Until we are used to seeing you move freely among us


From Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s first novel, Amrita, published in 1955.

Amrita, a young woman, goes with her boyfriend and a friend of his to a café. It’s crowded, and they’re seated at a table in the middle of the room.

Amrita felt very much embarrassed. She did not dare to look up, for she knew she was being scrutinized from all sides; as was every woman tolerably young and pretty. Hari did not notice the offensive stares that afflicted her; he had been born into a society unused to disguising its interest for the sake of  politeness, and considered staring at young women a perfectly natural reflex action. He did it himself without the slightest reticence.

“Reticence” is the wrong word, but never mind – you know what she means.

A few pages later, she is talking to someone else about the café.

“And I feel so embarrassed,” she went on; she rather liked confiding to him. “When everybody stares so, all the men, it is terrible. Krishna…will men always stare at us like that?”

“Until we are used to seeing you move freely among us.”

Yeah. Not there yet.

Comments

  1. says

    And when you bring this to their attention, the guys go… “Wok [what]?”

    Honestly, I had to explain this to someone who stared at a woman’s breasts in a shopping centre, and in hearing range, sang “mammaries, nothing more than mammaries.”

    He still didn’t get it (“wok?!?”). Because women are passive objects that aren’t in anyway influenced by the way men interact with them, right?

  2. Joey Maloney says

    Why is “reticence” the wrong word? It’s being used in the sense of “reserve” or “restraint”.

  3. kevinalexander says

    I started work so long ago that I can remember when there were only men on the shop floor. When the first women came in there were only a half dozen or so among a thousand or so men.
    I said to one woman that she was very brave. She told me ‘No, I just want to feed my kids’

  4. says

    On a certain level, it’s an accurate observation about a lot of different groups.

    People were genuinely frightened of gays — until they discovered that they were the neighbors who mowed the lawn and paid their taxes and went to work and even raised someone else’s kids (or their own). There’s less fear now than there used to be. One day, someone’s sexuality won’t matter at all. No one will have to “come out” and that particular drama won’t be seen as “brave”.

    Even earlier, interracial marriage/couplings were once a thing that evoked tons of emotions — fear, anger, loathing…you name it. Then it became more and more common, and their kids were just like us except their skin tone was different. And then the world’s best golfer was someone from an interracial marriage. And then the President of the United States. … How many years from “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner”? Go back and watch that movie. See how completely and utterly dated it seems. A pretty white girl wants to marry a highly successful black man…and there’s a problem with this?

    Same with atheism. We used to be burned at the stake. Then, the kindly grandfather figures came out — Dennett and Dawkins especially. With forceful logic and calm voices that never rose above a middle volume. They gave cover to the rest of us — especially the louder voices. We’re not that scary, anymore.

    I think it’s different with feminism/sexism only because men are truly so completely and utterly unaware that what they’re doing is harmful. (Seriously.) That’s the privilege speaking. And training/education/cultural norms. So even though women haven’t been cloistered in their fathers’ houses for a while, we men haven’t been trained how to act properly. And, of course, there’s the whole biological imperative — nature gave men two heads and only enough blood to run one at a time. It’s tough getting over that. I struggle with it, too, on occasion. It’s going to take a generation or more of careful training and education.

    No, we’re not there yet. But I hope we’re making progress. One man at a time; and maybe one boy at a time as well. That’s when the sea change will happen. With the boys.

  5. says

    Obviously her skin was not thick enough. Only women who are super tough and who don’t mind being constantly stared at should be allowed in public.

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