The 4th of March is national safety day in India, and my concerned Indian employer emailed all employees about being safe in the workplace and society in general. It’s a tradition. Every day for an entire week, we get an email discussing a specific theme.
To commemorate International women’s day a couple of days ago, the email that day spoke about women’s safety and best practices.
Of the many bullet points, one stuck out weird, like a sore thumb, reminding me of the sore safety situation that’s an issue across the world, and specifically rampant in certain places like India.
“Don’t get into a vehicle that has more than one man seated in it.”
Not obeying that piece of advice is a recipe for disaster. Or so people think. Hence the warning.
However, heeding that warning is an even even bigger problem.
Telling a woman to stay away from an enclosed space that has two or more men is stupid. The world is half men. At any given time and place, there’re more than a handful of men in a gathering. If women avoid being in the vicinity of men just because they’re men, that only shows how poorly we think of our men.
And when we think poorly of men, we, in turn, think poorly of the women who raised and influenced those men.
In a convoluted, indirect way, telling a woman to stay away from menfolk’s presence is like asking a woman to lock herself in her room. That’s limiting a woman’s ability to be herself, to be an active participant in society’s everyday activities.
Coming from an Indian background, I’ve seen and, more often, heard about women bartered off in the name of marriage. As if they’re incapable of thinking and speaking for themselves. When fathers and husbands, concerned about the safety of “their” women, tell—or even subject—them to stay at home thinking that it’s best for them, those men miss the whole point about equality and freedom for all. Sure, they’re worried about safety in the streets after hours. They’re terrified of what’ll happen if their daughter’s the only passenger on a bus at 11 pm. They’re so focussed on preventing bad things from happening that they often overlook the cause of that in the first place.
You see, we always insist on avoiding trouble, but in the process, we avoid identifying the real trouble.
A woman sharing a cab with three other male colleagues isn’t a problem. The problem is our mindset that men are so low that they only need a small chance to become violent towards women. In a way, we’ve created a culture that treats men not as fully-functioning, even wise, humans, but as mindless animals that’ll attack the moment their prey slacks.
The saddest part? Most people don’t look twice at these warnings. Or even spend a minute to wonder how it impacts the minds of our future generations. Tell a young mother she should avoid densely populated male areas, and she’ll automatically transfer that fear onto her daughter. As for her son? He’ll grow up forever terrified of the women who treat men as aliens.
It’s such a vicious cycle.