Picture this. A bunch of 13-year-olds are playing a game of 'Killer' in their 'free period' when suddenly one of them interrupts and says, "Hey did you hear? Preeti has a new boyfriend." The group of girls immediately end their game and start discussing why they should no longer remain friends with Preeti. "She is such a slut ya! She always roams with boys," said one.
Growing up in a girl's school, the first time I heard the word 'slut' was from another girl. I was told, by my classmates (and none of them were boys) that if your dress length isn't the size they would approve of, you're a slut. Or, if you are friends with a boy, you're a slut. If you read Mills & Boon, you're a slut. If you have coloured your hair, you're a slut and God forbid, if you have used Yahoo messenger and spoken to a stranger in a chatroom, there's no way to get back from that apparently deep, dark dungeon of slut-hood.
Cut to college. My first ever fresher's party. And my first ever co-ed class. An excited 17-year-old me planned a week in advance on how I want to dress up. We were asked to wear sarees. My mother took out a blue chiffon from her wardrobe and suggested I wear my halter top as a blouse. She neatly turned my unruly, long hair into a bun so I could show off a little skin. "What's the point of wearing a halter if you won't show your back?" I agreed, happily. My father dropped me at the college gate. As soon as I walked in, a girl I had known for exactly two days and thought could be my best friend in college came running to me. She didn't look very pleased. "What are you wearing?" she asked in disbelief. I instantly became very self conscious and wanted to run back home. Soon, some seniors (all of them women) came to me and said that I look beautiful, but "you know the boys, no?" They suggested that I wrap the pallu around me so my back doesn't show. I did. I sat in a corner throughout the event while they danced to 'Dard-E-Disco' and 'Beedi jalaile jeegar se piya'. Meanwhile, from the corner of my eye I could see a my batch-mates laughing and whispering to each other. I knew I had turned into a 'slut'.
It never ended. Sexism or patriarchy isn't something upheld and perpetuated by a section of men. A section of women are also party to it. Long after I was done being hurt, scared and shocked by some women taking pot shots at my self worth, I gave myself time to understand that, they perhaps were conditioned to believe in a set of 'rights' and 'wrongs', what constitutes a good woman, and what doesn't. And perhaps, I had the privilege to know people who told me otherwise, who showed me there are no rules of womanhood written in stone.
In fact, even when it comes to misogyny on Twitter, a study showed that women are no better than men. The study conducted in 2014 showed that over five million negative tweets were posted about beauty and body image. Four out of five were sent by women.
Sexism or patriarchy isn't something upheld and perpetuated by a section of men. A section of women are also party to it.
So, we asked our female friends and colleagues about the times they were bullied, made to feel conscious of their body, trolled and called a slut-- by women. And, all of them had terrible memories.
Here are some of the instances that they shared (All the situations are real):
Manon, 24: I was getting ready in the locker room, when a classmate of mine looked at me, and said, "Why do you wear a bra? You barely have breasts." I was very conscious about my body anyway and her words felt like a sharp dagger.
Tapsi, 33: In the final year of my law college, we were all appearing for scholarship interviews. I got one of the most prestigious ones. I heard the girl's hostel had a rumour going on. "She got it because the professor had a crush on her." A former college professor was a part of the jury, but I got the scholarship because I managed to crack the exam.
Rohini, 28: Back in school, I was once punished for talking too much in class. A bunch of us were made to stand outside the classroom when the teacher suddenly told me, "Oh so you don't wear a slip because you want to seduce boys?" It was really embarrassing.
Chandni, 28: My editor at a news organisation once yelled at me because my bra strap was visible. She called it 'inappropriate' in a company where there are no specified rules on dressing. The irony is that they called themselves 'progressive' because the newsroom mostly comprised of women.
Debjani, 29: My friend's mother warned him from coming to my house. She told him that my house is worse than a brothel because I had been in more than one relationship.
Nidhi, 28: When I was a kid, my grandmother would ask my mother to not let me play out in the sun. "She is already so dark, she will get more tanned. It will difficult for you when she grows up," she told my mother.
Freya, 29: So while growing up I was a very no frills sort of a person. I can't exactly call myself a tomboy, but I wasn't into dressing up. I was on the college's student council and we had to wear a saree during the investiture ceremony. I found myself a rather plain one to wear. And because of thyroid issues and epilepsy meds, my hair was thinning at that time. I had a very visible bald patch. So I took great pains to cover it up by tying a teeny bun. And I just hated the whole thing. I wasn't at all happy with how I looked because my friends were all wearing sexy blouses and posing and this is when a lady professor decided to call me a maashi maa (Aunty).
Shalini, 20: My best friend once told me that my boyfriend was justified in breaking up with me because I went to a pub with a bunch of my male friends from college-- "If you drink with boys, obviously no one will stay with you," she said. It made me think if I was actually doing something wrong.
She told him that my house is worse than a brothel because I had been in more than one relationship.
Shefali, 27: Among many other instances, a female travel agent once told me I "definitely" would not get my Schengen visa approved because I was traveling with four boys to Spain, and that the consulate would "definitely" assume I was "marrying them". This is when I was 23. She then proceeded to ask me whether my parents knew I was going on this trip and whether I would be staying in the same place (read: room) as them. Needless to say, she didn't get my business and of course I got the visa.
Tamanna, 28: This neurologist I go to, and have been going to since I was about 18 for my epilepsy told my mother last year, "aapnar meye toh shei chhele chhele e roye gelo" (Your daughter still doesn't behave like a girl and is still her old boyish self.)
Rituparna, 36: From as early as I can remember I've been always told by the women around me what looks good on me and what doesn't, masked in benevolent misogyny — 'Indian traditional clothes look lovelier on you, keep your legs covered, reds don't suit you'. Like many, many women I know, I stepped out of home to carry the battle into trains and buses — 'your bra strap is showing', and in a hushed voice 'pull your top up'. I get a short haircut after ages and I'm told I should have kept my long hair. I fight my inhibitions and wear a deep crimson lipstick for the first time, and I'm told it does not suit me. Unsolicited advice from women about what you should or should not do with your body is a real battle women fight everyday.
Sukanya, 58: When I was growing up, I was always made to stay away from the sun, advised to apply face masks so that I can get fair skin. For the longest time, a majority of the woman I met lamented, 'I had a pretty face, if only I was fair'. My daughter was born when I was 26 and she was very fair, like her father. Fair skinned, light eyed and brown haired. When my aunts and sisters-in-laws came to visit me in the nursing home, they gasped and said, nobody would believe she is my daughter.
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