HYDERABAD: While certain activities done by men in public like answering nature’s call are perfectly common for their gender, done by a woman gets her stares and titles like uncultured and unladylike. Society has chalked out activities and behaviours and laid down rules as to how a woman is supposed to dress, talk and behave publicly. However, where does one draw the line between what’s acceptable and what is unacceptable for a woman is the question that bogs many minds of young girls in the city.
It’s not acceptable
Recently when Aashi Verma (name changed) posted on Facebook, “Why can’t I scratch my bum in public when men can scratch their crotches?”, the question stirred a public debate on what a woman is not expected to do when in public. The comments that followed Aashi’s post revealed a patriarchal society where a woman, leave alone the behaviour, can’t even ask such questions. What’s appalling is that the seeds of such thoughts are sown in our minds at a young age.
Eight-year-old S Bharthi was reprimanded by her mother when she whistled, puckering her thumb and index finger inside her mouth.
The flustered child, however, didn’t understand what wrong she did to earn the slap. Her mother Lakshmi, defending herself says, “She is learning all boyish things in the company of her brothers”.
It’s ironic that men can hoot and whistle while watching a match but when a young girl child does it playfully she is scolded by her mother for doing “boyish thing.”
P Srividya, a PG student at the Osmania University, recalls how talking and laughing loudly with her friends on the street landed her in trouble with a man stalking her. “This man saw me having fun with my friends. Later, when we dispersed he stalked me till my college. It was scary then but in retrospect, I feel that since I was talking and laughing in a public place he felt I am not a very ‘decent’ girl.”
Have your tea at home
As much as you like the Irani tea at roadside bandis, dirty looks and glares from men are sure to tell a woman that it is not a place for her to be. “Yes men ogle at you, stare at you. Sometimes you have to repeat your tea order to the vendor; he is dazed to see a lone woman at his bandi,” says Ayesha Iffat, a pschology student.
Alankrutha Attaluri, an IRS officer, feels our society scrutinises a woman very minutely. “Even biological responses that are totally natural for men to perform publicly, have been made a taboo for women. We have been put under so many restraints that now we have forgotten that scratching your body or belching in public are natural instincts,” she says.
Throwing more light on how power of social construct and gender work in our society, city-based psychologist Reshma Banu says that men being a part of the majority get some privileges which gives them leeway for certain gestures. “It is less about social behaviour and more about power imbalances that allows one group to marginalise the other,” Reshma explains.
Deprived of choice
While activities as mundane and banal as talking loudly and laughing, scratching your body or belching raises so many eyebrows, smoking a cigarette alone or wanting to purchase condoms or contraceptives is nearly impossible for women in the city.
“I have never seen a woman purchase contraceptives. In fact, even I don’t go. It’s my boyfriend who goes to the medical shop,” says an Aarti Shah (name changed), a techie.
Aarti who is also an occasional smoker says, she can’t imagine smoking alone in a public place for the kind of reaction she will earn.
Alankrutha, however, has a suggestion, “Don’t be discreet. Ignore the glares, make youself comfortable with all the staring. That’s the only way you, as a woman can survive in our society.”