“Head high, chin up, walk as if you own the damn street”

April 27, 2011

I have been a spectator to street sexual harassment for as long as I can remember. In my teens I was urged by male friends to ‘check out’ every girl, call it peer pressure but somewhere something felt very wrong.

The girls being gawked at from top to bottom obviously didn’t enjoy the unwanted attention. I could sense that, being a timidly shy person. I always said a “no” and walked straight ahead only to be told I was only being ‘stylish’ and that it was my unique way of wooing them, which I found most absurd.

As I read news of éve teasing’ my anger grew stronger. I guess I’ve always hated bullies who try to intimidate people.

An incident that comes to mind was in college. My girlfriend was groped at 5.30 in the morning while on her way to a temple. Rather than empathising I forbid her from travelling alone. I guess my mind was trained to believe I was protecting her but deep down I was only boosting a typical insecure Indian male chauvinist.

Well that was 10 years ago, but still I witness groups of men staring and chuckling at the sight of any girl they deem fit to be part of their sick world. Honking, singing distasteful songs, sexual innuendos, gestures, calling names, and rating. Eve teasing, as we like to call it in this part of the world, is a crime most rampant, yet most ignored by the witnesses and the victim. From pan spitting autowallahs trying to get a sneak peak from their rear view mirror to 50 year olds gawking shamlessly at school girls, it’s out there.

I think sexist movies/vulgar items have only added to the confusion, repeatedly portraying women as a lesser being only there to please and entertain while our ‘hero’ fights to protect human civilization. Some of our Bollywood airheads take pride in being labelled as the #1 item girl (item means commodity) The portrayal of white women wearing the skimpiest of clothing whilst they push n pull the ‘hero’ who is too cool and takes liberties to feel em up is what you see in every film and a sure shot way of pulling in the audiences. How dense are we?

Daughters accompanied by parents, mothers carrying young infants, young girls walking in the company of males, no one is spared.  The most annoying sight for me personally is young men holding hands (never can tell if they’re lovers or frightened) checking out every woman as if it were ET doing squats.

It’s not just the uneducated laborers at construction sites, but it’s men from affluent backgrounds indulging in the same; maybe in a what they believe sophisticated manner but its still harassment. A friend nudges me once to check out a girl in a skirt. And he goes, “You see her? I bet she’d sleep with anyone!”

As a man nothing pisses me off more than the sight of men shamelessly staring at my partner/friends. Such behavior is at its peak during festivals when heavy vehicles laden with erotically charged puberty stricken boys from slums go to great lengths to jeopardize their lives and that of others. Indian festivals like Janmashtami, Holi or Ganesh Visarjan have drawbacks especially if you’re a woman. Every corner one finds skinny uncouth frustrated ‘govindas’ waiting to pounce on you. Lude gestures, sexual innuendos all in broad daylight and no action is ever taken against these desperate for attention morons. Cops go soft on them in the spirit of revelry.

Tips for Boys

(1) Insecure boys bully and intimidate with the belief they’re superior to women. Its simply a way to assert fake masculinity. Any dignified man with even a little self respect will treat ALL women with respect irrespective of what she wears, personal choices, where she’s from or how she looks.

(2) You look like complete douche bags when you stare, comment, rate etc

(3) Irrespective to what your ‘friends’ think always question your own double standards and attitudes. Avoid laughing at sexist jokes simply to humor them reminding yourself you might offend someone. Do not repeat what your fathers did. Believe me there is no place in the Men’s community for perverts.Your attitude towards strangers reflects your upbringing at home. Besides you wouldn’t want your mother or your sister to go through the exact same thing.

(4) Speak up when you witness/experience bullying. Neutrality helps the oppressor not the victim.

(5) Do away with cliches such as ‘boys will be boys’ You have no bloody right to interrupt another’s personal space just coz you can’t keep it in your pants.

(6) Being stared at by scary strange men can be quite an experience. No woman likes being ‘appreciated’ by random morons.

A little about my group Shoot At Sight

It’s simple. Click pictures of perpetrators of street sexual harassment and upload it on the group. Ive been doing this and the feeling is awesome.

Imagine as a woman, life constantly being interrupted by stares, chuckling and sexual innuendos? You’re constantly being made to feel sorry for stepping outside your door, to feel sorry you’re a woman, made to feel its happening coz your always asking for it.

The bullying MUST stop! By clicking pics I personally believe your taking the power away from the gaze and bringing shame to the whole act. I see so many of them hiding their faces when i whip my phone out, standing motionless in front of them as if to say “lets see how much of a man are you now?”

The more pics we have the more the group grows. The more it grows, the more people would want to join and discuss street sexual harassment as a crime rather than pretending it doesn’t exist.

Head high, chin up, walk as if you own the damn street.

– Mohnish Moorjani

Creator of the group Shoot At Sight

This post is part of the weekly blog series by male allies. We need men involved in the work to end the social acceptability of street harassment and to stop the practice, period. If you’d like to contribute to this weekly series, please contact me.