The celebration that almost wasn’t

I promised to write a celebratory post for Blank Noise, talking about the times when I’ve fought back, raised my voice, done something, about street harassment. So I thought and thought and thought, and I realise that my fund of memories of fighting back is scarily scarce.

There was the time I shouted abuse at the man who grabbed my breasts as he cycled past – I was 14, and walking home from somewhere, and it was the first time it had ever happened. I screamed and shouted on an empty street, while he turned back and waved.

There was the time I turned to the man on the bus behind me and asked him to move – and when he claimed he couldn’t, turned to the man beside him and asked if he could move to make room for this man to move – a ripple of amusement up the back of the bus, and no more insistent pressing against my back.

There was the time I wrote this post, asking for help, receiving it, and stopping a spate of ‘prank’ calls: does that count as street harassment, though?

Of course, for each of these, I can think of so many times when I haven’t reacted, haven’t fought back, have decided to ignore, to let it be. And because of that, I almost didn’t write this post.

But you know what? Each of these times, meagre as they are, marks my defiance. They are my acts of bravery, my shake-of-the-fist in the face of the nameless fear I cloak in indifference. They are my acts of honesty – expressions of the outrage and anger that go hand in hand with the fear. Defiance, bravery, honesty.

I do have something to celebrate.

****

There’s another woman, though, whom I don’t celebrate often enough. I tend to think of her as Li’l Sis, as Pooh, as someone to coddle and protect. Not often I think of her as the courageous woman she is. So this is the story that needs to be told:

Nineteen years old. Away from home, in a small college town. Her phone rings, and it’s the caller again (what is it with the women in my family and ‘prank’ callers?). She cuts the call. It rings again. She cuts it again. Ring. Cut. Ring. Cut. Ring…oh, Dad. She answers the phone and talks for a while. She tells Dad about the calls. She’s bloody pissed off. Dad puts on his calm-the-hysterical-Koka-women voice, and talks to her. She mentions the police. Dad suggests changing her phone number. She says she doesn’t want to do that; it’s not as if she’s at fault! Dad calms her down, tells her to think about it. Hangs up. The phone rings again.

Now she’s walking into the police station. It looks a lot like a shabby office, except for the khaki uniforms. Is her hand trembling? Her voice steady? She speaks to an officer, tells him the problem, asks what she can do. He listens to her, tells her registering an FIR means they will investigate the matter. It will take time. In the meanwhile, he says, he will take care of it. Asks for the number. Caller Line Identification, praise be. He calls it from his own telephone. Tells the person who answers it his name and rank, and tells him that if he ever tries a stunt like this again, he’ll be sorry.

The flutter in her stomach had settled as she spoke to the policeman. Not a stutter, not a fumble. She watched as he called the harasser, wondered why she had been scared of the police. Thanked him politely, and left.

And Li’l Sis, Pooh, lived happily ever after with her phone. Minty, the lawyer, learnt a lesson in courage, in trusting the law.

****

And a much shorter celebration of a woman who made both Li’l Sis and Minty what they were: the woman who spoke up against workplace harassment (which wasn’t even a word then) twenty-five years ago, and the man who didn’t stop her. She spoke up, and they stayed to face everything the workplace then threw at them – the labels, the judgement, the separation in the name of ‘postings’. The workplace threw all of this at them, and yet Minty and Pooh still associate ‘working women’ with confidence, energy and enthusiasm, not bitterness, anger or pain.

Yes, I have a lot to celebrate.

Thanks, BNP, for reminding me. To my family, for Women’s Day: a toast to strength – yours and mine; ours.

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One Response

  1. Thank you!! : D

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