One day, back in college, I was the target of awful catcalling and hooting by a bunch of guys..maybe 10..15. Don't remember. I was alone and the 3-5 minutes of listening to demeaning, degrading things about myself haunted me for a long time. That day as I walked onwards- I could have turned back and gone to my hostel because all I wanted was to shut out the noise- I walked shrinking within myself, feeling scared, humiliated and terribly angry, I stopped in front of those guys and said some things. I have no memory of what I said. I was trying hard not to cry because they would interpret tears of anger and frustration as weakness. They listened silently because I was 3 years senior to them and most importantly, within identifying distance. Then, I left.
It wasn't the first time that someone had catcalled leaving me feeling smaller and humilated and angry. But the scale was pretty big and I was all alone on a more or less deserted road. I wrote about it on the college group and had to defend my anger and outrage! Because people- all of them guys- came up with the MOST CRASS JUSTIFICATION. Harmless fun they called it. You can't expect the decent ones in the lot to stand up for you. Who are you to them? Hota hai. Get used to it. Arrey! If you look like maal... Compliment kind of tha. That it left me feeling small and humilated was irrelevant; an overreaction on my part. Because I need a man to tell me how I should feel about being catcalled and insulted. Because only their sisters have honors and those who aren't are up for grabs. Cowardly retards. The girls kept silent. I have a problem with that too. Can't you have an opinion and defend it? Can't you stand up for someone who goes through the same stuff as you? Why do you have to be a smiling, simpering, conforming, eye-batting, politically correct, unoffending COWARD? Sensible, my foot! plus figure long bridesmaid gowns
It wasn't that one incident which made me angry. I had been angry since I was catcalled at the age of 9 for wearing a skirt. My fury solidified with time- a serious exterior with molten lava at its heart. I started to see subtle gender discrimination in terms of opportunities, behavioral expectations and treatment given out to girls.
No ma, I DON'T want to be your doll. It's just not me. Of course I can know better about what I want out of my life, papa. Neighbor aunty, I don't believe that my primary or natural role is to nurture and that I should not have my own ambitions. Neighbor uncle, don't tell me what to do with my life- who the hell are you anyway? Do you know the colors I like and the books I love and the things which break my heart? No? Get out of my face! (This is very specific to one individual)
Yo buddy, don't tell me I shouldn't go for MBA in Finance because it is not great/suitable for women. Don't give me an opinion I did not ask for. Don't condescend and patronize. Why do you assume I need to be told what to do?
Don't call me or another woman "maal". It is not a compliment, sicko. Looking at a woman in halter neck top, sizing her up from head to heel and saying, "batao, aise kapde pehenegi toh aur kya hoga?" in that patronizing, knowing way, is sick. (When I was 15, I would nod. At 22, I would stretch my smile muscles with a great deal of pain saying nothing but seething inside. At 25, I would just stare. Now. Now. Ab bol ke dekh.)
Oh! I have smiled at men explaining things to me I understood 5 thoughts ago. I have given men space to talk as they explained to me why my anger is misplaced, that I am overreacting. Not necessarily because I wanted to listen or I did not have better arguments. Often, it was simply the hard-to-unlearn conditioning which said - give space to men when they talk. So I did it. I have nodded at men who gave me stupid explanations which I did not believe for one instant, letting them get away with thinking "I am good at convincing. It's done. Kaam ho gaya."
I have hated myself for it. But i have done it. Because they were older or they were friends or seniors or employers. Mostly because I was raised- like most other girls- in a patriarchal society which says that I have to smile more, act nicer, be more patient and caring and understanding, listen to the father-figure (dad/older brother/husband/son/any male) because he is always right, to not be too strong, to never come across as aggressive. I must please.
Man! I love that word- aggression.
Damn the smiles. I won't smile until something moves me to. I am fine with looking serious. I am okay with "thinking too much". I won't put on makeup because I work in the fitness inustry and people like a pretty instructor. But I WILL study the crap out of anatomy, biomechanics and exercise ptogramming; I will care about my clients and students and make sure every class is an experience. Oh! I won't apologize for doing something different from the rest if that is what I can do best. I don't owe any uncles an explanation especially the ones who think they have a right to answers they don't care about anyway. I WILL say NO and expect you to get the message. Beating around the bush can go to hell. I will say it like I mean it in as precise and concise a way as I can. Hurts you? Deal with it. Stop talking to me. I care but I will move on. No, I don't care that my fury disturbs you. Like you have a right to judge.
And even as I do all this, I will be as feminine, as much a woman, as can be.
It took a bloody long, painful way to get here. It is a story of many losses. People's goodwill, good opinion, well wishers, my peace. But the loss has been like shedding unnecessary weight. And at the end of it is, guess what, some degree of peace.
I can't write poetry. So I am glad Megha Rao has put all of my, our, fury in verse. If you are a guy who can't understand my "over-reaction", read it if you can handle it. Because this poet deals with things "bone by BONE".