Dedicated To Mumbai


Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Even though we wish they weren’t, newspapers and television channels are often filled with stories of harassment. Pearl Mathias & Jagruti Verma talk to people across the city to see what they think and how they would attempt to prevent them, as much as possible

We can protest gender stereotypes, talk about equal pay and insist on wearing the clothes we want to wear without having to answer to the moral police, but unfortunately, division and stereotypes still exist in our society. These divisive opinions lead to everyday sexism and harassment, among other more serious issues. While it’s easy to blame one gender for atrocities against the other, the mud-slinging is not going to bring about any sort of change. As the recent case in Bengaluru brings sexual harassment back into the spotlight, we’re continuing the conversation about issues, harassment and the battle of the sexes that we find ourselves part of more often than we’d like.

We turned to three people in Mumbai to see what they thought of the never-ending battle of the sexes, why they think the issues are still so prevalent and what they see as possible solutions. Take a look at what they had to say.

Questions at stake
Copywriter Prateek Singh believes that it’s a lack of awareness that increases such crimes, among victims as well as perpetrators. “It gets worse in our society where sex is considered to be a big thing, something that defines the societal benchmarks that are set for both genders. For women, their being is centred on their sexual history and just like the ego is paramount for a man, sex is considered (for lack of a better term) the female equivalent of ego. So, they (perpetrators) think, ‘To destroy her being, go for her body.’ On the other end of the spectrum, some offenders don’t realise the gravity of their acts. Many feel entitled, like they are goofing around when it comes to everyday harassment,” he says. Prateek also touches on the taboo of intimacy and how differently it affects men and women. “In the film, Delhi 6, there is a scene where two children walk up to Jalebi, a lower caste female sweeper, to request sexual favours, saying: ‘Jalebi, humein mard banaa do’ (Jalebi, make us men). This speaks volumes about the situation. Most people believe that sex corrupts women, but matures men,” he adds. Prateek thinks that it’s important to draw focus away from the victim and attempt to understand the psyche of the perpetrator who initiates the harassment. 

The burden of expectation
Do a man’s past relationships play a major role in affecting his view on the subject? Aakriti Agarwal seems to think so. The public relations professional intern tells us, “When men have bad relationships in which they suffer under the burden of societal expectations or inner ego battles, they are at risk of depression, which leaves them frustrated. Because of the nature of the society in which they are brought up, some men believe that women (whom they view as the weaker sex) are an easy target when they need to vent or feel more in control. When the woman resists, their ego is hurt and it leads to instances of violence and abuse.” While this is no excuse for such behaviour, it is a common issue across all sections of society. “The worst cases are those in which men are brought up in an environment where they are taught that they are capable of controlling everything and everyone around them, which is a larger issue in play,” she adds.

Understanding #NotAllMen
We’re not sure what we feel about the #NotAllMen hashtag that’s been doing the rounds, but Roger Machado thinks that with a topic as controversial as this, no matter how much we try not to, unfair generalisations are made about genders. “It is disheartening for me to see that just because some men behave terribly, the rest of us are tagged too. And, even if we have things to say and feel like discussing certain problems related to the issue, we can’t, because with every point that we put forth, we also need to have a defensive stance ready for ourselves on a personal level. It is difficult to let our guard down and have meaningful conversations, since at every turn (at least in this debate), we have to defend our existence as men,” says the growth and operations manager of supply at a private firm. This may not be causing the issue, but according to Roger, allowing everyone a place in the fight against it, regardless of their gender, could be a good step to fixing it.

Whether it’s children, adults, co-workers or family, it’s important for us to change the way we discuss harassment and sexism. Psychologist and career counsellor Kavita Mungi gives us a few tips to get started.

  •  From the get-go, both sexes need to be taught how to value human beings, irrespective of sexual identity.
  •  Girls need to be protective of boys and vice versa, and both should be able to fend for themselves independently. This should not be gender specific.
  •  Conversations about gender inequality should not be avoided. Speak about the need for change and establish good conduct at home by emulating such thoughts in your own behaviour.
  •  Don’t encourage gender specific roles at home. For example, draw boys in to help with the cooking and cleaning, and teach girls to change a tyre on a car and take out the trash, without treating these as special, uncommon tasks for either gender.

The best way to teach your children how to respect the people around them is by example. However, ensure that they also have accurate information about what constitutes harassment and know that you will be supportive and understanding when they approach you about such issues, no matter what. While parents may initially balk at the idea of having these conversations, they help create an open chain of discourse, focusing on facts rather than personal opinions or stigma. Boys need to be included in the conversation as well, because it’s important for everyone to be well informed, open minded and respectful from a young age. Remember that discussing this subject is just as important as teaching your child how to cross the road safely. Here are a few ways to ease into it.

Frame the conversation: It’s important not to treat the subject like it’s taboo. Start the conversation in a matter-of-fact way rather than by scaring your child.

Teach them to respect and control their bodies: Make sure your child knows that no one has the right to touch or hurt them (and that they do not have a right to hurt others), especially in their private parts; even if it’s an adult they know and respect. Empower them to say ‘no’ to any uncomfortable requests, and to accept a ‘no’ from others.

Instil trust: While talking to your children about these issues, remember to create an approachable atmosphere. Let them know that they can open up to you and trust you when they share things related to such issues.

Keep communication channels open: The most important thing to do is to keep the conversation casual, open and ongoing. This is not an issue to be touched upon once and then swept under the rug. It’s also important to keep your eyes open for signs and pay attention to your child’s behaviour around different people. If you feel as though something is wrong, talk to them about it.

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Dr. Rajan B. Bhonsle, M.D. (Bom)
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