The piece is a part of a collaboration between Breakthrough India and Youth Ki Awaaz for the #StandWithMe campaign. Join us as we seek to get conversations going around how we can create gender inclusive safer spaces. #StandWithMe, Be my safe space.
The time has come to pick up my friend as we go for the routine reunion at some suburban resto-bar. But as I call to ask her if she is ready, I mumble a silent request, “I hope she isn’t wearing something fancy.” I personally couldn’t care less what she was wearing. But you see, she did. If she had worn a dress or a short skirt, I would need to escort her from the gate because she would be too scared to walk even till the end of her lane. When viewed it from the lens of my annoyance and personal inconvenience, I find the entire exercise to be futile.
I end up spending a large part of our journey together explaining that she shouldn’t be wearing these clothes, inadvertently sounding more of a patriarch than I intended to. “If they make you feel uncomfortable, don’t wear it,” I say while still firmly believing that I am a feminist.
These kinds of statements come very easy for the liberal man, steeped too much on his deck of privilege to ever be truly empathetic. He will be scandalised when you tell ‘it feels like they are raping you with their eyes’. He will feel concerned for your safety as groups of men give long stares on your night out. He will even sympathise with you when you tell him the resistance at home to your clothes and going out. But he still won’t get it.
“Don’t wear that”, “Ignore them” or “Don’t go to that place”, will be his standard advice to you; layered with good intentions and patriarchal in tone. This bewilderment for your safety doesn’t just stem from his care for you but from the knowledge of what men do. Men ogle and he is one of them, too.
It always seems innocent at the start- “That’s a pretty girl”. The twisted brain of his will rationalise his behaviour to assuage any guilt. “I am just looking because I don’t see that many girls in shorts”. “If it were me, I would be flattered that someone is paying so much attention”.
The rabbit hole of such rationalisation soon leads to “the fault lies in what she is wearing”, finally arriving at slut shaming where the object of your stares is deemed to be perennially at fault.
But these stares no longer stop in the real world. They live a phone away now. The photos and the private comments on a WhatsApp group may seem new but the patriarchal judgement they bring is an age old tradition. I wonder then – what clothes should women wear on their online private profiles to escape such lechery?
Men can sympathise, but our privilege will never let us imagine this world where your identity and value is reduced to your gender, where every connotation of your appearance is deemed a secretive annotation of your character and sexuality and where gross objectification ensures that you cease to matter as a human being altogether. A world where men are reduced to the caricatures of their appearance and sexuality. If you ever hear any of the following statements on a daily basis – “I hope his dick is as long as his feet”,“Do you think he lasts longer than 10 seconds?”, “I would like to spank that butt mercilessly?” or “Do you think he goes down?” – how long do you think you can keep your sanity intact then?
But perhaps I am over-exaggerating and it’s not something as explicit as those statements but much subtler. Like an unforgiving, unashamed long stare, which is immune to your disapproving looks or protest. How would it feel when every inch of your masculinity is turned into a mere object of lust? “Don’t wear that V-Neck”, “You need to not wear those shorts” and “Women see us as pieces of meat. Get used to it” – will be the diktats we will need to hear.
I am certain that there are many men who find this atonement amusing, and absurd, thereby proving that the male privilege we refuse to believe, exists. It’s kind of a whole truth, that religious leaders, ministers and governments refuse to take into account, when they pass patriarchal orders on what women should wear and what they shouldn’t.
The whole truth that if beauty is said to lie in the eyes of the beholder, so does perversion. That men can be seen leching at women in all public spaces without any consideration for what they are wearing. That one gender has entirely dehumanised the other to just an object of their whims, desires and subversion. And finally, the truth that unless we have a serious conversation about male privilege and the toxicity it has bred, no real victory for gender equality is ever going to be achieved.