • She wants women to see her without her hijab and complement her face, body, hair and know how beautiful she is.
  • Recently, she found out she’s pregnant and she’s VERY upset about her weight gain.

Yeah, right! Hijab liberates a woman.

P.S. There are lots of other things she has given up, but this post pertains specifically to hijab.

 

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Those little walks..

Year 1996, Venue: Small Town

I am done with my standard X board exams. My friends from school and I decide to go for an early morning walk. We walk, have fun and each one goes in different directions to their respective homes.  I am a minute away from entering my apartment complex when a scooter stops in front of me.

A man in his early 20’s, moderately good-looking, asks me politely with a smile, still sitting on the scooter, “Do you know where Col. Chaudhary lives?”

I reply negatively. Then he introduces himself, “I am Captain Anil Kumar. What’s your name?”

I tell him my name, smiling.

“Do you go to college?”

“No, I go to school”

“Do you live here?”

I point to my apartment, “Yeah, right there”

“Do you go for a walk every day?”

“No, just sometimes. Okay, I need to go. Bye”

I come home smiling with all the attention I got. My Dad asks me, ‘Who were you talking to?’ He obviously saw me through the window.

“Captain Anil Kumar”

“Who is he? Do you know him?”

“No, he was looking for someone’s house”

“Don’t talk to strangers. If you see him again, don’t talk to him”.

I nod. I am scared I will see him again and if he happens to talk to me, my parents would curb my freedom. I am allowed to see my friends whenever I like, eat out as much as I like, watch any number of movies with my friends. It’s too much to lose. I stop going for morning walks with the fear of running into him again.

Year 2000, Venue: Small Town

Same scenario.  Engineering exams over.  Morning walk.  On my way home.

I get stopped by a guy 2 years my senior. I know him; he was in my school and my best friend’s brother’s roommate going to a top Engineering college in another city. He calls me by my name and introduces himself. I am not even remotely attracted to him. In fact, I am scared of him because he’s too big and hefty, looks like a goon. I tell him my best friend’s brother’s reference in order to indicate we have a common friend and eve-teasing is not an option. (In my opinion then, Eve-teasers do not eve-tease their friends’ acquaintances).

He says, “I was wondering if you would like to be friends with me. No pressure. We can meet several times and then decide whether we want to be serious.”

This was totally unwelcome though I could tell it was coming. ‘I am not interested in any kind of friendship’.

‘No pressure, think for a few days and then tell me. Bye’

I go home. Same thoughts. What if my parents think boys follow me? Will I lose my freedom? What if this guy declares his “interest” to his friends and all boys start yelling his name every time I pass them? I am mortified. Totally unwelcome annoying proposal.

Morning walks stop again.

I see this guy around on his bike when I am on my scooty a couple of times in the evenings. I hesitantly, uncomfortably smile. One day, when I am parked, he comes to me and says, ‘Hey, forget about that day. I don’t want you to be scared of me. I am not going to harm you in any way. I noticed you get very serious when you see me”. All I say is “Okay”.

Year 2008, Venue: United States

I am heating up my food in the microwave. I am married and have a kid by now.

A creepy coworker in his 50’s introduces himself to me and asks me if I take a walk in my breaks. I reply negatively saying I am too busy. He explains that though everybody is busy, walks are extremely important and that I should let him know if and when I would like to take a walk with him. I say “okay”.

Again, I am mortified. I avoid him. I change my direction in the hallway every time I suspect coming face to face with him.

Then I wonder, “what for?”  Who is controlling my freedom now? No one. Who is going to tease me? No one.  Getting scared and avoiding this situation had become a habit, a habit formed over the years. A second nature.

I wish things were different. I wish I had been more comfortable getting “such” requests, politely declining them and not letting them change the occurrence or direction of my “walks” in any way. The countless introductions and random friendship requests I have declined have always made me queasy. I knew they would complicate my life. My parents wouldn’t approve of me getting attention from boys. And I felt accountable to nip them in the bud.

 I felt my freedom was a privilege, not a right. And I needed to do everything possible to retain it. That is how we are led to believe.

And mind you, I have always had male friends, believed in genderless friendships and have proposed to someone whom I am now married to. This is something that wasn’t mainstream in that small town, and I attribute this to my feminist thoughts. But my small-town mentality sometimes competes with my feminist confidence and gets the better of me, though.

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