It is another humid day in the season of romance and thunder. You imagine a cozy cup of coffee in your hands on a rooftop terrace with a cloudy view. After weeks and weeks of increasing screen time and days colored with anxiety, you decide that today is the day you dress up, go out and romanticize your life, even for a day. You take out a loose t-shirt and a pair of shorts, just wanting to wear something that would not stick to your skin and, you leave the house carrying a spark of hope in your eyes. But, with every step, the clouds of dread start overcasting the sparks you left your house with. Your peripheral vision makes you constantly think that maybe comfort was a bad idea. You go through your bag to feel the tiny bottle of pepper spray in your hand. You take a deep breath but, the air is filled with the smell of the male gaze and, you say to yourself, “When can I carry my body with me and not think of it as a threat.” You try to remember the time when your legs stopped being legs but instead became a distraction. What hour, day, month, or year did the shift happen? How to separate sugar from water?
You finally arrive at the cafe and order a cappuccino. You look at the sunset from the rooftop terrace and, thinking about the ways you could escape the eyes on your way back. You remember your friends who are “used to it”. When will you adapt to the discomfort of the male gaze? The sun has set. You look at the table which holds the cup of cappuccino for you. You pick it up and realize it is not warm anymore. You take a sip, gulp the coffee down, and the emotions that were stuck to your throat with it. You decide that you cannot take another sip of disappointment today and you leave.
Is this simply my story, or is it yours and hers too?
There is a conventional belief, that says, the attire of a person plays an important role in the way he or she is perceived. But the fact is this belief is mostly popularised and targeted at women, cannot be refuted. Over the years, I have realized that, no matter what a woman wears, there will be judgments.
But the fatuous link between clothing and the character of women is consolidated by the patriarchy. It is imbibed in the minds of girls as well as boys at a very young age. School-going girls are prepared to cover up their bodies. These make-believe imputations, such as deeming skirts above knee length as “inappropriate” not only give a negative message to the girls about their bodies but also indoctrinates their bodies as an “object” or a “distraction” in the minds of young boys.
There is no panacea to change the mentality of these institutions in one night. But what we can do is motivate young girls to be comfortable without feeling guilty and teach young boys the means to provide that space of comfort through respect and empathy. When it comes to clothes and comfort, both boys and girls should be able to prioritize comfort. Putting a certain restriction on girls on what they can and can not wear can lead to negative feelings in regards to their sense of security even around their family members. It is one thing to make girls aware of the danger that prevails in society for them, another to make them uncomfortable in their skin. Parents should take a proper and cautious approach while teaching them about their safety, keeping in mind not to overstep their boundaries. They should have a chance to create their place in this world. It can not be done if the world is shown to them in a bad light.
Similarly, awareness is not just limited to parents raising daughters. Parents raising a boy should focus more on how to teach their sons' empathy. Empathy can only be acquainted, by making them aware of the primary issues of the world. However, it should be accomplished, keeping in mind that they are still young kids. Both girls and boys should be provided a safe space to express their emotions. Teaching young boys not to cry because they are boys, is bad for their mental as well as physical health. Asking them to “man up” can lead them to, never being able to express themselves. This leads to emotional suppression that hinders their emotional maturity. Crying is never a feminine concept. Sobbing is a healthy release of emotions. Sobbing should be considered a symbol of emotional strength, not emotional weakness. Emotions, like respect, should be taught to them from an early age. There is a certain degree of correlation between respect and consent. Kids who have been taught to respect the people around them irrespective of a situation do not have a hard time grasping the concept of consent. Because consent means appreciation of choice. Respect travels a long way. It makes the world a more lovable and livable place. Male gaze originates from a certain degree of disrespect. Not respecting their choice of clothes and sexualization of their bodies is something that is perceived by young boys from their surroundings. Family, school, society, media, all, contribute to the gaze one holds. It is time to start creating a surrounding where a child not only learns how to respect but also learns to identify toxic and disrespectful behaviors. Perhaps, the next time when you sit on a rooftop terrace, you will taste the comfort of a warm cappuccino instead of the discomfort of the male gaze.
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