I told someone once
About an incident that makes me cringe still- a camera with images flashed at my face
And an underhand comment which gave pleasure to the speaker
And the first question they asked me was, ‘what were you wearing?’
But it doesn’t matter. I learnt clever ways to bypass the undesired contact
A carefully held folder. Or arms across your chest
But then they wonder what is underneath anyway
And I inch away if there is space but if there isn’t. I can’t.
I feel like walking out every day in a knee-length dress and shoes
I feel like wearing figure-hugging tops
Or a loose tee with shorts
Every time I head out that door
Instead I always put on baggy jeans and a t-shirt
And wrap a scarf around my breasts
So that the men who stare with licentious eyes
One hand on their crotch and the other rubbing over their thigh
Thinking things that I cannot perhaps imagine. Won’t.
They know I can see them, they know I know
But that gives them a weird sense of satisfaction
It makes them feel powerful, thunderous even
It thrills them, pumping them on
So I pretend to have no deeper thoughts
Than the speed of the tarmac rushing beneath the wheels
And I look on with a straight face
A girl friend once told me
To call out to the men who call out to me
When they make sport of driving past on a fast bike
Slowing down just enough to gesture or cry out
As though they are adrenaline-fueled demi-gods who own the world
But if I do, I know what they will think
Here is a woman with an attitude, a woman who doesn’t know her place in the world
And she must be taught
I think about those woman
Who must suffer a hundred times more than me
Because they aren’t protected by secular views
Or empowered with the knowledge of their own worth
At least I do not feel worthless. Even when I feel violated.
At least I do not feel voiceless. Even when I feel powerless
And then they make jest or pass comments
They talk about how snubbed they are
Why is this discontent our fault? Why is their libido thrust upon us
As though it is a self-conscious denial of their personal greatness?
Do they think we have no desires like they do?
They laugh at us if we express our needs
They call us sluts and believe they can have us
But if we turn away
They call us worse things because they consider it an assault on their manhood
And the good men are tired of hearing about these things
They feel as if it’s all a puff of smoke with no substance
So even if a famous woman talks about being abused
She is called out for seeking attention or told to stop complaining
Because apparently, even an ex-boyfriend has unremitting rights over us
Just because once upon a time we loved and let them touch us
It seems as if a contact that a woman allows is valid for life
That is why men on public transport grope
And why rapists revel in the invincibility of their thrusts
I know what those glances and snippets of conversation mean
I know what some men are saying to me, without saying it at all
I feel, in the courtesy of those of the opposite gender
Who aren’t out for such ulterior motives, their sincere goodness
Women can often sense these things you see
But then I have to shake off my conviction that men are good too
And look at the whole wide world with the same glasses on me
Because if I make one mistake or one wrong judgement
That could be the line between life and death
And I know it. I don’t know if I could live with it
The way some women do
Moving on beyond the pain
While people enumerate the various reasons why their actions could have been responsible for what they suffered
Look beyond the personal relationships for just a moment
At those who suffer every day under the burdens of a patriarchal world
I’m not asking for remittances
I’m only asking for a balance
How am I to segregate the good from the bad
When the tiniest slip-up can cost me everything?
Would I rather take that risk
Or put up walls around myself?
Which would be the wiser thing, do you think?
I was eleven the first time I realized what it would be like to be a woman
Not because something wonderful happened
But because a schoolgirl in her school uniform
Was leered at by a strange man smoking a cigarette
I have not forgotten that incident still
Many would argue I should
Why victimize yourself?
Well, it reminds me of what it means to be a woman in this world
Despite talking about feminism every night
We fight these demons every day
I come from a family where I have been loved
And taught to dream as much as any boy
And pampered in the same way
But the question that comes to me when I talk to people
When I step outside
When I deal with strangers every day
Is: Am I empowered?
And what about the women who are worse off?
Who come from homes where their needs aren’t understood?
Where the men don’t even stop to consider how hard it is to bear children
Or go through puberty
Let alone everything else
So, tell me Internet:
Is the debate really, truly over?