“I will explain you through an example. It’s like mithai kept in the shop, for how long someone can resist that? Obviously there is attraction towards the mithai. Likewise women wearing short dresses are irresistible, boys will get attracted!” says a man during discussion over the statement “Women who dress provocatively invite sexual harassment”
I was appalled though not surprised by the insensitive objectification of women being compared to “mithai” coming from a well-educated sophisticatedly dressed man to prove his point that the clothes worn by women decides whether a man would sexually harass a women or not!
“Surajkund Mela” is synonymous with handicrafts, handlooms, traditions and diverse cultures of India, organized every year in Faridabad. This year Digital Empowerment Foundation organized Prayag- 1st Grand Digital India Mela on 25th February in association with Surajkund Mela. We got this beautiful opportunity to host an experiential UnGender stall at the Learning Society UnConference pavilion as part of Prayag. For us, it was a very interesting at the same time challenging step to host a stall at extremely cultural, traditional and fun filled event.
With our intension very clear about co-creating and providing a space where people can talk about Gender and Sexuality, we were all geared up for the day ahead. Interestingly against our thoughts, people started pouring in while we were setting up the stall.
“It would be wrong to say that all women do that. But it’s biological that men are attracted towards women and if they are wearing short dresses, then toh men find them irresistible. There is nothing wrong in that. It’s just biological” shares a 50 years old man.
“But you don’t get attracted to your mother or your sister who would wear short dresses, we don’t rape them. But when we see other women wearing short dress or for that matter any kind of clothes, it becomes easy to comment, molest or rape them” shares a 25 year old boy during the same discussion.
How interesting it is to see a conversation unfold like this, so many view points on the same statement, people belonging to the same gender having such contradictory thought process! This conversation brought much hope to my sanity. The stall was divided broadly into 2 sections, first where through pictures we would discuss about traditional gender model and authentic gender model going deep into knowing various gender and sexual identities. Second section, where the facilitator would engage with the participants on the statements commonly used in context with Gender based violence, homosexuality and consent.
While facilitating the first section, it was interesting just to observe participants put pictures into the box of masculine and feminine- some of them were very quick in placing the pictures, few kept seeing the pictures, some looked petrified, confused, indecisive and what not!
“You have purposely kept confusing pictures, are you misleading me?”
“Two men are kissing, they are gay put I will put them into masculine because they look like men”
“He is a man, all these monks, leaders are always men”
“She appears loud; so much make up, traditional attire and dance- definitely a woman”
“Girls are going everywhere, doing everything, girls can be Dabang, can climb mountains, ride bike and just anything”
The following conversations after this activity brings strange smile on their faces, surprises some, appears shocking to many and sets the ground for even more intriguing discussion over gender role, gender identity and LGBTQi.
“I have been observing your stall for quite a while, there is so many people here sharing, the way you are having conversations so openly talking about the things we are not allowed to say, is so overwhelming. I also want to engage with the stall, tell me what to do”
It was fantastic to see huge out pour of people, coming in groups of young boys, girls, mixed groups, young and old people together, it just made me wonder that this issue is so important to us, so alive in our heart and yet we don’t talk about it. Interestingly there was a group of photographers who also came to the stall, primarily they were clicking pictures of the various stalls, when they came to our stall, we were engaging in the discussion around “ Homosexuality is crime/unnatural or disease”. They just stopped, and asked if they could also engage with us!
Our stall was like a wild fire, which was just spreading from here to there to everywhere, even while the activity was going on, or discussion was happening- people walking by were joining in, giving their viewpoints and yes they had immense listening capacity because people were listening to each other as well.
A group had one man and 3 girls, and they engaged in a conversation around “Women (especially single ones) enjoy being the object of sexual remarks. A NO may actually mean a YES” – the man agreed to the statement but when the girls shared their opinion that a no actually is no, he couldn’t believe his ears so he said, “can you explain more, because I always thought on the same line. Oh god! How wrong I was!”
One of the conversations with a young college student really touched me, apart from resonating with our line of work that deals with diverse gender and sexual identity and need for having a dialogue, he used the metaphor of the torn chart of Traditional Gender Model and intact Authentic Gender Model, “ Even the nature wants these norms and traditional gender model to go away, you can clearly see that both of them can’t co-exist there need to be openness, so Traditional model is torn apart and what remains is Authentic Gender model”
In about 5 hours, I witnessed and participated in numerous conversations, heard enormous number of viewpoints and opinions and that just reflected the need of the work that we are engaging in through UnGender. It was an extremely overwhelming, engaging and powerful experience co-creating the UnGender stall at Prayag Digital Mela 2017.