A lot has been said in the blog world in the past couple of weeks on the matter of sexual harassment in the name of the Blank Noise Project. I have already written one post on the same. However, there are a few more points that I would like to make on the matter, and hence this second post. Many people may disagree with what I have to say here, and the comments section is for exactly such feelings.
The first point that I’d like to make is regarding what exactly constitutes ‘sexual harassment’. Surely, pinching someone’s breast without their consent, or grabbing their ass, or even brushing yourself against them are all forms of sexual harassment. So too would be acts like rape, child abuse, etc. There isn’t much scope for debate here. But what about something like vulgar and foul speech? What about staring? Are such acts also sexual offences? Are they punishable?
According to the Indian Penal Code, they are. Here is one of the relevant sections:
“509. Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman
Whoever, intending to insult the modesty of any woman, utters any word, makes any sound or gesture, or exhibits any object, intending that such word or sound shall be heard, or that such gesture or object shall be seen, by such woman, or intrudes upon the privacy of such woman, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.”
I am not sure I agree with that. I am a libertarian. I believe in the right to free speech. I believe in an individual’s right to say what he or she so pleases. If the listener does not like it, they can choose to close their ears, ignore it, walk away or even retort back, depending on the situation and the persons involved. I believe in an individual’s right to make whatever gestures he or she wants. If the viewer does not like them, they can turn away, shut their eyes, ignore the gestures or even gesture back. How is my speaking or gesturing in public “intruding the privacy” of anyone?
“Sticks and stones,” as they say, “may break my bones; but words will never hurt me.”
What about staring? Is this an offence? Isn’t anything that is out in public view ‘open season’? Once again, my libertarian principles are ruffled when someone starts to cry murder over someone else staring at them. What harm exactly is someone staring at you doing?
Sure, neither of the above two acts are very nice or speak of the perpetrators in the best possible light, but I don’t see how they are punishable offences. They are merely forms of social etiquette that one expects everyone else to follow, but you cannot slap anyone on the wrist for the breaking these social rules.
My second bone of contention is that women often seek to be treated more than just equal with men. I think this statement needs a little clarification. When I am sitting in a bus, I believe that the manner in which I sit on my seat should not in any way be affected by whether the person sitting next to me is male or female. In other words, what is considered an appropriate ‘distance’ between me and another guy should also be appropriate between me and another girl. I do not wish to go rubbing myself against some guy sitting next to me and neither do I wish to do so against a girl, but I refuse to cow into my corner of the seat just because my co-passenger is some prudish, ‘feminist’ female who thinks all men are perverts! Similarly, if I’m walking down the street and a man is walking toward me, I will look at him. Often quite carefully. However, my looking at a girl in a similar fashion is immediately construed as being crass and vulgar. And to this I object.
I know that all of this may seem a bit unfair toward women, but it stands in the name of equality. Anyone crying for equal rights must be willing to take them with a pinch of salt.