Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Eve Teasing

Today's blog isn't about singing per se, but is still very much about the importance of being able to express ourselves freely, clearly, and fearlessly. Enjoy!

An article in the New York Times this morning announced, in an effort to curb 'Eve Teasing', the advent of 8 commuter trains exclusively for women. Not in New York, but in India, where women are constantly subjected to pinching, groping, predatory staring and catcall shouting on their way to and from work. The government didn't enact a law requiring men to behave in a civil manner, or impose fines or punishment upon those who don't. It simply created a system of separate but equal, circumventing a demand for respect and decency.

While I don't find this to be the case on Manhattan subways, I'm sad to report that the article might very well have been talking about life on the streets of New York City. In truth, at least 5 times a day I am either glared at in a predatory manner, or shouted, whispered, or sneered at with language that would make a grown man blush.

I'm not blushing however. I'm deeply concerned. And over the years, I've grown increasingly concerned by those who feel they have the right to a form of blatant disrespect and prejudice that, directed toward any other group, would be an offense worthy of similar front page coverage in our nation's leading newspapers.

My concern has manifested in a variety of ways over the years. I've ignored the remarks and accompanying energy. I've tried to engage the men with compassion and care, including starting conversations about how they would feel were their daughters, mothers, or wives being addressed and treated in a similar fashion. I've given into anger, fantasizing about having a bb gun to shoot out the car tires of fools honking and screaming as they drive by, tongues wagging. I've imagined being in possession of Harry Potter-like powers, anonymously zapping bolts of humiliation or empathy through the creeps who walk by making obscene noises, and from time to time, touching me.

But I don't have a gun or magical powers. Instead I– along with thousands of women and girls in the city– wear sunglasses to avoid eye contact and listen to iPods to silence the daily blows. We alter our wardrobes, lengthening our skirts while our confidence, ease, and comfort in the world threatens to loosen.

Though I shouldn't have to, I'd like to insert here for those who may be skeptical of my reports a few items: 1) These offenses rarely– if ever– occur when women are with men, so it may be hard for some of the latter to imagine that they actually happen. It seems indeed that there is a protocol of respect– or perhaps, fear– that enables predators to regulate their behavior. 2) These offenses occur whether I'm wearing a lovely dress or sweatpants, a baggy t-shirt, and a baseball cap. It seems that contrary to the opinion of some– that women bring this treatment on themselves– that sexual harassment is indeed an issue of power rather than one of sexuality. 3) These are offenses, and not feminist or angry misinterpretations of flattering or courteous gestures. Neither I, nor any woman, would take offense to a man or woman respectfully commenting on an attractive outfit, spirit, or appearance. What I am speaking of is entirely different, and entirely unacceptable.

I, like any man, woman, or child, would like and should be able to walk 2 blocks to get a newspaper, a cup of coffee, or an ice cream without being treated in a disrespectful manner. Our society stands up against the heckling and harassment of elderly-Americans, homosexual-Americans, African-Americans, Asian-Americans or Hispanic-Americans. It's time to add female-Americans to that list.

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Anonymous Janae Noble said...

This type of behavior began when I was only 13 and at 52 it is still continuing, just as you described, regardless of what I am wearing or doing.

Thanks for speaking up

September 16, 2009 at 10:20 AM  
Anonymous Robert said...

You know, this leads to something I've been spending more and more time considering lately, and that's the element of Group Dynamic that dictates people will do things in the presence of other people doing the same thing that they would never do in a million years on their own -- or often, even in front of their own families. It has dawned on me that a lot of unbelievably thoughtless behaviors -- and I'm counting everything from religious rituals and mercy killings to gang rape here -- can be attributed to this dynamic. (And yes, I do believe certain ethnic groups are more susceptible to this dynamic than others, culturally cultivated so, mostly in my observations while traveling abroad.)

If this is indeed the case, which I truly believe it is, it only takes one more element thrown into the mix to direct the tone of the thoughtless behavior, i.e., the imagined "bravado" a construction worker (for instance) thinks he projects by showing his compadres how "fearless" he is when it comes to approaching women (check his relationship with his mother while you're at it). Would he single out one attractive woman and leer or shout disrespectful and inappropriate things at her while standing in line at the bank? Almost certainly not.

I won't pretend to have much faith in the nobility of humanity as a whole, but the more deeply I consider the possible motivations for this state of being, I can only imagine it comes from a deep-seated, primal desperation to feel like we belong to something larger than ourselves, a need whose service gets contaminated environmentally along the way (check the construction worker's parents' marriage). And of course, that need stems from the universally human need to feel safe.

It is sad, maddening, and indeed unacceptable that the fairer sex gets victimized by this state of being ('what are YOU gonna do about it, little lady?'), but if one wanted to go out on a limb, it is possible to consider these offenses nothing more than a tragically misdirected attempt to connect.

Maybe this thought only contains value as a way to continue coping until some kind of change does come, but that's something, isn't it?

Much much love,

September 16, 2009 at 10:25 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Hamady said...

Thanks for sharing, Janae & Robert. Robert, you make some great points, and I believe that in many ways you're right. Violence isn't always about an intent to harm so much as it is a reflection of self-loathing. Prejudice isn't always so much about negative feelings toward members of an 'out group' as it is a fear of falling out of favor with an 'in group', or that group's destruction (see: Joe Wilson)

Similarly, disrespectful treatment of women is often less about the perpetrator's opinion of women, and more about his own issues regarding masculinity, culture, bravado and impressing members of a group (as you say).

While these things are true, and present in my mind when subjected to this treatment, it is still no excuse for it. To be honest, my fury with the situation is less about my irritation with having to deal with it personally, and more about my anguish that so many younger women must do so. Girls testing themselves against the world, struggling to find their place and a healthy balance of intellect, curiosity, and sensuality... what do you say to a 15 year old who wants to be seen and acknowledged as a woman, only to find that acknowledgment coupled too often with disrespect and object status?

There is much to learn together on this... thanks again for sharing!

September 16, 2009 at 10:39 AM  

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