There were these things that came with middle school. Boy bands, the stray Mills & Boon, plaid skirts and the attendant confusion over what was an acceptable length or the one lipstick in a drawer-full of bubblegum flavoured lip balms.
And there were those other things too. The how-to-survive guides to sneaky uncles on a crowded bus, or the blink-and-he’s-gone men making sudden lunges at your thighs, chest or butt on the road, some other men with a penchant for stretching their limbs in an stiflingly packed auto, the vernacular slang mongers in markets, the men who make faces, the men who gesture from the a passing cab, the men who mutter stuff into your ears as they hurry past you… the list only showed signs of growing.
Duck, move away, glare back, walk fast, hold your bag before your chest and if you’ve run into a really bugging specimen say ‘move back’ loudly. And this survival bible was meant to see you through the rest of your life and the little hazards that came with being a woman.
Girls like us don’t slap men in a public bus. Girls like us don’t drag cat-callers by their collars to the nearest police constable in sight. Girls like us don’t turn back, stop and shout at let’s-play-Chinese-whisper-in-public dudes on a busy day. Girls like us don’t want to be found in the middle of the road roughing up anyone as a clutch of people gather around – to look. Girls like us would rather mutter a curse and walk away than run after the man who graciously offered to do humanly-impossible things to parts of our body and melted away into the crowd. Girls like us will not track the IP address down and report the faceless, nameless man who just dropped us a painstakingly collected string of abuses in our FB message inbox because we refused to ‘add’ him.
Girls like us have a life to live and we choose to live it not by chasing and pinning down creeps, but swallowing their antics down with a curse, an after-work drink with the girls or a comforting bout of Facebook rant.
Till something like a gut-wrenching incident of abuse happens, we manage to keep ourselves insulated to the sanctions we have given to louts like these, the number of times we have looked away and how every time we did, we managed to strengthen the belief that you can get away with things India. A lot of insanely unflattering things.
As a society – a hassle-hating, swamped with the banalities of survival one – we have set ourselves a threshold of tolerance. But what we probably realise, but refuse to act on, is we have no control what that tolerance helps breed. We don’t want run-ins with the police, we aren’t too sure about what laws can help us pin a culprit down and given how ill-informed constables dozing in police booths are, we can’t be blamed either.
We can afford not to tolerate. But we choose to. Maybe because in the humdrum of plain living we buy time to do other things by letting a few insults bounce off our skins. We see abuse coming and hope we sneak past it every time with just scratches on our mood. When we all know, we might not be that lucky every time…