"The "fear of being a perpetrator" is as real and widespread as the perpetration is. In an increasingly liberal age of political correctness, women’s empowerment and gender sensitivity, some age old norms of body/facial language are getting irrelevant and unacceptable.
One can, for example, never be sure whether smiling too much in public may be misconstrued as a disturbing sign. Going to college in a bus or the Metro I often feel like smiling, just for the heck of it, because I like to. But I am usually careful not to overdo it because I wouldn’t want my fellow commuters to think I’ve lost my marbles. Additionally, I generally don’t smile often at women because I really wouldn’t want them to mistake my purpose-less morning joy as ‘hitting’.
Then again, looking too is a dangerous business these days. Now, the word itself sounds suspect and does by this virtue excite uncritical condemnation. We must, however, consider all nuances and be very careful before completely negating the concept.
Heterosexual romantic love, the fairy tale love of knight-and-lady romances, has always been that sort of bond which is sealed as soon as the lovers look at each other from afar. While this is in actuality nothing more than a fanciful falsification, the idea of love at first sight has nonetheless been an abiding cultural obsession which continues to enthral millions of people and will, in all probability, continue to do so in the foreseeable future.
So what would happen to this if looking at members of the opposite sex would become tantamount to harassment? All looking cannot be staring, ogling…
The human body is beautiful and it is natural for one to appreciate its beauty. If I, as a perfect stranger, see a girl who I find attractive, whose long curvy eyebrows, deep black eyes and long hair seem beautiful to me, then I’ll naturally feel like looking more at her. Yet, even while doing so, I must be careful not look too much, just so that my looking does not morph into unwelcome staring and is not given the garb of harassment.
On another plane, even as liberal individuals one has to keep the dynamics of patriarchy in consideration. Having a few times been lost while travelling around in semi-urban villages of Delhi (as also in some middle-class bastions!) I have observed that if the men are around, it is always better to take directions from them rather than from the women, especially young ones. In case one has to, then it’s better to not look at them directly in the eye. This may seem a bit retrograde, but I believe progress cannot be forced upon somebody...
There really can be no objective, universal definition for such abstract and intensely subjective concepts as harassment, staring and looking. Yet, somehow, in fighting against male-perpetrated sexual harassment we not just routinely forget to consider all the nuances of looking but also overlook the fact that women too look at men and appreciate their physical beauty. Just as a course correction is needed in attitudes of perpetrators at large, so is one in that of the perpetrated so that the fear of being a perpetrator slowly vanishes away as we eventually move to a stage of mutual trust and equality.
I'm a Delhi-wallah and a third year student of Literature in Ramjas College of Delhi University...
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