By Nisha Susan
Earlier today, a police officer in Ottapalam, Kerala was suspended for trying to cover up the case involving Malayalam movie star Sreejith Ravi, who was arrested last week for allegedly flashing girls in a Palakkad school.
The actor had tried to take the girls’ photos on his cellphone too, says the school. However, the actor denies the charge, stating that the girls noted down the number of the car (of the man who flashed them) wrong, and it's just coincidentally his.
To people clutching their head and asking why anyone would do such a thing, I only have one thing to say: you were never a schoolgirl. Ask the girls in that school who were so quick to note down the number of the car, and I bet they will tell you that this is not the first time it’s happened to them either.
Flashers are notorious around all-girls’ establishments.
Picture this. I had returned to the Bangalore women’s college I’d studied in, to teach a short course. After my first class I sauntered out feeling pleased with myself. As I exited the gate I heard a sharp psst-psst-shsh-shsh, a sound like an under-confident pressure cooker. I turned my head and instantly it all came back to me.
Over three years in college I’d trained myself not to respond to that psst-psst-shsh-shsh summons. But I'd forgotten my own training, because I’d been away two years. What a mistake. Just outside the gate, sitting on a scooter was a large man in his 40s, in a long-sleeved shirt and pants. And sitting on the scooter seat ahead of him was his genitalia. Which is what he urgently needed to show me.
I was outraged at being scammed again. I’d seen dozens and dozens of flashers through school and college. From class 4 to 8, I went to a school barely half a km from home and walked to and fro with my classmates. It’s hard to remember a single week when a man didn’t follow us, calling out to us, attempting to touch us or at the very least showing us his precious penis.
At age 13, a girl in my neighbourhood stepped out of her house to see her best friend next door and found a man on the street holding a cycle up in front of him and thrusting in and out of the metal rings below the bicycle seat.
Years later, in college, when I was travelling with five other women through Andhra Pradesh, we had a very elderly, frail woman in the same train compartment. Suddenly she jumped up and started making violent up-and-down gestures with her fist and yelling in Telugu. A man sitting in the very next compartment had angled himself towards us, and was masturbating. When all of us jumped up to yell, he ran away.
In the bus, at the park, at the movies, on an early morning walk, it’s hard to escape the flasher.
A friend tells me the story of her tuition classes being thrown into an uproar when a man walked off the street and flashed them. She was nine. Another tells me about turning to reprimand a schoolgirl sitting next to her in the bus for leaning into her.
When she looked up she realised the schoolgirl was trying to get as far away as possible from the office-going gent standing in the aisle, looking innocuous with his tucked-in shirt and laptop bag. Only he had unzipped his fly and was pressing his erection into the child’s shoulder. My friend switched places with the schoolkid and he got off the bus at the next stop.
Also this week, Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin announced that she was leaving her politician husband Anthony Weiner.
In 2011, Weiner had resigned from Congress after tweeting a photo of his erect penis in his undies to a woman. One round of apologies later, he tried to run as New York Mayor in 2013 and dropped out after a sexting scandal.
What happened this week? News that he had yet again sent a stranger an image of his thinly concealed crotch, while lying in bed next to his very young child.
In another generation, perhaps Weiner would have had to prowl for strange neighbourhoods as Sreejith Ravi has been accused of doing.
But today the flasher has a new avenue of promenade: the online dick pic. Where they once hid behind bushes and cycles, flashers now startle you in your ‘Other’ inbox, in tweets that tag you and on dating apps.
The unsolicited dick pic is such a common phenomenon that Madeline Holden wrote two years ago in The New Enquiry about her astounding tumblr Critique My Dick Pic. She says, “aggressively insecure men harass women whose disinterest is irrelevant to them, blithely sailing past boundaries to demand that their manhood be looked at and validated; scornful women pass them on to girlfriends with less-than-smiling emoji. Dick pics are routinely shared the first time without consent on the part of the recipient and are widely loathed for this reason. Yet they’re also intimate, amateur portraits of the genitals of men, sometimes very lonely men, which gives rise to a kind of dual nature: The dick pic is hostile yet pitiable, aggressive but also acutely pathetic. They’re also almost invariably ugly. Men and other people with dicks send me photos thereof, and I critique the photos with love.”
My friend P used to say that she was convinced that flashers thought that their penises were huge, beautiful and should be shared. But Holden’s “hostile, yet pitiable” seems like a perfect description.
How many flashers must that old lady in the train in Andhra have seen in her life? How many flashers does an average woman see in her lifetime?
At that moment outside my college with the fellow on the scooter who was giving his penis an airing, I didn’t pause for data journalism. I had just bought a guava and still had its chat-powder-smeared segments in my hand. I chucked them one after the other at hamara Bajaj, hoping to hit his Bajaj. He zipped up rapidly and drove away.
I began to laugh and walked on. Then I saw it. A line of auto-drivers across the street looking at me in a state of terror. From where they were, all they could see was a college girl going berserk, throwing something at a respectable-looking gent and now she was laughing like a maniac and walking towards them. None of them wanted to drive me anywhere.
The Ladies Finger (TLF) is a leading online women’s magazine.