This story is about a few months old. Sat in my drafts, so some references may not be current.
I had met a few friends recently. I spoke briefly about sexual harassment and its prevalence and attitudes toward it as telling them what I am up to. Described Violence Against Women Awareness Month and my support for it.
The day after the gathering, the husband of one of the friends called me up and said he felt compelled to speak with me on the subject of “eve teasing”. He agreed with me that eve teasing was sexual harassment and that it is a big evil in society (his words).
Then he proceeded to share with me his own story.
When he hit college, he often bunked classes to fool around with friends, watching films, smoking on the street, passing comments at girls. He didn’t really intend it as an insult or aggression. In his eyes, it was playfulness. Friendliness even, though with a complete stranger. Slowly, he started getting more creative with it. He often brushed against women when he was walking or mingling. He even brushed against his cousin’s bride during their wedding.
Not because he found them attractive or even because he wanted to feel a woman’s body, but simply to see them jump in surprise/shock and react. He found their “Over Reaction” bizarre, and thought that such hyperactive women deserved to learn to get used to not making such big deals. It became such a habit, that he often brushed against women without even doing it on purpose – reflexively.
He insists that there was hardly anything sexual about it for him beyond the gender of his victim. It was more a game of skill. Of a teasing that they couldn’t prevent. He knew it was wrong, but it didn’t “feel” wrong. It felt as innocently mischievous as going “boo” and surprising someone.
A few things happened to change it.
Once, on the street, a girl was sharp enough and made a scene. It was embarrassing and he blustered his way through it, insisting that she had misunderstood and that she was over reacting to an innocent touch. But the incident got him wary.
Then, a girl once hit him when he touched her. It was fast and fleeting like his own touch. There was no scene made, but he caught the anger in her expression and the hate in the way she hit him. It was the first time he probably seriously considered that maybe, just maybe it REALLY wasn’t funny for the girls and that it probably made them feel bad.
But he didn’t see what he did as wrong. He blames part of this on the normal social upbringing, where growing up, a girl is told to be careful, but no one bothers to tell a guy to keep his distance and be respectful. He knew what he did was wrong, but he felt it as a thing of young blood, hormones and maybe just a little bit bad, like his room being a mess.
Later, he met a girl he liked (my friend) and they were to meet near a cafe where he usually was after she finished college. By some quirk of luck, she arrived when he wasn’t there, and got teased by his own friends, though both didn’t know that. Upset, she left, but later spoke with him while apologizing for standing him up. She told him about what happened and that she felt too upset and unsafe to wait while he wasn’t there and that she was sorry if he waited for her, etc. (the guy is now 45 – this wasn’t the era of mobile phones)
Reeling in shock, he realized that it was very likely that it was his own friends who had “teased” her. He didn’t really know what to do. He wanted to say that they didn’t mean any harm, but found that he didn’t have the guts to let her know that they were his friends. He avoided going to that place with her. He felt ashamed to confront his friends, because that was what he himself did too. He felt ashamed to tell the girl because he really liked her, and didn’t want to lose her. So he avoided the place. She, with the earlier experience was happy to avoid too.
They got more interested in each other and had a three year affair after which they married. He had started avoiding those friends completely and they too did not suspect anything thinking that his falling in love was the reason he had no time for them.
In the meanwhile, spending time with the girl, he was on the other side of the game. Escorting her, he saw how she was alert to people harassing her. Knowing the “kinds of things” men can do, and think, etc… he started pro actively watching out for her. He noticed other women have the same defensive attitudes too, and they no longer seemed funny when they startled helplessly at being harassed.
Their relationship got into trouble because of his over protectiveness. Knowing how men think, and knowing how it hurt her, he wanted to protect her, but ended up suffocating her with rules about everything. On the verge of a break off, they attended counselling, during which he told his wife about that incident. He was astonished that she barely remembered it. And why would she remember – it was just another day of tangling with creeps. He also told his friends, who were aghast.
For the first time since that day, he invited them home and let them meet her. He got acidity from how tense he was about that meeting. Two of them recognized her, but most didn’t, but his story, and his insights, and his guilt and the impact on his marriage left a mark on them too, and they started being more sensitive. Most of them became vocal against sexual harassment, which was an embarrassing transition for the neighborhood bad boys.
They moved abroad, but he says men are the same everywhere.
After his daughter was born, was the time when he really knew fear because people like him were in the world. That day, in the hospital, he vowed that if he could speak with a man harassing a woman on the street, he would spend time and speak with them, in the hope that like his friends, they too would see in him someone who had lived their life and seen another side of it.
Two days after the date of this draft, Keenan Santos was stabbed in Amboli.
I was going to write up this draft better because it is still quite abrupt, but too much time has passed, and chose to publish it as it is rather than change details I didn’t remember clearly anymore.
I think this is one story that many more men should read.