I have never been more aware of my being a woman than when I’m surrounded by those I am not- men. As if my identity was derived from everything I did not embody. Strength, rationality, wisdom gives rise to man, and out of their absence, out of all that is left as residue to be discarded is born a woman.

I always found it profoundly fascinating how after marrying a couple the priest pronounces them ‘Man and Wife’ and not ‘Husband and Wife.’ It is almost as though the man and his spirit persist but the woman ceases to exist in her former essence. The performance of that one ritual wipes her of her womanhood, shoving her now into being identified only by the role she plays- that of a wife (and a mother) till the end of her days.

When I was 14 and just beginning to explore my options for a possible career in the future I joined a coaching institute for IIT-JEE prep. In a batch of 51, the 9 girls would stick together in one corner of the classroom while the rest of the benches were left unoccupied for the boys. No one MADE this rule and we, the girls, were by no means actively forced to sit where we didn’t want to but the threat of being watched lurks in the mind of a solo female and so we’re pushed into corners to huddle where it’s safest- among those who look like us. This also is not to be mistaken as an issue of confidence but the way rather in which we’ve been taught to behave- better not to attract attention than to risk feeling a perpetual uncomforting gaze upon you.

One day when I was returning from college last year it was late in the evening. A meeting had probably taken longer than usual to conclude and it was dark by the time I reached the metro station near my house. The stretch between my house and the metro station, though a mere 3-minute walk, is an unlit ‘dangerous’ alleyway as described by my father, filled with roadside Dhabas.

It must’ve been 8:30 in the night as I, fully covered yet fully conscious of the difference I was carrying under those covers, crossed a Dhaba with its cooks hanging outside its tiny space. The fumes from the huge tandoor entered my nose and mouth and just as I was about to cough, I gulped. It wasn’t until a few seconds later once I’d passed the restaurant that I realized how my trained female body had subconsciously (and instinctively) muffled the most natural of reactions after sensing the danger drawing attention would push me into. Now I’m sorry if you were expecting some sensational, rather terrifying narrative of eve-teasing but for a moment try to place yourself in the position of a person who felt threatened to COUGH in public lest those averted eyes potentially made her sink within.

The boys in my coaching class were mostly respectful except for the fact that they had control over the A.C. of the room we studied in and never really agreed to increase the temperature. I remember there being awkward exchanges between the genders where the girls were always too cold and couldn’t do much about it. I later found out it wasn’t just a way of asserting power by the guys or a mere difference in the preference of temperatures. “The girls’ tits would get hard and we’d look” I was told much into the future by a guy I had befriended out of class.

It is these eyes that are constantly at war with us. I say they are at war with us and not us with them because, like in this case, we are sometimes unaware even of their existence. And when we aren’t, we pick up shields and not arms. However brave and protected, through the fear we have so deeply instilled within ourselves, it is hardly ever in a woman’s nature to go back and fight a group of men. The post is by my Daughter Viveka

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