Mid late august Blank Noise did a two week workshop at Srishti. The students Kinshuk, Neha, Tanvee. Prerna. Piyush. Pooja. Shrikar worked on a number of projects, one of which involved smiling in public. The Action Heroes team went to Majestic Bus Stand and walked about individually with a smile on their face. Why smile?
“what would it be like if everyone on the street smiled?”
Would the experience of being in public amidst ‘strangers’ be less threatening? How would a smile be interpreted? How does a smile affect the dynamics between strangers in a context where it is not normal to smile, it is normal to be stared at if you are female, that too from a socio economic background which isn’t the represented group in that public. ( majestic bus stand) It isn’t even seen as normal for women to make eye contact here! The group made eye contact and smiled. Are there 'ways of smiling' as there are 'ways of looking'? Does the smile have a tone?
The male action heroes (Kinshuk, Shrikar, Piyush) smiled too. How was their smile interpreted? How did women respond to them smiling? How did other men respond? These were some of our questions. Here’s what the new Action Heroes have to say about it.
important : read with a smile
Some people were really surprised and amused when they saw me
smiling continuously. When I smiled at people only when I smiled at people only when they were closer to me,it made them conscious. If i just stood in their way and smiled at them,they suddenly deviated from their way. After sometime people also reciprocated smiles. Most of the women walk with their gaze fixed to the ground,and also
they ignore until necessary. Maybe, the fear of exceeding or challenging boundaries of private spaces into public spaces stops people from smiling at each other. What if from childhood , we are conditioned to smile at every stranger,rather than being on our guard.
It was interesting how most people looked away specially the women while the men seemed more curious as to why we were smiling at everybody. Some of them at first acknowledged the smile, but, when smiled at again did not seem to like it as they seemed to have thought of us being up to something. Also, it was more accepted by people if we smiled at them individually whereas if there were too many of us smiling at them then they simply wondered why and looked away or walked away. All this comes back once again to the point where we see in human nature, that everybody at all times is looking for reason. Why is it that we have to have a reason for everything we do ?
Madam, kitna charge karega?” ( "how much will you charge?")
This is was my first experience of being mistaken for a sex worker and being approached outright at a bus stop. Was I leering? Was I ‘sexily’ dressed? Did I wink and gesture lewdly? No, all did was smile.
Maybe I didn’t smile at only the people I knew. Maybe I did make eye contact with a person to make the smile on my face evident. Are these things ‘wrong’?
Did I then, ask to be followed and be categorized as someone ready to be picked up from the street?
Smiling at the bus stop invoked responses of various kinds- from shock, to surprise to mostly, thrill and delight in a man’s face. It was observed that women looked away and ignored the smile, that I made evident, was for them, altogether. Along with socio-cultural and economic aspects of a response to a smile, I concluded a connection to geographic location .Also, young boys from the North Eastern part of the country, seemed to respond in a way that was far more open than a young man from any other part of the nation.
What were the intonations of the kind of smile I was giving?
When is a smile threatening?
How could I use a smile as a defense mechanism?
There were also questions of the definitions of ‘shady’, ‘creepy’ and ‘slutty’ smiles that I dealt with.
Although all these will always remain unanswered, a project like this took smiling from a casual body-lingual sign and magnified it to emphasize the deep rooted connotations of small gestures in our behavior, we often ignore or take for granted.
Men were the easiest to make eye contact with.They mostly walk making eye contact with people in general so intentionally making it is not so hard. They reacted in different ways to the smiling. Some returned it. Some were a bit off-footed and just walked on by or stared. Some unfortunately got quite excited by this gesture and followed me around. Out of some 5 pursuers, only two were threatening in anyway and one only because he was wearing a mask. What was interesting was that the curious ones asked me questions, which according to plan we were not allowed to answer – so in french because they so avidly believed i was not from this country. Which on hindsight made me think that maybe they thought smiling was a cultural thing.
One man almost thought I was going to start a conversation and opened his mouth to speak. Smile is the beginning or an end of a conversation not the conversation itself?
I smiled, they smiled, I smiled some more, they smiled some more- I broadened their smile, that’s when most men shied away.
I broke into a smile- they did too.
Then, there were those who took the effort to uncover their mouths and face the deadly swine flu virus, only to smile at me.
Ah! The gaze, I experimented with- a hard stare, a constant eye contact, a soft eye contact not prolonged with my eyes finding themselves back to the open air within seconds. Each made a difference.
That persistent smile, not once, twice but thrice! Follow me- is that what I said?
He made eye contact as I moved up and down, I smiled, but then it was more than that smile, “the conversation was being given a direction”, I thought as his thumb stuck to point at himself.
Women were a different story, with their gaze so low or their blinks so fast. There were instances where they were smiling and my smile just brought an end to theirs.
That suspicion glaring as their lips tightened into a straight line.
The odd couple I smiled at, who were already red with all the flirting and intimacy stopped dead in their tracks, my smile was misinterpreted!
Shrikar Marur:It was a failed mission in my case as every time I walked past a person and tried even before I could initiate a smile, he/she would just look away, not in an attempt to avoid eye contact but a natural reaction most people tend to have.
Saumitra: Women were not even looking at me they used to either ignore me or they used to look away if i could make an eye contact. Many men thought that i know them or they know me and hence i am smiling at them
More from them here:
Sept 4 to 11th witnessed several Action Heroes change their facebook profile photo and status update messages.
