Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Blank Noise Project

Today is Blog Against Sexism Day, and International Women's Day. I was going to write about whatever angered me the most today. Fortunately, I found a post by Feminist African Sister that reminded me that today is about celebration of women's accomplishments as well as fighing against sexism. For that reason, I chose to write about the Blank Noise Project.

In 2003, the Blank Noise Project was launched. Blank Noise must exist because of horrifying levels of street harassment, from verbal taunts to assault. The work is focused in Mumbai, Bangalore, and Delhi.

What are the women fighting?
Seven years later, again in Bombay, after swearing to travel only in the ladies compartment of the local train, I learnt yet another lesson : some 'ladies' compartments turn into a free-for-all feel-up-jam-session after nine o'clock at night.

Suddenly, there were men's crotches pressing into my face, my knees and my shoulders. I stood up and fought my way to the door. Only to be surrounded by half a dozen men offering to 'get me out safely'. As the train stopped, half a dozen men got on, half a dozen got off. Trapped between them for a few seconds, I lost count of how many hands felt me up.

I cried tears of rage - if only that train hadn't moved away... I wanted badly to drag at least one of them off that train and smash his skull on the nearest railway track.

Of course, it isn't just a battle against men who think it's their right to assault women. Some "innocent" men think the women are too uppity in their complaining:

I remember reading a post on the Blank Noise blog last year: The author sounded like a fire breathing feminist, righteously declaring that all men are evil (something along the same lines), and some of them look at women and having dirty thoughts about them, while they have no right to do so (I think she used the expression 'lecherously ogle'). If my memory does not fail me, Greatbong left a really amusing comment explaining that anyone had a right to look at any one else, and of course, a right to think whatever he/she wanted to about whoever they were looking at. Boy, that sure was funny. [Full disclosure: I consider observing female specimens of the human species from a respectable distance, and appreciating their beauty, a completely above-board, and a rather agreeable activity]

The Blank Noise Project faces quite a battle when people equate women's experience with harassment to men's experience. Maybe I'm being unfair. Maybe the writer quoted above has had his breasts grabbed repeatedly. Maybe he lives with the constant fear of rape. Maybe he's been sitting on his brain for far too long.

This post is about hope and optimism. What women face in street harassment is outrageous and inexcusable. But women, and some men, have banded together to fight for the basic right to be free of attack. Yesterday, activists held the Blank Noise Blog-a-thon. Women continue to fight. Happy International Women's Day!

Please join us today and Blog Against Sexism!


Madame DeBarge said...

Y'know, everyone looks and everyone thinks, but it's the difference in the look that's given, or the thought that follows it up.
Myself, I look at a man, and can think "Wow, he's hot", and know that I'm not looking at him like I was thinking he was an all day sucker, and man was my sweet tooth acting up.
Too many guys just don't seem to GET that it's really uncomfortable to be looked at like that. As well as how just a glance can seem threatening. Too many men seem to have the thought of "Wow, maybe I can fuck her" if a woman looks at them the same way they do to women.
And, unfortunately, I don't think guys will get it, what it's like to know that you're not as physicaly strong as someone, and that you have to trust them not to hurt you.

Suebob said...

I don't think that the sexes can understand each other's experience in this. Men are wired so differently, so visually, that looking for them is a whole nother thing than it is for us, I think.

That being said, men also aren't stupid. They surely must realize that their hungry penetrating gazes aren't comfortable for us. So each side must learn to give a little - women to realize that men are magnetically attracted to women's beauty, and men to realize that they need to at least be discreet.

Here's my fun story though - one day I was walking down a street. A man was standing in the gutter filling in a hole with some asphalt and a shovel. As I got just past him, I heard him mutter "Nice titties you got there."

I got about 3 paces before I realized what he had said.

I turned, marched back toward him, screaming! "WHAT? You have no right to talk to me like that! What is wrong with you? Would you talk to your mother or sister like that??"

He ran! Ran! Threw his shovel in his truck and screeched out of there.

I don't know what it did for him, but if felt GREAT for me.

existsnomore said...

I'm sure men think it's all fine and dandy to stare when they're rarely the one being stared at, and even when they are, it's not by someone who could potentially rape and murder them. It's very different and it pisses me off that men think they're the default, that everyone experiences everything exactly the same way they do.

witchy-woo said...

I agree Kat.

I don't agree that men are 'wired' to be any more visually stimulated than women are though. That explanation kind of gives men a 'get-out' for their leching and falsely assumes that, because women tend not to be so overbearing with our response to visual stimuli, we're not so visually stimulated. I think it's far more complicated than that.

Looking, for women, is much the same as it is for men. It's simply the level of privilege and assumed entitlement of the gazer that determines the difference in the response of the looked-at.

Does that make sense?

existsnomore said...

Perfect sense.

J.R. Kinnard said...

The word is 'respect'. Many men simply don't respect women. Of course, I don't need to tell any woman this. To look at the opposite sex is natural. It is healthy. Evaluation of physical attractiveness is a biological imperative that both sexes must indulge.

The problem--where the subtle gaze turns into a drooling stare--comes from a lack of respect. This isn't a lack of respect for a woman's intelligence or her physical prowess. It's a lack of respect for her humanity. She simply isn't worth as much as her male counterpart. It then becomes easy to objectify someone; to leer, whistle, or, in the extreme case, physically assault someone.

Where does this lack of respect come from? Everywhere. We're practically drowning in a culture where women are simply objects to be bought, sold, and manipulated. And that's in America! Imagine a less-Westernized country!

It is hard to imagine men's attitudes about women changing in such an environment. Parenting is crucial, obviously. It is an uphill struggle. How, after all, do you force someone to respect an individual, much less an entire gender?

Sorry for the long comment.

spotted elephant said...

I get behind in my blog reading, and you all leave excellent comments! It really is about privilege, and respect. I loved Sue's response, but have to confess I always have that voice in the back of my head: "What if he has no problem coming at me and punching me for daring to speak up?". It gets to be a no-win situation. Having said that, I'm glad she scared the crap out of him.

I think the respect issue relies a lot on parents teaching kids that women are human. I hate when men say "Oh, you're lucky, I'd *love* to be stared at". It's a fundamental lack of understanding of the power difference. Privilege is such a bitch-because it's so invisible to those who have it.