Growing up, I always wanted to be a boy. It just seemed so much more…fun! To me, being a girl required much more effort, work, and restraint.
After over a quarter of a century, I can safely say I would much rather be a girl. Because it requires so much more effort, work, and restraint.
Growing up a Desi girl, most of us are taught to sit properly, act ladylike and speak softly while our brothers run around being carefree. Much to my dad’s chagrin, I spent most of my time desperately trying to do the opposite. When other girls were discovering nail polish, I was kicking boys to prove how tough I could be.
Then puberty hits, and everything changes. No matter how hard you try, you can’t be one of the boys anymore. Your body betrays you with the burgeoning curves that can be as much a blessing as a curse. And with it, the beginning of a continuous ordeal of the world never letting you forget you are a woman!
The endless array of whistles, catcalls, inappropriate comments, or even touches, has taught me an exorbitant amount of tolerance and patience.
I’d like to think being a woman, considered the (physically) ‘weaker’ sex, has actually made me stronger.
The other day I sat down to chat with three Desi girls. There was Lovely Girl, your quintessential good girl (the one who never swears and always looks like perfection). There was Laidback Girl, the chilled out girl with an effortlessly calm attitude towards life, not much fazing her. Then there was Loud Girl, the boisterous girl you’d never miss in a crowd who always has an opinion.
When I brought up being harassed, not one of them could deny they hadn’t been fondled or touched inappropriately by an older family member or close friend. In fact, our conversations led me to ask as many Desi females as I could the same question.
“Have you ever been harassed?”
The results were unanimous. EVERY girl or woman I spoke with could recall at least one such incident in her lifetime. Sexual harassment is Disturbingly Common.
There were incidents of breasts being quickly fondled in a movie theatre line, your ass being grabbed by a guy riding by on a bicycle, or one girl who was even touched inappropriately during the baraat of a wedding!
I can’t help but point out how uncomfortable it makes men to talk about this. Many have probably already squirmed or wanted to shift tabs to sports updates instead of reading the rest of this column.
If you ever want to feel superior for just one second–bring up sexual harassment—you’ll suddenly find that the 55-year-old uncle and the 25-year-old girl will for a few fleeting moments, see a shift in the balance of conversational control.
As for the younger generation, whenever I bring this up with my guy friends, they are sympathetic and attentive to our ‘plight’, but in a desperate plea to make them more sympathetic rather than empathetic, I have found myself saying “How would you feel if some girl whistled at you on the street or grabbed your…” The resulting cheeky smiles are where most of those conversations end.
It’s never going to be something a man can truly understand: the feeling of utter helplessness that comes from being born a female.
Now I’m a relatively strong woman. I’ve become more and more resilient through a lifetime of enduring various degrees of harassment, from mild comments to offensive behavior. But these incidents can affect every girl differently, especially when it happens in the earlier stages of life. What happens when the same girls who are taught to be quiet and meek are unable to speak up to avoid being in vulnerable situations? Can the silence and virtue we are taught to perfect end up hurting us more than helping us?
Sexual harassment is not new. It has been around as long as men and women have been. The question is no longer ‘Does sexual harassment happen?’ but ‘What can we do about it?’
Lovely girl says, “Acknowledge these things happen and seek advice from another female in your life.” Loud girl says, “Tell everyone who the guy is and make him pay!” Laidback girl says, “It’s just not worth it. Forget it and move on.”
Ultimately, however you choose to react, there is no denying it happens. And happens often.
We can’t always control the actions of others, but what we can control is our reactions. Don’t let being a woman and being vulnerable ever hold you back. Let it make you stronger.
I want to thank anyone that has ever made me feel inferior because I was a girl. It’s only made me push that much harder. I have had the strength and the drive to do this only because of the support of those who are on the other end of the spectrum.
So how do we stay strong?
With the support of our fathers.
If you have a daughter, encourage her to pursue her dreams like you would your son.
With the support of our brothers.
In our culture, brothers are a girl’s protectors. Protect her from the world, but not so much that she is weak or sheltered.
With the support of our husbands.
Give your wife an equal say and hand in your life. Do not be influenced by your friends’ or society’s treatment of its wives.
With the support of women everywhere.
Mothers, aunts, teachers, sisters, and women everywhere – encourage your daughters and other women to stand up for themselves. Do not let your hesitations and inhibitions become theirs.
And to all my Desi girls out there—the next time a guy says something inappropriate, act however you choose towards him (ignore, yell, or enlist a protective brother!) but walk away with a smile. Hold your head up high. Thank him for harassing you. (Just preferably not to his face)
Resilience is the name of the game. Play it well.
The author is a single Indian woman in her late 20’s who has lived in many cities around the world. She hopes her experiences and thoughts will help bridge the generational gap between South Asian parents and children worldwide. ‘No Sex in the City’ is inspired by the popular TV show ‘Sex and the City’ which captured the attention of diverse viewers across the globe.
*(This article was republished from our September 2010 issue)