I was 12 years old. Wide-eyed and dirty-socked. When you're 12, your life's ambitions are mainly about having long hair and long nails. But, since fingernails were my second favourite food group, only surpassed by pen-caps, a ponytail was my World Cup. And finally, at 12 years old, my mother allowed me to grow my hair long enough to tie into a ragged little ponytail that, frankly, made me look like Woodstock from Peanut. But, don't tell 12-year-old me that. She thought I was a Rapunzel in the making.
I still remember that day. It was my first public bus ride. Our kho-kho team had boarded a PTC bus on our way to the Zonals. I got in the bus, super-proud of my ponytail and Number 3 T-shirt. Number 3 meant you were among the first three runners sent into the field. The avant garde of the kho-kho battlefield. I sat down on a seat next to T-shirt Number 6 and we excitedly sang the theme song to Captain Planet as the bus moved.
Every time, those faces flash in front of me, I imagine a superhero-esque scene where I punch them, kick them in the nuts and yank their hair.
Two guys from a local college sat behind us giggling and whispering. Around the time we got to round three of "We're the planeteers and you can be..." *YANK* One of the boys tugged at my ponytail. My immaculately tied, shoeflower-shaped ponytail.
He had tugged me into a sudden awareness that I'd never had before. Immediately, I edged forward in my seat. I didn't even look back. How could I? It was my fault. I shouldn't have been singing so loud on a public bus, attracting attention. And letting my hair peek out of the LoC of the back of my seat. What did I expect? Number 6 and I sat quietly and did nothing.
I was 15. In a hijab, full-sleeved T-shirt and jeans. I was at the movies. At the popcorn stand, a middle-aged man grabbed my crotch while passing me. I was shocked, sickened and violated. My first instinct? I pulled my cousin away from him so he wouldn't try anything on her. Other than that, I did nothing. I was wearing jeans. Does wearing a hijab matter if your clothes are "Western"? Probably not.
I was 17. Blue cotton salwar-kameez, and chiffon dupatta covering my chest. A white custom-tailored scarf covering my head. I was on a train, asleep in a third-class compartment. Sixteen members of my family were on the same train, scattered around the carriage. I awoke feeling something.
He couldn't have.
I stayed awake, too scared to breathe aloud. Fifteen excruciating minutes later, I felt it again. A hand from the berth above me reached below and groped my breasts. I pushed the stranger's hand away, two almost-hushed words of profanity escaping my lips. I got up, walked away and sat at the foot of my mother's side-birth until she woke up the next morning. I shouldn't have slept with my hands behind my head in what my cousin called the "Baywatch pose". My fault. Again, I did nothing.
19 years old. I heard my neighbour yell at his girlfriend. I heard she showed up with bruises to college the next day. I did nothing.
24 years old. Groped in a moving auto. It was all too fast. Did nothing. I no longer sit at the edge now.
25 years old. Groped in a cab. Did nothing. I should have. Oh God, I totally should've slapped that guy. I spent the rest of the day fantasising about the profanities I could've hurled at him.
That's it! Enough of not doing anything.
It sucks that you just wanna have a conversation with a girl and she's maintaining one-arm-distance from you like you're a Zombie Leper... But, tumhara discomfort, meri discomfort se safed kaise?
Every time, I got a little angrier. A little more determined that I would DO SOMETHING the next time. Every time, those faces flash in front of me, I imagine a superhero-esque scene where I punch them, kick them in the nuts and yank their hair.
26. My boyfriend's friend got a little too close to me. I have extreme personal space issues. I told my boyfriend that his friend was kinda getting handsy. My boyfriend laughed. What did I expect, I didn't say NO loud enough did I? If I was really uncomfortable, I should've been more serious about it.
OK. Sofie. Next time. YOU do something.
27. My boss—who treats me like his daughter—had a habit of touching my neck. I didn't like it. Finally I did something. I told him it makes me uncomfortable.
"Chill out, Sofie!" my teammates chided, embarrassed.
"He doesn't mean it that way," they tried to explain.
"You've made things really awkward now," they pointed out.
But, what about the fact that he made ME uncomfortable?
Was I overreacting?
OK. Maybe I was.
28. I began sleeping with a frying pan under my pillow in case my boyfriend came home drunk and decided to force himself on me, again. I did get a resounding whack in once. It didn't make me feel good. "That was un...called f-for," he whined, drunk. I felt so bad. I tried to comfort him.
What had I turned into?
Next time, maybe I need to draw the line between people who mean me harm and the ones who "don't mean it that way."
29. My friend decided that the way he shows love is to slap me. "Men don't slap women," I told him. We had our first fight in five years.
Did I really think he was no better than a domestic-abuser?
How could I?
He did it out of love.
If I wanted it to stop, I just had to say it nicely.
This isn't your YouTube channel. Stop making everything into a Sista From The South video.
If you just stopped being so angry all the time and said things nicely, men will listen. We're not the enemy.
He's a friend, for god's sake.
Ha ha. He's just playing.
Well, if you wanted him to stop, you should've been more firm.
How could you let him get away with it.
You're a strong, independent woman and you didn't have the guts to slap that asshole?
It's your body. Your choice. Your right to personal space. How can you not understand that?
Just say "no". Loud and clear. How tough is that to remember? A simple NO.
Umm... babe, calm your tits. It's just a hug.
He doesn't see you that way. Stop complimenting yourself.
No means no.
Take a stand.
Do it nicely.
I get it. It sucks having to pay for the crimes of your gender. It sucks that you just wanna have a conversation with a girl and she's maintaining one-arm-distance from you like you're a Zombie Leper. That's unfair to you and quite annoying. But, tumhara discomfort, meri discomfort se safed kaise? Stop asking me to be nice about it if you're violating my personal or emotional space. Because, what you're doing is telling T-shirt Number 3 to sit at the edge of her seat and just ignore those guys. You're asking a shocked and confused 15 year old with popcorn in her hand to not make a scene. I tried being nice about it and nobody took me seriously. Now, I'm done doing nothing!
30 year old