From my daughter’s diary, on male gaze
I never realized I had a grown-up daughter until I chanced upon her diary that she had left behind, before leaving for Bangalore. I wouldn’t have read her diary, as it is too personal, had I not seen the letter that was addressed to me! I trespassed nevertheless!
I have never ever discussed this with you, it is so embarrassing. But I have a question for you…on male gaze. When I was little, I would go to the playground. Later, while in college, I would commute on the bus, on the train. Everywhere I went I used to feel men staring at me. I couldn’t avoid these terrifying and horrid male gazes.
Even today in our neighbourhood, when I just walk out of the house, men loitering in street corners invariably stare, some glance furtively. Some even boldly turn to check me out. Being the object of their gaze has always filled me with shame and embarrassment, as if I were somehow responsible. At times I felt so vulnerable as if they were mentally undressing me! How could I ever have had this conversation with you! So I am writing it here, with the hope that you might read it some time, by mistake, and understand what we are routinely subject to. I couldn’t help but wonder if my father also looked at women in this way.’
In a flash I went back to my younger days when I used to be teased as effeminate for not enjoying the visual treat that the contours of a feminine body could evoke. I had somehow managed to not succumb to peer pressure. I continued reading…
‘Before leaving Kolkata, I thought it was possibly the worst place for women. Little did I know that it happens everywhere, all the time, at least in India. They look at girls in dresses in such abominable ways. This doesn’t mean they spare girls in traditional Indian dresses.
I know, Baba, there are laws against eve teasing, but there aren’t any laws that can protect us from these obnoxious gazes. I have a friend who is blacklisted by his group of friends because he refused to participate in this masculine ‘game’. You know Preeti’s mom, don’t you? You know what her father told her when she stared back at those guys? He said, ‘Look Durga (her mom’s name), you have to be submissive and humble, you can’t retaliate like that! Good and respectable women never do that, what if they come and violate you? You are a woman and you’ve got to be submissive. They are men, so it’s natural for them to stare like that. Don’t provoke them.’
Baba, would you have said the same thing to my mom? You remember what my friend’s mom had said when I had worn a frock to the park? She said my dress wasn’t proper since my legs weren’t sufficiently covered! I was just six! But I do remember how you protested!
But what can you do to stop this from happening? You are a scientist, Baba…at least invent some medicine to make us invisible when we are in front of them. You think it is funny? You think I am kidding here? I am bleeding from the inside as I am writing this. Every time I go out and face this. I remember mom telling me the story of Draupadi, how she was molested with looks in The Mahabharata at the behest of elders; not one single voice was raised in protest. They were mere onlookers! We can no longer put up with this, Baba. We are in 2020 now!’
By now I was pensive. My little girl was no longer a child. I had never felt so helpless. I could do nothing to put this behind us. No one can. And I cannot make them invisible either!
Are they still walking the paths of The Mahabharata, like Draupadi?
I turned the page. I read this poem.
O Krishna! There is no law that can protect us from male gaze
We feel awkwardly exposed, harassed, and perpetually out of place.
Can you please make us invisible when
We have to face them willy nilly?
Their hungry, hostile gazes so often
Tear us apart, they stare at us and bully,
Like Draupadi, we have tears of terror
Rolling down our cheeks,
We feel helpless and weak, free us
Dear God, from this curse.