sexual harassment

First person: Objectifying women is a form of social validation for young men. #IDidItToo

By ogling women in the street, I was learning the way of men – or so I presumed.

I was 13, the only child in a family that had just moved to Delhi. When I felt lonely, I would spend time on our balcony overlooking a busy road, across which, on another balcony, were two young men whiling away their time. Their eyes taught me my first lesson in what being a man might mean.

Day after day, I followed their gaze to seek out what they stared at, down below on the road. It was such a regular experience that I could not help but be curious. Their eyes would spot something on the road and stay fixed on it until it went out of sight.

It was apparent that they were scanning the bodies of passing girls and women with single-mindedness. But it took me time and pubescent curiosity to learn which part of those bodies the men’s eyes focused on.

Soon, the two pairs of eyes were joined by another – mine.

I did not know the men’s names, nor could I hear their voices. When they smiled at me to share appreciation for a particular woman that passed below us, I would smile back.

Despite all the lessons my family had imparted about respect and decency, the lesson those men taught was enough to convince the hormones in my 13-year-old self (at least for a while) that this was how a man should interact with unknown women. At half their age, I was as much man as them – that was what I wanted to convey.

The pleasure I sought was not in looking at faraway breasts, as much as the approval of the two men smiling back at me. I was learning the way of men, or so I presumed.

I stopped some months later, when the men moved out of the flat. I stopped also because it felt stupid. For the next few years, my family values were involved in a constant clash with peer pressure. In high school, I was appalled at sexist expletives but still laughed at misogynistic jokes and cracked several of them myself. The need for social acceptance made it hard for me to be a feminist.


For several other young men, peer pressure wins easily. This week, as the #MeToo posts reach shocking proportions as every woman we know describes her experiences of sexual harassment, more young men are recalling their own dark moments of participating in sexually laced conversations and objectifying women. Our stories share a common thread: how our lessons in sexism were rooted in the urge to feel validated as men. These discussions are important to end the phenomenon of sexual violence seeming to become normal.

Evolution

Years passed. I was 20 and a student civil engineer who worked briefly at construction sites. I was told that the labourers would not listen to me if I didn’t abuse them verbally – most slurs involved their mothers and sisters. Around the same time, my driving instructor taught me words I could use to scare away rogue cars on the road. From a way to seek social validation as a teenager, everyday sexism was now a life skill to deploy at work and on the roads.

But I had been reading a lot and started writing at 19, which helped me see the world differently. I even ran campaigns on gender and sexual respect. My best friend was a woman who helped neutralise my pubescent, all-boys-group experiences. I resisted the easy call of sexism. I could no longer laugh at misogynistic jokes.

The stories of even the most feminist men show us that we need new relationships post-adolescence to learn about sex and gender.

A friend once saw his female classmate get groped by another student, but his friends treated the episode like it was something to celebrate, an act of valour. The woman didn’t know how to react, smiling awkwardly. Another friend told me how his all-boys group has always bonded through ogling women together, sharing sexual jokes and occasionally, stalking women.

Men who have female friends are not necessarily learning better lessons. One such man described how having many female friends meant that other men constantly asked him if he ever managed to get lucky with the ladies. Running away from these conversations simply isn’t possible, so men feel they must join in or call others out – and calling it out is hard.

Our personal evolution does not mean that our personal hypocrisies have ended. They can never completely leave, given our conditioning. We may never have actually assaulted a woman, but our relationships are often lined up with actions and thoughts that are incongruous with our publicly stated ideologies. The best we can do is to be aware of them, own up and change. No #MeToo post by a woman is complete without a man who writes #IDidItToo. This time, not for pride or valour.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

What are racers made of?

Grit, strength and oodles of fearlessness.

Sportspersons are known for their superhuman discipline, single-minded determination and the will to overcome all obstacles. Biographies, films and documentaries have brought to the fore the behind-the-scenes reality of the sporting life. Being up at the crack of dawn, training without distraction, facing injuries with a brave face and recovering to fight for victory are scenes commonly associated with sportspersons.

Racers are no different. Behind their daredevilry lies the same history of dedication and discipline. Cornering on a sports bike or revving up sand dunes requires the utmost physical endurance, and racers invest heavily in it. It helps stave off fatigue and maintain alertness and reaction time. It also helps them get the most out of their racecraft - the entirety of a racer’s skill set, to which years of training are dedicated.

Racecraft begins with something as ‘simple’ as sitting on a racing bike; the correct stance is the key to control and manoeuvre the bike. Riding on a track – tarmac or dirt is a great deal different from riding on the streets. A momentary lapse of concentration can throw the rider into a career ending crash.

Physical skill and endurance apart, racers approach a race with the same analytical rigour as a student appearing in an exam. They conduct an extensive study of not just the track, but also everything around it - trees, marshal posts, tyre marks etc. It’s these reference points that help the racer make braking or turning decisions in the frenzy of a high-stakes competition.

The inevitability of a crash is a reality every racer lives with, and seeks to internalise this during their training. In the immediate aftermath of the crash, racers are trained to keep their eyes open to help the brain make crucial decisions to avoid collision with other racers or objects on the track. Racers that meet with accidents can be seen sliding across the track with their heads held up, in a bid to minimise injuries to the head.

But racecraft is, of course, only half the story. Racing as a profession continues to confound many, and racers have been traditionally misunderstood. Why would anyone want to pour their blood, sweat and tears into something so risky? Where do racers get the fearlessness to do laps at mind boggling speed or hurtle down a hill unassisted? What about the impact of high speeds on the body day after day, or the monotony of it all? Most importantly, why do racers race? The video below explores the question.

Play


The video features racing champions from the stable of TVS Racing, the racing arm of TVS Motor Company, which recently completed 35 years of competitive racing in India. TVS Racing has competed in international rallies and races across some of the toughest terrains - Dakar, Desert Storm, India Baja, Merzouga Rally - and in innumerable national championships. Its design and engineering inputs over the years have also influenced TVS Motors’ fleet in India. You can read more about TVS Racing here.

This article has been produced by Scroll Brand Studio on behalf of TVS Racing and not by the Scroll editorial team.