About a decade ago, when I was in Rwanda, East Africa, I discussed a news report about an ‘eve-teasing’ event in India with a British colleague of mine. When I used the expression ‘eve-teasing’ she looked at me as if I had uttered a word or phrase that is not in the English language.“What do you mean?” she asked. I asked her if she had not heard the expression before and she replied, “It is not a British or American term, probably used only in India.” Later I came across news reports on the Al Jazeera website with these titles, ‘Three arrested in India for harassment on bus’ and ‘Video posted showing two young women trying to fend off three “eve-teasers” on a bus in Haryana State’. The term eve-teasers is given in quotes to imply that it is not a familiar term for native speakers of English.
‘Eve-teasing’ is a euphemism used in India to describe public sexual harassment of women. It is also aptly called ‘street harassment’. According to Wikipedia it “ranges in severity from sexually suggestive remarks, brushing in public places and catcalls to groping”. www.oxforddictionaries.com labels the term ‘Indian’ (Indian English) and defines it as “the making of unwanted sexual remarks or advances by a man to a woman in a public place”.
Activists who fight for gender justice say that ‘eve-teasing’ is a derogatory term as it suggests that women possess the nature of Eve who in the Bible is portrayed as a temptress and activists want the expression to be replaced by a more appropriate term. Linguists are yet to coin a better term that is not sexist in nature. Doesn’t ‘sexarassment’, a portmanteau of ‘sexual’ and ‘harassment’, sound better? The term is used widely not only in India but also in countries in South Asia, where the streets have proved to be dangerous for women. Look at the title of a news report by a Bangladeshi journalist writing for BBC: ‘Bangladesh ‘eve-teasing’ takes a terrible toll’. According to the report, June 13, 2010 was designated Eve-Teasing Protection Day by the education ministry in Bangladesh.
The derivatives of ‘eve-teasing’ are ‘eve-tease’ (verb) and ‘eve-teaser’ (noun). Look at these examples:
- Women, fight back if you are ‘eve-teased’.
- Let the ‘eve-teasers’ be taught a lesson.
What does the expression ‘catcall’ mean? A ‘catcall’ is a loud sound or whistle made by someone in public to express displeasure. Catcalls are very common in the Indian Parliament, cinemas, cricket stadiums and in public places where the members of the audience use it when they do not like someone’s performance. In the context of ‘sexual harassment’ men make ‘catcalls’ to tease women and therefore it is an expression of disapproval. The derivates are ‘catcall’ (verb) and ‘catcaller’ (noun). Look at these examples:
- Our parliamentarians make catcalls whenever they want to disrupt Parliament.
- Two male students who catcalled a female student were suspended for a week.
- He is a notorious catcaller.
Don’t trivialise sexual harassment by calling it eve-teasing.