In the Nirmukta Facebook group last month, there was a discussion thread on street harassment during which one commenter, a woman, asked the following question:
I was wondering. Do you all think average Indian males understand what street harassment feels like? If not, I would like to explore this through my writing. My understanding is that men relate to bullying and ragging and understand the horror of it. I want to show that walking on an Indian street as a woman is like being surrounded by bullies every day, all of your life. I also don’t think men know how pervasive it is. In my experience, it starts when you are about 10 years old and doesn’t stop until you are about 55. I would write something that portrays a fictional world where men are constantly bullied.
“Young Boy in Profile” (1886) – a portrait by Marie Kroyer. Image in public domain; via Wikimedia Commons (links to source).
We really can’t understand what it feels like. The social systems, identities and power relations being what they are, and given the frequency and severity of street harassment of women by men, men just cannot understand what it feels like. Thought experiments of a fictional world of constant bullying could make some impact I guess. Anyway, that question made me remember my own experiences growing up. I have some history of being street harassed by other men, and that’s what this post is about. My objective in writing it is to show what a toxic mess the man box is (more on that at the end).
I have a small build and am light-skinned. When I was a young boy, I had what is derogatorily called a “pretty boy” look. And I used to get street harassed by other boys, and grown men (they were were all male – each and every one). The street harassment consisted of staring/leering, passing comments, making kissing noises, pointing-and-laughing, etc. I think the purpose was to mock and “mess” with me, show dominance, goad me into a fight (which I would lose). Here are some instances and things I remember:
Going to play tennis, I’m in an auto-rickshaw, wearing shorts. At the signal some college-aged men lean out of the bus right next to me, and start saying (stuff).
Playing badminton/tennis, again in shorts, passer by stops to watch and starts saying (stuff), trying to provoke me into a reaction.
Walking back home from my bus stop, or walking to the market, alternating my routes so as to avoid harassers.