Published on September 5th, 20133
My rape calculator’s always working
A Mumbai woman explains how her mind is on constant auto-alert for signs of sexual pests and even worse, rapists.
by Adithi Muralidhar
Part I of II
To all my girlfriends, I am sure you will be able to relate to some of the thoughts (if not all) that I have penned down here.
To all my guy friends, this is to give you a vague idea of what runs through the mind of a woman, living in a society such as ours.
Thanks to new age media, nowadays, rapes get reported more often than before. You open the newspaper each morning and you can be guaranteed to come across at least three rape reportings.
Being brought up in a relatively liberal household, I was allowed as a child and a teen to go out for as long as I wanted, stay out late with friends, go to far-away places. These ‘privileges’ came with some rules. But my parents never forbade me from going out.
Also, my parents never told me what I should and shouldn’t wear. They let me judge for myself and as long as I was comfortable with what I was wearing, they did not question my choice of attire. I was lucky that my parents even allowed me out at all, since I know of households (even in the so-called urban educated society) where they do not let their ‘girl’ children (only) have a stay over at a friend’s place, or party, or socialise with the opposite sex.
While I am extremely grateful for having such cool parents, I can’t help but question the need to have rules in the first place. People now are advocating new-age thinking. Previously it was, ‘Don’t get raped’ (meant for girls only) but now, the message is, ‘Don’t rape’ (meant for boys only). This should be based on the fact that, women for generations have been taught at home to not attract attention and invite rape, when in fact men need to be taught to keep their aggression and power-frenzy in control. But is that happening? Are men actually paying heed to this message? Unfortunately statistics show otherwise. Rapes still happen all over the country (and the world). So what does one do to prevent such a crime? Tell your daughters and sisters to not get raped? And so, I feel most of the girls in India have either been brought up in a household where they are downright refused freedom of everything, or given restricted freedom. Getting complete freedom would probably be the rarest of rare cases!
On closer introspection, I realised something else…like several women, I have a ‘Rape Calculator’ at work all the time. This is how it computes things for me:
– I am more comfortable in loose clothes, than in tight fitting ones.
– I tend to hunch, and not keep my back straight when I walk, in order to ‘not attract’ attention to the chest area! Invariably, when travelling, I cover my front with a dupatta, shawl or stole (irrespective of whether it matches my attire or not).
– I look down when I walk, avoiding eye contact with people on the street.
– When I walk on streets and I see a shady person walking in my direction, I cross the road and then cross back again.
– When I walk on main roads or smaller lanes, I do so in the direction opposite to that of the vehicles on that road, so that I can keep an eye on people on bikes/ cars; and to avoid anyone touching/groping/ attempts.
– When I use public transport like buses, I sit towards the edge of the seat (which is terribly uncomfortable) to avoid the person behind from touching my back with their knee!
– I am paranoid about my shirt/kurta, and constantly check if it rides up (while getting up from any seat, standing in a public place on a windy day etc).
– When I am walking through crowded places (like railway platforms), I walk in front of women, so that my arms are free to be used for ‘frontal defense’.
– When I don’t get a seat in public transport and I have to stand, I look for a spot where my back is towards a woman, and I cover my front with my backpack and my arms gear up as side-defense lines.
– I walk with my elbows jutting out in a crowded place.
– I put on a disgusted look on my face to repulse stares.
– I check the rear view mirror from time to time in an auto, to check if the autorikshawwallah is staring at me.
– I make fake calls to fake friends and loudly tell them my location when I am traveling in an auto alone, either at night or in unknown lanes.
– I think twice before smiling and talking with a man (shopkeeper, autorickshaw driver asking someone for directions, istriwala, watchman) because I don’t want them to misinterpret basic good values and manners.
– I once lied to a cab driver that I was a married woman, as it made me feel safer (I had to do this in Goa, and I observed that he asked fewer questions once he knew I was married).
– I plan my vacations around ‘safe’ travel timings (day-time journeys) and ‘decent’ locations.
– I spend extra cash in order to travel more ‘luxuriously’ (according to some) while in reality I am just avoiding skywalks, subways, foot-over-bridges, shady lanes…and end up travelling by a longer route to my destination, using main road and cabs.
– I am careful about what I talk with other people/neighbours, so that passersby do not hear my personal information (like who is in the house, how many people live in the house etc.)
Finally, I believe that many of us have a ‘rape-calculator’ (I came across this term recently somewhere and I think it is a fantastic term to describe what is happening in a woman’s mind) working in our head. It never runs out of battery and it works during the day and night, when we are sleepy or when we are wide awake.
It involves a complex algorithm that takes into consideration multiple factors like time of the day, what we are wearing, where we are going, the roads that lead to where we are going, what will be our mode of transport, who is our company, what day of the week is it, what occasion it is, etc. And it tells us this is a relatively ‘less dangerous’ outing, we are less likely to get raped, we can go out today. Also, we tend to make quick impromptu adjustments in the calculations when we take into account the age of cab driver/autorickshaw driver, his mannerisms and body language (as these are factors that you can take into account only when you are out).
Part II: ‘Constant vigilance can kill‘. Look out for the next part of this story tomorrow.
Adithi Muralidhar currently works in the field of science education research, in Mumbai. Apart from that, she works in areas related to environment and sustainability and also has a keen interest in social issues.
(Picture courtesy newsreporter.com, www.5minute5.com, www.globalpost.com, www.france24.com)