Photo courtesy Reuters
Hey, MAN! Yup you. Got a minute? Because I would like to talk to you. Yup, to you.
Because you whistled out a love song in my honour from your guard-post on Bauddhaloka Mawatha as I was hopping out of a tuk-tuk to get into work this morning. You were on duty. You and I are not in love. And you can’t hold a tune if your life depended on it.
And so I am curious as to why you did it. Did the tune spring out from your lips and into your pants and give you the rise that eluded you earlier this morning? Did it score you points with your chums at the post? Did it make you feel good? Strong? Manly?
Did it make you feel like a MAN?
Are you curious about how it made me feel? Well it didn’t make me feel too good to be honest. I felt small. I felt a knot of anger hurting my insides. I felt self-conscious, and so I focussed intently on looking left, right and then left again before crossing the road.
There. Does knowing that make you feel even better? More stronger? More manly?
Does it make you feel more like a MAN?
It doesn’t always make me feel small you know. Like late December buying string hoppers for dinner from Hotel Sealord I looked across just in time to see you put your ample tongue in and out and around your mouth slapping saliva about before mouthing an unmentionable in my honour. On that day the knot of anger uncoiled and spoke up. In fluent ‘Captain of the Sinhala debate team at school’ Sinhala I asked you a) to repeat yourself; b) whether you had similar thoughts about your sister and c) whether you’d like to speak about it with my brother who was parked outside. On that day you were the one that felt small and self-conscious. You picked up your helmet and walked out quickly, as if you were choosing to be the bigger person.
MAN that you are.
On that day, I felt good.
The thing is I don’t always fight back. It depends on the time of day and place. Who I am with. Who you are with. Sometimes the Feminist just can’t let it pass, and so I confront it and take a hit for the greater cause. Sometimes the working mother who was up at 4.30am is just too tired, and I so walk past it pretending I didn’t hear, see or feel you.
Some of you are chivalrous and kind to me. Like you, my tuk-tuk driver. You’ve driven me about for years. You’ve had near fisticuffs on one occasion in defence of my honour. And yet I sit and watch as you drive me about, how your eyes leer at every other woman wearing anything above her knees and how you swerve into them so they won’t miss the leer in your eyes. You would never do that to me. You know me. Like you would never do that to your mother, sister, wife or daughter. In fact you’d probably beat-up any man who does. But the unknown woman. She is easy isn’t she? Easy on your conscience that is.
I am raising a son you know. But wait a minute, you already know that. Because last week, as I was straining my neck to find him in the swarm of little boys at the school gate, you stretched out and firmed out your hand and laid your fingers splayed across my sari-clad thigh. This, while your wife was trying valiantly to hold onto your son’s hand to keep him from running onto the open road crammed with manic school vans.
Anyway, back to my son. I am doing my best to teach him to respect women. The ones he knows and the ones he doesn’t. The ones that will speak out and the ones that will keep their heads down. In time I will teach him that there are many ways to harass, abuse and violate, and that it starts and ends when he uses his body, his voice and his mind to make someone feel less than she or he is. I will do everything in my power to raise him to be a man.