A woman’s perspective on sexual harassment
SHREEMA NINGOMBAM , THE HINDU NOVEMBER 22, 2009
We, women, live in a world of unknown forces pulling, shoving and bruising us not only physically but mentally. We feel utter disgust when a strange male ogles at us. We live in a world of unknown hands grappling our body, unknown eyes stripping us naked. This hatred is not simply because they are strangers but because they dare to do things which they don’t have the right to do and make us feel which they don’t have the right to make us feel.
What distinguishes human beings from the beast is the culture of attributing morality to sexuality, the culture of domination, and the sheer infinity of their wants. The distinction lies in the so-called rationality and the consequent self-restraint we possess. The person devoid of self-restraint and defying the norms and conventions of society is termed either lunatic or malefactor.
Who is un-free here, the women or the victimisers? Everyone assumes that women are not free to move at their will. They are not free to think, act or speak this way or that way. But the other side of the prism shows a different light. The perpetrators are the prisoners of their own uncensored, unrealised conscience. They are positively un-free (see positive freedom by Charles Taylor). It is not the woman who has to be freed from the clutches of man’s unholy hands and undignified eyes; it is the men themselves who have to be salvaged from their unrealised conscience. The unholy hands and the undignified eyes are the shadows of their unrealised conscience. As much as the shadows disappear with the disappearance of the real object, the former will disappear with the realisation of their conscience. It is not the person per se who has that unique conscience; rather, it is the structure of patriarchy that generates this conscience.
An instant suggestion of reformation would be through education, but many women would find well-educated, rich men committing the same act. Then we can say that education is necessary but is not a sufficient condition to the emancipation of the male conscience.
There is also another argument that women are harassed or molested only in the fragmentary moments of their lives so they should not bother much. Are our fragmentary moments unimportant? Are our lives not made of these fragmentary moments? We have the right to live every sundry fragmentary moment of our lives with dignity and respect. No one has the right to snatch or steal any moment of our life, defame it or blot it. If such stolen moments accumulate, one day it over-pours from our eyes making others console us saying this is part of our lives and that it is we who have to face it bravely. We do not want such attribution of bravery because the origin of this kind of bravery is illegitimate.
Valorising the capability of endurance which is forcefully entrusted to us is making a fool out of every woman. The very condition that forces us to endure and then regenerate again need to be eliminated. Why, in the first place, we need to endure?
One of the greatest mysteries of this world is women’s eternal capability to regenerate themselves. This is an entrusted capability, not an organic outgrowth capacity. Their tears become the manure of their regeneration. There was death and they chose to live.