How India Made Me A Feminist

As a woman, I have been the butt of jokes and derogatory comments on many an occasion; I have been belittled and objectified. As a result, I have been made angry; I have spoken out against the behaviour that caused this; I have planted two feet firmly on the ground and argued my right to be treated with respect and dignity, an equal to any other.

And yet, nothing made me a feminist quite like India did.

It started with the staring. Then there were the photographs, the leery comments and gestures and the inappropriate touching. There were the men who followed me, went out of their way to make me feel uncomfortable, and even scared me when they didn’t get their own way. Every day I was openly treated as inferior. Every day I grew angrier.

I was told stories of harassment by other female travellers which horrified me: one woman was threatened by her driver that he would leave her stranded in the middle of nowhere if she objected to being groped, while another had a group of men attempt to open her hotel door in the middle of the night. Another was spat at for no reason – presumably just for being present?

All of this went on to the backdrop of a terrifying story which hit the news on 16th December 2012 – the gang rape and murder of a woman in Delhi, which sparked protests in the capital and made international headlines. My blood boiled when about three weeks later I read in a newspaper that the rapists were to plead Not Guilty on the basis that a “respected lady” would not be raped.

In a country where my very appearance set me apart from everyone else and attracted unwanted attention, it also gave me a sort of protection. I embraced it and felt slightly emboldened. Enough, at least, to continue to travel on my own. But yes, I was scared, and in a country where a case of rape is reported every 20 minutes (which calls to mind all the cases which aren’t), rightly so.

India made me angry and in doing so, she opened my eyes. I cannot forget seeing an Indian woman board a local bus on her own and almost come to tears as the only available seat was next to a man she did not know. I was confused when I saw fear in her eyes. I didn’t know her story but what I could tell was that she clearly did not have the voice to speak out against whatever caused her to feel that way.

Make no mistake – for all our airs and graces in Western society, we are no different. Since I have been back in Europe, I have been subjected to the same inequality as I was in India. It is (usually) slightly more subtle, however we are constantly surrounded by it in such a way that we just don’t notice it. It’s on the TV (the most sexist show in history), on the radio (let’s start with Colbie O’Donis’  What You Got) on advertisements wherever you look (YouTube: Representations of Gender in Advertising) … women are continuously objectified, sexualised and demeaned. But the difference to that Indian woman on the bus is that I do have a voice. Past generations fought hard for me to have that voice and I am obliged to use it.

A recent incident comes to mind. Last month on the way home from work I was subjected to the disgusting comments of a man who thought it perfectly acceptable to openly discuss, leer at and embarrass every woman who got on/off the bus. I was fuming; not only because of his behaviour, but more so because of everyone else’s. It was a clear case of harassment but not a single person thought to put this man in his place. I said my piece to him before getting off the bus in disgust. Now I wish I had said more. I wish I had caused a huge scene and next time (because there will be a next time) I intend to do so.

While I have always been a feminist, I was quietly so before India. I spoke up when directly challenged but otherwise I was just another person on the bus who wouldn’t have said anything. Was it because I took my voice for granted? Was I apathetic? For some reason, I wasn’t angry enough to use it. India taught me awareness and she taught me assertiveness. For that I say Thank You, and for that woman on the bus and all the downtrodden women who do not have a voice, I will use mine.

Feminism is not a dirty word.

Feminism is not funny.

Feminism is not something to be taken lightly.

Be proud to be a feminist man or woman.

 

This post has been in the making for a long time and I felt it was finally time to write it after the recent backlash to Lena Dunham’s criticism of  Hustler’s porn parody of the HBO series Girls. Click here to read the fantastic piece Davinia Hamilton has written about it.

You may also like...

11 Responses

  1. Ciara says:

    Great! Living in Argentina´s machisto society has made me a feminist too, I never expierenced so much gender harrasment, you are told to ignore it, and there´s nothing you can do about it. If you give out to the men, they find it really amusing. It seemed like they were constantly jeering and cat calling at women to ensure the machisto way thrives.

  2. robin says:

    This is a great essay – I admit the issues in India have made me a little worried about visiting there someday. While I’m glad you had a good time, it’s great that you’re able to spread these other women’s stories.I’d like to link this piece on my blog.

    • Hannah says:

      Thank you Robin. I think you can still travel India safely but it is good to know what to expect. It isn’t easy but is a fantastic learning experience for that reason, and that’s what travelling is about after all 🙂 Please feel free to link to the post.

  3. God, I love you. You said exactly what is on my mind. I live in India and every day traveling on public transportation is pure hell. Here, men think they have a right to grope women. I have been wanting to write about this, but couldn’t find the right words to do so. Your post put the words right into my mind. Thanks!

  1. June 3, 2013

    […] (My friend Hannah has written a post on how travelling through India made her a feminist. You should definitely read it by clicking here.) […]

  2. June 3, 2013

    […] (My friend Hannah has written a post on how travelling through India made her a feminist. You should definitely read it by clicking here.) […]

  3. June 15, 2013
  4. August 4, 2013

    […] It’s not just Egypt and Malta. My South American friend spoke to me the other night about how uncomfortable she felt when a police officer made a comment about her legs as she walked home. In London, I have had men making thrusting motions in my direction on the street. In Rome, another friend had her bottom groped in public. As for sexual harassment in India, my good friend Hannah has written an excellent post on her experiences, which you can read here. […]

  5. August 4, 2013

    […] It’s not just Egypt and Malta. My South American friend spoke to me the other night about how uncomfortable she felt when a police officer made a comment about her legs as she walked home. In London, I have had men making thrusting motions in my direction on the street. In Rome, another friend had her bottom groped in public. As for sexual harassment in India, my good friend Hannah has written an excellent post on her experiences, which you can read here. […]

  6. August 23, 2013

    […] resonates so strongly with my own experience of India that she may as well have plucked the words I could not find right out of my […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *