As often happens to women in public transport, the man brushes past me as he rushes to the front of the bus. Someone decides to act on my behalf and grabs the guy and slaps him. Other passengers get involved and there’s a free for all. The bus comes to a halt. It’s not my stop. But I get off anyway.
The incident happened decades ago, but remains imprinted in my mind because I am still ambivalent about it. A huge part of me was grateful that Delhi’s infamous public apathy was nowhere on display that day. But part of me remains uncomfortable about a man fighting what should have been my fight.
I had not objected because I was not sure that the contact had been sexual or whether it was just another man being unmindful of a woman’s personal boundaries. To see the violence unfold was disconcerting; none of my “rescuers” had asked for my version.
There’s a third question that cropped up when I saw Will Smith slap Chris Rock on stage at the Oscars after the comedian made an utterly tasteless joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. How does a woman register her protest in the public space?
Most women are brought up to not “make a scene”. Jada’s eye roll (while her husband laughs) at the dig about her medical condition speaks volumes. Would she have walked up and smacked Rock? Would her husband have remained seated had he not noticed his wife’s unease? What does she think now that her husband has ensured she’s on headlines across the world? Her Instagram message: “This is a season for healing and I’m here for it,” sheds no light.
For some, Will Smith is a hero. Yes, they condemn the violence but much of the narrative includes praise for standing up for “his woman”.
For women who continue to fight for equal agency, there is something primitive about this modern version of throwing down the gauntlet. We do not need more violence in a world where one woman in three globally is subject to domestic abuse. And we certainly do not need a contemporary version of pistols drawn at dawn, to redeem our lost “honour”, an honour that is linked with male identity and ego.
Are we vulnerable in public spaces? The answer is a no-brainer. The excoriation of Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first black woman to be nominated as a United States (US) Supreme Court judge, in the name of confirmation hearings, tells you just how much. Through it all, Jackson has kept her composure, too smart to rise to the provocation.
“Love will make you do crazy things,” Smith said while accepting his award for best actor. We don’t need crazy. We’ve lived with crazy for too long.
The time has come to say to men: We will fight our own battles. If you’re an ally, support us. If you’re not, get out of the way.
Namita Bhandare writes on gender
The views expressed are personal
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