Saturday, November 11, 2006

still hoping

Three days ago, I decided to write about my feelings on eve-teasing. Roadside-Romeoing. Whatever one wishes to call it.
I usually avoid talking about sensitive topics. The biggest problem I have with coming up with an opinion I'm happy with is that I never know exactly what is being discussed. It's easy having an opinion on a book, but not on abstracts that every person defines differently. Everything's relative. Which is why most arguments with me end with the other person either exasperated or in hysterics. I spend more time defining the boundaries of the discussion than in airing my own opinions. :)
But then I've also noticed that your opinions always place you on one side of a divide, with no leeway, only degrees. Perhaps that is why.
I abhor labels above most things.

I am, God save me, a woman. And every woman does have a hundred stories, each one different, all of them the same.
I have been stared at in the streets. I have had songs sung at me. I have had men say, "Hey, baby" as I walk past them. I have had strange men on buses lean into my body. But I have never, in all that time, felt as though my dignity was threatened. My body, yes, but not my dignity. When I was fifteen, a man on a cycle slapped my backside (ass, bum, sit-me-down) as he rode by. I ran after him screaming, threw my lunch basket at his head, and generally made a hell of a fuss. I still bring up that incident whenever conversations flag.
The point is, as long as I know how to react, what to think, what response makes sense, I can handle most things. You expect. You protect. You project a sense of confidence and strength, just so people know better than to mess with you. You walk in constant fear, and hence in constant preparedness. You know where you begin and where you end, and which people in your world are allowed where. Military alert with poor ammunition; but always you have your honour.

In fact, when I think about it seriously, of all the things that have happened to me, there is only one incident I find it hard to think about; only one incident that still fills me with rage and shame a sense of powerlessness. Of impotence.
It happened while I was driving my car. Women drivers, right? I've heard all the lines.
I know how to handle a man staring in the window from his car. Or from his motorcycle. Singing songs at me. Honking for a month because I'm holding him up at an empty signal, only because the light happens to be red. Scornful looks when the car stalls in the middle of the road.
All these things, you expect.

But once I crossed a signal ahead of a motorcyclist, and so brought along all the vehicles behind me, effectively cutting him off.

And the man spat at me through my open window.

I cannot say that now without feeling shame. At that instant of shock and horror, I truly didn't know how to react. I told my father, who was sitting beside me, "That man just spat at me", and he said, "What??" and turned back to look at the guy. And then he looked at me, and then he looked out through the windshield, and I? I just kept on driving.
If I'd told my father "That man just touched my breast." or "That man just put his hand on my thigh." or "That man just pinched my ass." he would have known how to react. There is only one thing to be done with men who touch women against their will, isn't there? Beat them up, the assholes.
A friend of mine doesn't believe in beating people up. "I cannot accept mob rule, even in a so-called good cause", he said. I wish I'd told him: Well, when you violate my body and my dignity, you effectively give me carte blanche to do the same to you. With as many people as I want to. It may be wrong, but it sure as hell feels right.

The key to good warfare is the element of surprise, right? Well you surprised the hell out of me, asshole. The next time, and who knows if there will be a next time, I'll be sure to stop the car, get out, and then beat your brains out on the pavement. Yes, I will.

And now, suddenly, I know what this post is really about.
People all over blogland talk about the power of catharsis. You need to start writing about it, they say. I never needed catharsis for stuff like this, but I find myself thinking, If I knew more about the things people do, would it not help me be more alert, more aware, more prepared?
The answer is yes. Talk about what happened to you so that others know, not only that they are not alone (oh trite, oh cliché) but also that these things happen.

I helped a charming old gentleman cross the road yesterday. I gave him my arm till he reached his destination and talked to him while in the back of my mind ran a litany on lecherous old gentlemen on the streets.
He asked me my name, and I said, "I'm not comfortable giving my name to strangers."
"After all, you never know", I said.
He laughed, and agreed, and thanked me for my help.
"What a charming gentleman", I told myself. "If I hadn't known any better, I would have told him my name. How depressing."
"Alas, the wicked world", I said. "Alas, little naïve me."

Now, whom should I thank for that thought?

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