Monday, July 11, 2016

Doors don't just keep others out -- they shut us in too

There was some discussion on Twitter a few days ago about a Flipkart courier sexually assaulting the woman he was delivering the package to. The conclusion was: latch your door. Don't let the courier guy in.

I am not embedding the tweet because I don't want to call out anyone specific for this. It's conventional wisdom, after all. Our mothers and sisters and friends have always told us what to do to avoid getting raped. But there are several reasons why this didn't sit well with me, and I want to share them with you.

It's not the victim's responsibility to prevent rape. This is not a new thought, it's one of the things feminists have been saying forever. Yet I see women who identify as feminist also giving other women "safety tips". Often, it seems like a fine line. We want our sisters to be safe. But opening the door to a courier guy is a very normal act that we should be allowed to perform without getting assaulted. Chains on doors are often flimsy and ineffective - and what if you have to take in a big parcel?

Rape isn't committed only by outsiders, or by lower class men. I'll be honest, I see a whiff of classism here. Middle class men rape. Upper class men rape. Relatives rape. If a courier person asks me for water on a hot day - and he otherwise doesn't seem skeevy - I don't want to say no. They have hard jobs and don't need unnecessary suspicion.

We don't need more advice on what to fear. Indian women are taught from birth to fear men they are not related to. I spent much of the last few years trying to unlearn fear. The Gift of Fear was an eye-opener for me. De Becker points out that our constant fear dulls our instincts (and also makes our lives less joyful). We need to learn to trust our instincts, and to learn to say no when something feels wrong. If the courier guy acts creepy, if something seems off, definitely don't let him in. But being suspicious of every courier guy is not the answer.

When I was barely a teenager and used to take public buses to school, I'd get molested and harassed every day. It was traumatic for a naïve kid who was already low on self esteem. But I never told my parents, because I was afraid their answer would be to not let me go out alone.

Remember your Atwood. There are two kinds of freedom: freedom from and freedom to. I want freedom from harassment and assault, but I've fought hard for my freedom to live as I want, and I'm damned if I'm letting that go.

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