The list below is a compilation of facebook status messages. The event asked participants to be Action Heroes by changing their profile photo to any of the ones shared here and their status message to a statement that questions the premise "she asks for it" .
Add in yours and or send us what you found on your friends status message.
For those of you who missed it you can catch up right here.
Action Heroes and their status message:
Tanvee.Rujuta Nabar.Vaidya- I'm a very loud person and often end up drawing attention to myself in public because in my madness. I NEVER ASK FOR IT
Pooja Gupta - "What is his problem? Can't he see that i am not interested ?"
Pooja Gupta- "Why can i not loiter on the street without reason ?"
Jasmeen Patheja-" is an unapologetic hot hudgi. I never ask for it."
Kinshuk Surjan - " I stared at a girl today. Am I an eve teaser ? "
Apoorva Bhandari- " No matter what time of the day or night I am out , I NEVER 'ASK FOR IT'
Annie Zaidi- Nobody goes 'asking for it'.
Apurva Mathad- I saw someone being whistled at near the Sony world junction. She did not seem to like it..
Mina Hussain- wears what she likes to the bazaar. I never ask for it.
What did you say on facebook ? Tell us QUICK!
The facebook event was designed by Tanvee Nabar and Pooja Gupta. The sign Hot Hudgi Here has been created by Neha Bhat. Blank Noise did a 2 week workshop with the team and this work emerged from this process. Tanvee and Pooja continued to work with Blank Noise after the 2 week workshop; hence the event!
Here's what Tanvee and Pooja have to say:
The basic idea was to spread the idea of ' I NEVER ASKED FOR IT'.
The reason for using Facebook is mainly because we noticed that there is a disconnect between a blog or a website and people who are not 'looking' for this blog or website. Whereas with Facebook, we are sure that people will see the message.
The question was - "How can we get lay-people (people not having an active interest already), both men and women, to engage with this idea of 'not asking for it' in particular and Street Sexual Harassment in general?"
The reason we picked this was because we were both surprised by the extent to which we have ourselves internalized ways to be safe and thought that safety should not be a negotiated circumstance.
Pooja felt that that this requirement for women to internalize or be blamed for the ‘consequences’ worried her.
Tanvee felt that she wanted to concentrate on not street sexual harassment but the attitude that it was received with, which often led to blaming the woman.
So we felt that through this concept of ‘I never ask for it’ we could introduce to a public this view point of it not being the woman’s fault.
The answer was - Facebook. A popular social networking site that thousands use every day.
What interested us in particular was STATUS MESSAGES and how Facebook 'friends' can comment or 'like' your status message and how this could be harnessed for public debate.
It may bring different friends, who don’t already know each other in contact, creating an awareness of the universality of these problems.
We see it as a neutral space for public debate and not a male-bashing event.
HOT HUDGI HERE was created by Neha Bhat. Tanvee and Pooja appropriated it for the facebook event by creating variations of the same such as ; HOT PATAKA HERE, HOT ITUM HERE, HOT MAAL HERE etc.
Here's what Neha Bhat has to say:
The sign is a reaction to a recent case of violence against women in the city of Bangalore, which I had a close encounter with.
A group of drunk men forcibly entered a house occupied by young, college-going girls and boys in the late hours of night and demanded, “ Hudgi, Hudgi, yelli?”, in kannada,or ‘Girl! Girl, where is girl?” in their drunken stupor. Physical violence towards whoever the men encountered there followed and ended, only when some helpful neighbors physically intervened.
To mark the site of this type for violence and harassment against women, what if the sign ‘Hot Hudgi Here’ was blown up to a size of around ten feet and installed there?
Another idea would be to make every woman on a particular street wear a T shirt with the Hot Hudgi sign printed on it. Everyone woman on the street would declare that she was ‘hot’.
This type of a methodology inverts the nature of the victim, by saying, “Yes, I’m hot. Here, I tell you I’m hot. I invite you to look at me. Now what?”
Hello Blank Noise!
Be an Action Hero.
*now on facebook
Women get blamed and they often blame themselves for the street sexual harassment/ violence or 'eve teasing' that they experience.
But we unapologetic-ally believe :
No matter what I’m wearing, I NEVER 'ASK FOR IT'.
No matter what my body type or size is, I NEVER 'ASK FOR IT'.
No matter where I am, I NEVER 'ASK FOR IT'.
No matter when I am out, I NEVER 'ASK FOR IT'.
No matter the fact that I was alone, I NEVER 'ASK FOR IT'.
No matter what language I’m using or my skin colour, I NEVER 'ASK FOR IT'.
Street sexual harassment, violence, or eve teasing is an unwanted experience that I dont 'deserve' because of who I am. Now it's your turn to be an Action Hero. How do you think you NEVER ASK FOR IT? Add your thoughts to this message and share with 20 friends (male and female)
Interested in the cause? Visit *http://www.facebook.com/photo
eg: " your message. I never ask for it "
starting Sept 4th until Sept 11th
It only takes 5 minutes of your time to take a stand! Do it today!
You can also pitch in by sending this message to your friends.
Blank Noise Team
project conceived by Tanvee Nabar/ Pooja Gupta image credit: Neha Bhat
thanks to Prerna Bishnoi, Piyush Kashyap, Kinshuk Surjan, Shrikar Marur, Saumitra Chandratreya