Friday is International Women’s Day. Let us take a pledge not to wait for the worst to be said or done before making a noise about something uncomfortable we encounter — on a bus, in a parking lot or at work
Recently a friend and I, after standing for five long hot and humid hours in a snaking long queue for getting school admission forms reached a nearby restaurant at just past 3 p.m. The owner of the restaurant seemed like a nice decent man and so we gave him a quick brief of our situation and asked if he would accommodate us despite the ‘close-time’, to which he smiled and readily agreed. Of course we were relieved – the food, the fresh lime soda and his casual chatter and company were welcome, albeit initially.
The conversation moved to school admissions, kids, parenting and he casually settled in with a chair at our table. When my friend told him she had twins, he looked her up a couple of times saying “Wow, I cannot believe you had twins” and then for added measure, “I hope you used to eat better when you had your babies”. We both felt a little uncomfortable but the ‘select’ sentences from the ‘gentleman’ that crept in were so interspersed with good-natured humour and wise opinions that in our minds he hadn’t crossed any etched-in-red line. Yet. And still, there was a niggling little discomfort that we swallowed with our food, politely not asking him to leave and pretending to be happy customers.
Why, we later wondered? If we were sitting at a restaurant, paying for the food and we encountered unwelcome company – we had the right to ask the man to leave us to a private lunch. What happened to all the bravado, anti-misogyny and sexism placards which normally fly out in a whiff?
Says Shubha Machado, who works with an NGO - “It is precisely situations like these that give men like that man the courage to push the envelope just a tad bit more the next time. When educated, emancipated women allow a tasteless comment like that to pass under the table, we are equipping those men in our society with courage to try their hand at asking another sexually explicit uncomfortable question and getting away, with their machismo and male ego intact”.
Says Asha Joseph, a college student, “The last stretch from the bus stand to my college is typically quite deserted but we had a recent phenomenon of having a sprinkling of ‘road-romeos’ making cat-calls and wolf-whistles each time a group of us girls pass- it had become an embarrassing ordeal for most of us listening to lewd comments or ‘item songs’. We then complained to the college authorities and we now have cops and recently even a lady cop who makes rounds on the road. Now the road is clear of eve teasers waiting for their daily dose of enjoyment!”
Sahana Gokul who works with an MNC encountered a different situation with her male boss. She says, “My boss made sexist comments such as “That electronic device is too expensive, you will need to ask your husband for money!” followed by a roaring laugh. Or “You are a working mom after all! You can’t cook!” She took up the matter with the HR department which promptly followed up on the complaint issued a warning to her boss. “It was heartening to see that there was a grievance redressal mechanism in place for such issues. I learnt through my experience that top management in most companies gives gender sensitivity the importance it deserves, so don’t sit quiet” she advises.
Adds Shubha, “Women need to shout, move away dramatically and just draw attention from passers-by every time we encounter a ‘groper’ - whether in buses, trains or public places. Make it clear to the offender that he didn’t get away that easily! Hopefully when more women start making a scene, these men will feel less empowered and more exposed”.
My friend and I are waiting to go back to the same restaurant soon. And we are hoping to meet the same sweet smiling gracious host. And this time we are both prepared.