Whenever I hang out with a group of women, the topic of creepy men invariably comes up. There’s always a new incident to share about the strange old man who tried to initiate a conversation with you on the beach or the weirdo who made an unnecessary comment on that flight. These incidents are unwelcome and uncomfortable. Sometimes just mildly awkward, but often just downright inappropriate.
I know I’m generalising, but the trend amongst men sometimes tends towards entitlement. With women, it sometimes tends towards guilt, as Niki’s JOT last week reminded me. It definitely did for me at one point, overthinking brain that I have, though my guilt took a bit of a different route.
In those mildly awkward situations, if it was a man who was significantly older than me, who dressed “funny”, or who didn’t speak very good English approached me, I was likely to rebuff them, label them as a creep. But a cute, well-dressed, well-spoken boy who made the same remark? I have to admit I would probably be more flattered than creeped out.
I know what you’re thinking. That the difference is that one advance was welcome, whereas the other was not. But why? What role did class, caste, and pop culture-based notions of attractiveness play in making me react differently to the two?
This is not to say that anyone owes anyone else interest or attention; personal choice and consent are paramount. But these personal stories highlight how even things like illness or disability act as barriers to desire; we have to admit that the decision of whom we choose is far from just personal.
When #MeToo came closer to home – to India, to my university – consent, feminism, and the politics of desire took up a lot of my headspace. And let’s be honest; there’s no dearth of incidents to make you think about these things again and again. Back then, one of my professors shared an essay with me that helped me make sense of all the contradictory thoughts that I was thinking. And now I’m sharing it with you.
This is in no way a justification of male entitlement, inappropriate behaviour or violations of consent; those are and always will be unacceptable, irrespective of the social and political identity of the perpetrator. Rather, this JOT is an invitation to think more deeply about how “personal” our preferences really are.
P.S. If you have thoughts, counterarguments or incidents to share, write back and tell me?