Date: August 6
Time: Late evening
Venue: Brigade and MG Road, four specific sites, culminating in a "men's area" outside the booze shop on Residency Road.
Modus Operandi: Participants to show up wearing outfits they wouldn't have dared to otherwise wear on the street. Not just the clothes, but also the attitude and all the paraphenalia: for instance if you're the kind who always looks down when you're on a busy street and avoids eye contact, now you might want to walk with shoulders thrown back and wear shiny "enticing" clothes, dark lipstick...
Intention: To explore the street as a site for negotiating different realities, to explore facets of your public persona you might not have, had you been alone. Confronting the male gaze aggressively, appropriating venues that have been male domains (such as the Brigade Road railings) for ogling women and generally hanging out on the streets and not scurrying by with our heads down and performing a series of quick manoeuvers to get out of the way.
We met briefly at Mota Arcade to discuss the sites where we would reassemble, decided on one near the ice cream parlour on M G Road and then dispersed. Phones would be ignored, we would try not to acknowledge each other unless we were recovening. The brief was just to get comfortable on the street, return and challenge the male gaze that we agreed we were always avoiding and to find comfortable spots to settle into rather than occupy spaces in and around those occupied by men.
Also, whilst standing, not look embarrased like you're waiting for someone (fiddling with your cellphone, being "busy") but just... standing. And staring.
People were asked to role play. So if your role for the evening was High Class Hooker, you would stand around not just staring back at people who made eye contact but also, perhaps, suggestively, enticingly. This was to explore how a street could be a different place of negotiation for different kinds of women and how men's overtures (so to speak) could be interpreted so differently across strata. This was a chance to cross over from one vantage point of the street to another end of the spectrum through a role play - surely an important part of understanding the street as a site for various power assertions and interactions.
In the beginning, six girls (and two men documenting) standing around staring back on M G Road didn't get too much attention; some men looked embarrassed to being subjected to a frank female gaze and bent their heads or looked away immediately. But when men were already staring and we returned the stare, it didn't take long for some to slow down and hover around.
One group of men kept walking by, winking and making suggestive gestures, till they decided to park themselves near us. We moved so that we were on all four sides of them, staring at them, till they started looking a little uncomfortable and then the two boys handed them BNP pamphlets. The encircling men and looking back thing worked really well, and perhaps we should have pushed it harder right from the start. (it's the bunch around the boy with the blue wrist band FYI)
When we moved to Brigade Road, more fliers were handed out, and, as Chitra pointed out we had to make sure we weren't initiating contact as much responding brazenly to a leer.
Someone reached out to grab one of us at the base of Brigade Road (and, no, she wasn't wearing anything "Western" or provocative) so we followed him to where he was headed - a few minutes away and silently handed him a flier. He took forever to read it and then claimed he didn't need and got on the defensive but we told him to keep it with him and keep looking back at it.
Our final stop was outside the booze shop where we could practise the encircling-the offensive-starer again. This time we were more in tune with each other's discomforts and the man and his friends soon disappeared inside the (safe male domain?!) liquor shop but Laura and Ratna followed him in and the rest of us went in a few moments later. They handed him some pamphlets.
This also brought us to what it would be like exploring places traditionally considered male preserves... like that arrack shop for instance. Not to prove a point "we can be here too with these charming, mostly drunk, men", but more as an exploration of gendered spaces.
Here's gender transformer Diane Torr for those who're interested. She'd come by to a Delhi BNP meet and did a workshop with NSD students who dressed in drag and then entered zones often dominated by men (Palika Bazaar late evening, pub etc) and discovered the difference gender can make to your negotiation of a public space.
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This is a very interesting initiative. Though I consider myself a confident woman, but behave amazingly helpless in some situations mainly because I don't consider it worth my energy or attention. Reading about this intervention gives me more confidence and better ways to tackle the stares or other forms of eve teasing and shift the dynamics thus. Thanks!
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