Saturday 30 June 2018

Walk Like A Woman: Why it mattered to me - Himadri Barman

Last month (May 25), Why Loiter (spearheaded by Neha Singh) had the Walk Like A Woman, four years after the event first happened on the streets of Mumbai. Me, Naireet Basak and Dhruv Lohumi were the men who took the challenge to walk-like-a-woman. Dressed in conventional women’s garments we all decided to walk on the crowded Juhu beach of Mumbai around 8.30 at night.

Though Why Loiter majorly claims women’s  right to loiter at any point of time at any place in a free country like India, Walk-Like-A-Woman equally
invites men to dress in “women’s” clothing and walk in the public . The right of a citizen to walk freely without being questioned what she/he is wearing should be  as fundamental as assured in our constitution.

So to me, the event was an opportunity to check whether I can wear a woman’s clothing and experiment what reactions I get from people. Of course, I gained a lot of public attention, many people apparently praised me for looking different, and even by seeing the men in our team, one vendor on the beach decided to wear a skirt to show solidarity to the movement.

       Neha with a super-excited masala-chaat seller at Juhu Beach, Mumbai

We also talked to some people on the beach and asked their opinions on our dressing. Nobody discouraged us, some decided not to comment, some wanted to know what’s happening, some sellers on the beach came to us and happily sold their stuff. The interaction with people became a bit interesting when we met a group of young people who shared their views on women’s safety issues, appreciated Why Loiter’s collective effort to claim women’s right to have safe public places, and agreed that gender attachment to one’s choice of clothing should fade away soon. Here’s the video clip from Sxonomic’s youtube channel:

So that’s a bit reporting of the event. Now I would like to tell a bit about my story. Things, styles, and behaviors attached to a gender always appeared problems to me and starting from my childhood how I solved a few of them is the story I am going to tell you.

Colored umbrella:
Since the monsoon has hit most parts of the country by now, I don’t need to remind you of one of the indispensable things of life: Chhatri aka Chhata aka umbrella. Since my childhood, I was taught that boys’ umbrellas should be always black or dark in color while only girls are entitled to use all those beautifully printed colorful ones.

          A simple Google’s Image Search shows the “dark side” of men’s umbrella.

        Even Flipkart acknowledges “black” as the color of a gentleman’s umbrella

Though I accepted this rule unhappily, one day I got an excuse to take a "lady's" umbrella as there was no black umbrella around and I had to go to school on a rainy day. So I took my mother's colorful chhatri happily and went to the school.

However, I couldn't remain that much happy-dappy as I got mocked by many of my classmates who were proudly owning black umbrellas. I finally had to hide my wet umbrella inside my schoolbag. In my mind, I promised to bring only a black umbrella or come without an umbrella, but color one never-ever! Months or years passed, one day I was enjoying a Grand Slam Tennis match on my TV and got upset when the rain started in between the match. While praying for the rain to stop asap, I suddenly discovered that the people sitting in the gallery have created a sea of umbrellas. And by people, I mean men and women, boys and girls of varied ages. where's the gentlemen's black umbrella? It's almost nowhere! All are so colorful with plain, polka dots, floral,  and other kinds of design. Now I got a proof, the black-for-men is a myth, and I started having colored umbrellas for myself since then. Nowadays I see many men hardly bothers about color attachment (even many men happily wear pink apparels), but for me at that time was overcoming a battle.

Long hair:
I was happy with "short hair for decent men" theory because then I used to think that it fits in a tropical country like India (That time I was not aware that many men keep long hair in Mexico which is also a tropical country).  Then after a long journey in my adulthood, I found my role models. And believe me, this time I debunked the theory fully in desi and sanskari way! Yes, have you seen any of the male characters in Ramayana and Mahabharata in boy's cut? You haven't, I betcha. Though I haven't kept my recent long hair following any sanskari path (actually I do not need to justify for my choices), that's a fair enough point to shut up the people who doubts my cultural values.

    Can you figure out why Krishna and Arjun had to boycott boy’s cut? How did men’s haircut get stereotyped, think a bit. (Courtesy: B. R. Chopra’s 1988 TV series Mahabharat)

I watched my father and other men in my family wearing lungis at home and started wondering why men can't wear skirts which almost look like lungis or mundus of Kerala people. As I was a child, I again unhappily noted down this in my cultural notebook and gave up my wish of wearing a skirt. 

Then I came across The Black Island and found Tintin in skirt:

            Tintin wearing skirt in the comic The Black Island, courtesy:

 Then I watched the movie Braveheart and I got to realize Scotland is my country! And "Scotland trip" was put on my bucket list. However, the Walk-Like-A-Woman event made it real in my own land and saved a huge amount of money needed for the foreign trip.

 These are a few examples, where I started doubting the gender stereotyping attachments in our social choices and couldn't firmly ask "Why not" at my younger age. Now I understand that the gender binary setup is baseless and is a sin of patriarchy and I'm ready to break any stereotype.  

However, it may not be that much easy to do for someone. The more some men walk in “odd” type of clothings in public, the more other men gain a confidence to do the same. Initially there could be a controversy and objections, but over a time, this will become none’s business. Like once a time, even wearing trousers and shirts used to be considered as cross-dressing and many women even got arrested, penalized or shamed across the world. Now after a long feminist walk, women in “men’s” clothing
has become a normal matter. 

Evelyn “Jackie” Bross and Catherine Barscz arrested for violating the cross-dressing law at the Racine Ave police station, 1943, Chicago. (Courtesy: Chicago History Museum)

Though the walk-like-a-woman event made my day, I still wish that I can exercise wearing any clothing of choice in my daily life too. Like many women once wished to come up in trousers and shirts. But the difference is that women explored that space while many men are still happy with their boring suits, shirts, shorts, and trousers. To some men, it’s derogatory to dress-like-a-woman, walk-like-a-woman, talk-like-a-woman, or cry-like-a-woman. Of course, all these are stupid stereotypes set by the patriarchal society and we need to challenge and break them into pieces. My men friends, are you holding the hammer?