JULIET FLAM-ROSS | 1 FEBRUARY, 2018
My Body, My Voice, My Choice
With my voice, I am refusing to stay silent about these issues
I got a lot of puzzled looks as I walked down the street in Munnar, Kerala carrying a bamboo stick three times the size of my body. People probably wondered, “will she try to carry that back to wherever she came from? Such a strange souvenir.” The truth is, I was hanging some clothing to dry on the balcony of my hotel while backpacking and they had fallen onto the roof below, so I needed something to retrieve them. And when I returned to my hotel my temporary male travel mate, a smart guy with two masters degrees and a well-paying job already under his belt, looked at me in awe. He wanted to know first, how I found the stick and second, how I thought of this idea. For me the answers were easy and the same, because I’m a woman.
And he probably brushed off this response as part of my radical feminist ideology, maybe even part of my man-hating radical feminist ideology. And recently my male flat-mate asked me why I always lock the door to my room- do I not trust him? Am I scared he will steal my things?
When I was in Hampi, Karnataka, a met a man traveling alone. He told me that when he was traveling, he met a local who asked him to come over for chai. And despite his saying no, the man insisted and he want. The traveler told me how much he learned and how the chai was the best chai he’d ever had; he said it was an amazing experience. I told him that sounded amazing and I wish I could do things like that. He looked at me, puzzled. “Why can’t you do that?” He asked me. Because I’m a woman.
And he told me that it’s not that I can’t. It’s that I’m making the choice not to. He told me that I can’t necessarily say it’s more dangerous for me. My male flat-mate told me this too. So did a man I met in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. So did a biker who had biked all the way from Spain to India; why couldn’t I do it too?
Why do I keep having this same conversation with men when it makes me so angry?
“You could do it too!” No. It’s because last year almost a lakh women in Haryana reported being sexually assaulted. A low-ball estimate – most would agree.
“Why couldn’t you have said yes to the invitation for tea?” It’s because in a sample of the sparse reported cases in Haryana over the last year: two men came into the house of a married woman and gang-raped her, a ten year-old had a stick forced into her vagina by a neighbor, a twenty-three year-old was abducted, violently raped, and thrown into the road. As a man, you can’t know what it feels like, ever, to have these atrocities as possibilities, as things that could happen to you. We can never explain, the multiplicity of risk that a woman faces, over a man. My body, my voice, my choice.
With my body, I am measuring risk. I am weighing on a scale the possibilities of being attacked, raped, killed, or worse if I walk down the block from my hostel to buy some cough drops. I am measuring the intersection of my identity with my risk: I am white, I am small, I come from a middle-class family, I am cis-gender, I’m well-educated.
With my voice, I am refusing to stay silent about these issues. At the end of the day, I want to come back to a community that respects my choices and the way I weigh my risks. I want them to know that while, “a woman can do anything a man can, except with high heels too,” it is our choice because the odds are stacked against us in an authentically terrifying way that they will never be stacked against a male counterpart. Until I am never again asked why I can’t do the same things as men, until I am never again told that the risk for women is over-exaggerated, I am not done speaking.
With my choice, I am going to decide what I feel comfortable doing. Suzy will decide what she feels comfortable doing and Driti will do the same. We have different identities and minds. We all deserve the same community care and respect.