Feminist Rant #1: The Lecherous Starer

I wear my feminism proudly as a badge. It is difficult, of course. I have been told I am making a fuss about too little, I have been told I am taking myself too seriously and that I have no sense of humor. Self-doubt mars my image of myself. But you know what? Fuck that. Because so many men are skeptical of women’s abilities to achieve things and so many women, including me, are scared of getting close to the men in their lives. That is because both sides are suffering under the patriarchal grips of society. I’m not saying I am capable of changing anything. I hold my own convictions and walk down the road. But when the guys/men I know won’t even acknowledge the things I, a girl they are familiar with, faces how can they be expected to understand the problems of society at large? Feminism isn’t a dirty word. It is a word that talks about equality for the sexes. Feminism is hard because our gender-defined roles have been stagnated for so long, any change is painful and slow. For many men and women, it is hard to accept that the younger generation needs to grow outside the shadow of well-defined gender roles. Feminism becomes undermined when people use it to make unnecessary claims about the superiority of women over men. That is not what it should be about. Ideally, feminism should be an expression of exercising equality. When representatives from both genders come together in a constructive discussion, having left their former prejudices at home and having acknowledged that women are, in general, on a weaker foothold but that does not mean there are no male-centric issues to be addressed, that is when something meaningful will come out of such a discussion Many people are tired of repeating this, of course. Feminism can be confusing, even for those who try to incorporate it into their lives. It often confuses me too. But that doesn’t mean we are incapable of reading the finer print or we should use our frustration as a shield against even letting such a discussion gain momentum. Got it? Sure?Okay.

Beware of the lecherous starer. You will usually see him in crowded, public places. You will end up brushing shoulders, maybe more, against him on a train platform. He could be an executive, your dad’s age. Carrying a briefcase, with a bald spot and graying hair around the temples, this man could be on an early morning train you take. And if you’re travelling back on the same day, he can be right there on your train back as well. You will be disgusted that someone who is obviously married and may even have a daughter of his own, is staring at you in this way. You will be a little scared too because you are travelling alone and what if your destinations are the same? And this man will make the effort to stare, stare, stare until it is too blatantly obvious that he is going out of his way, bending in odd directions to look at you. You are supposed to be flattered by this disgraceful display of animist behaviour? You are supposed to think, oh well, men just have a lot of sex drive inside them. Good for him to have found a means to let it all out?

Or he could be another clearly middle-aged man on a bus. With a buttoned-up shirt, he is sitting in the area which is reserved for women. You don’t mind, him, a man, sitting there because you feel you’re young enough to stand until a seat is vacated fairly and besides, reservations should be made for elderly passengers perhaps (in addition to the physically handicapped, of course)? But he gets up to let a woman sit and then he stands facing you, squarely. There aren’t too many places you can look at and he knows that you know. But his eyes are like that of a drugged, hungry wolf. You know that look. You despise that look. If this is what just the look does to you, imagine those who suffer more at the hands of such people.

Or it could be a young man who is slyly trying to capture a photograph of you on his phone. You cannot walk to him and create a scene of course. A photograph, if taken, can be deleted at a second’s notice and claimed to never having been clicked at all.

There is one definite difference between a lecherous starer and someone who may be attracted towards you but he knows his boundaries and is respectful towards your gender: the lecherous starer’s eyes. Women have a defense mechanism that makes them intuitive when it comes to the lecherous starer. She can usually see those eyes and predict what the intention behind them is. A lecherous starer may glare at you with an unflinching, unblinking mannerism. This is because he is safe in the knowledge that things may go wrong if he tries to touch you, but inside his head he is free to roam anywhere he likes. You are out in public, he can see the shape of your body through your clothes (loose clothes leave a lot to the imagination and tighter ones, of course, mean that you want him to admire your curves) and therefore he has the right to put these things together in any combination inside the safety of his own head. Of course, we cannot block an individual’s thoughts. Which is exactly why this is a slow and painful and risky proposition: to educate and sensitize individuals regarding gender roles.

The lecherous starer is capable of making you feel dirty, incapable, disgusted with yourself. He is capable of making you question your freedom and dignity. The way in which he looks at you is like you are a prey and he is the predator. The brave, defiant girl will raise her head high and pretend not to notice but she will still be shaken from the inside and vow to protect herself with every last breath. The quieter, less confident girl will feel her resolve to step out-of-doors and be ambitious slip down another notch, frayed by the efforts of society to claw at it. But for both these girls, the outdoors becomes a place where she has to be on guard. She should have her phone, she needs to keep some sort of defense mechanism ready. She has to avoid emptier streets and she has to take the precaution to be home on time.

I wonder how many people I pass by everyday have the kind of regressive thoughts I abhor, resting in the back of their heads. I wonder why I am told to give this thing a rest. Why can I not? Well, because it is an impediment to the smooth functioning of my life’s machinery. And because I have the ability to convey this message forward. And because it needs to be conveyed. And because it burns inside me that so many people will tell you to just be happy with what you have.

I wonder how many lecherous starers are capable of rape. Not all, of course. But what if they were told there would be no police to capture them if they did go ahead with whatever they were cooking up in their heads and no witnesses to tell the tale. Well, what then? How far would they go?


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