I write to you today, not only as your mother but also as a woman.
I write to you because stalking, eve-teasing, molesting, sexual harassment, rape aren’t words you only hear in the news and as debating topics in school. They are a reality faced by most women, their age, economic or marital status notwithstanding.
I’m sure it disgusts you to know that your mother has been on the receiving end of harassment many a time. So have your sisters, aunts and friends. Not even your grandmothers have been spared.
When you were younger, I remember switching channels on TV when news of rape and sexual harassment were played on loop. I wanted to protect your innocence. I remember chatting a bit about the December 16, 2012, gang-rape case that you had heard about in school. We discussed ‘respect’ and ‘personal space’, especially when interacting with girls.
You may not be aware of how rampant these issues are. Remember Rahul uncle almost slapping aunty because the food she had made contained a lot of salt? Remember our maid who you thought bruises herself because she falls on the stairs on most days? Can you forget Anu crying hysterically at the bus stop? All of them faced different forms of violence and abuse.
What has this got to do with you? I should be talking to girls and teaching them ways to stay safe. These are women’s issues. You are a boy, a good one, right?
The fact is, if every boy is brought up to respect women, we wouldn’t have these issues.
“Boys will be boys!” You have heard this a million times. Don’t believe it. Your friend in the park bullies and teases a girl just for fun. You laugh along instead of stopping him — you are guilty of harassment too. Instead of that girl running home crying, the boy should be boycotted by all of you till he rectifies his action.
Oppression and violence occur when there is support from peers and a lack of accountability to society. The social stigma falls on the victim rather than the oppressor. When the victim’s clothing, profession, character, personality and lifestyle become the centre of attention, the true problem is obscured. Sometimes, appallingly, the blame is shifted on the way the aggressor’s ‘mother’ brought him up.
Think why abuses are based on sexual references with females or their anatomy. You are brought into this world by a woman. Half the world’s population is female too. Why does the shaming of women become a socially acceptable way to vent frustration or create humour? People hysterically laugh at the word ‘balatkar’ in a film. Why? Movies portray stalking as romance, perpetuating the notion that a girl’s ‘No’ actually means ‘Yes’.
I don’t want you to take my word or anyone else’s. I want you to think for yourself. Is this acceptable? Debate this regressive thought process with your friends, both girls and boys.
You’d be tempted to tell me, “What can I do alone?” You are not alone. People want to make a difference but keep waiting for someone else to make a beginning. You could be the one to make the first domino fall.
I wish you all the success in the world. But nothing would make me prouder than knowing that you’re a true feminist. Much maligned, the word ‘feminism’ is now used only to refer to bra-burning, men-bashing women. I would like you to know that nothing could be as far from the truth. The dictionary defines feminism as the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.
Be a proud feminist. Let your pride come from the fact that you are sensitive to others. Let your power come from being gentle and not brawny or brash, as people would like you to believe. And above all, let your manliness come from respecting women and their rights.
Always remember, if you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.
In hope and love,