- Posted August 28, 2013 by
New York, New York
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Speaking up about sexual violence
South Asian Brooklyn Born Girl tells the story you REALLY need to hear
I was 18 years old, on a New York City subway headed to the Bronx, when a man in his 40s leaned back, half-smiled at me, and groped himself until a wetness appeared in the folds of his light grey sweatpants.
Or how about I was a 22 year old university student in Massachusetts, volunteering as a rape crisis hotline worker, when a student called in to recount the story of her horrific rape.
Her friends had dropped her off at her apartment after a frat party and driven away before she made it to her door. On the short walk from the car to her apartment, three of the frat boys hit her on the head with a brick, repeatedly raped her, and then threw her over a fence, leaving her for dead.
Or what about the girl in college who lived in the apartment next door? Should I tell about my fear at night after I heard a man had climbed into her room through her window and tried to rape her?
And when people ask me about America, do I say “It’s wonderful, but extremely dangerous for women.”
I am a Brooklyn born South Asian woman, and I am offended by the piece on CNN called “India, the Story You Never Wanted to Hear.”
I have spent almost 15 years of my life working to prevent Violence Against Women. I served as a consultant to the United Nations, working on programmatic and policy response to Gender Based Violence.
I graduated from Columbia University with my Masters in Social Work and Policy and have worked extensively as a psychotherapist for Survivors of domestic violence, rape, and sex trafficking.
I deeply sympathize with Michaela Cross’s feelings of sexual victimization, and wish her the very best in her recovery. Her feelings of suicidality indicate the severity of the effect that sexual harassment has on its survivors.
But naming India as “extremely dangerous to women?” Really?
Did she travel ALL of India? It seems to be a rather larger place.
What about Miami? Ever been to Miami on spring break? I cannot recount how many men took my picture and video just walking the streets or in the club. Forget about the circles of men that surround me if I start dancing.
Speaking of the club, I am unable to leave a nightclub in NY, LA, or Miami without feeling inappropriate “closeness” or groping from some man reeking of alcohol, sweat, and disrespect. Once, I didn’t even realize there was a man standing behind me until he dared to push his hand all the way up my skirt.
However, I travel to Sri Lanka for the New Year’s Eve party quite often, and my sister and I always remark how much we love that not one person touches us. No girls pushing into us, no men disrespectfully pushing up on us.
And they know I am American. Do not be deceived by my caramel skin and long thick dark hair. Yes, my parents were born and raised in Sri Lanka. But I was born in Brooklyn, raised in suburban Connecticut. As soon as I step off the plane, the way I dress and carry myself reveals my “American” identity before I even utter a word.
The writer talks about the “curiosity that my red hair, fair skin and blue eyes would arouse.” Is that any different than the stares that my “exotic” looks provoke in much of America? When I walk into a coffee shop full of blondes in Beverly Hills, and I feel all eyes on me, does it mean that they are all undressing me with their eyes? Or do I just look different than they do?
The men stare at me in South Asia too. Not much more than the men do here, but they do stare. Except staring in South Asia has a completely different significance than in the US. It is more of curiosity than intrusion, of intrigue than attack. I received the same stares as an exchange student in Alicante, Spain when men shouted “Morena, Morena” at me on the streets every single day.
The article talks about “the eyes that every day stared with such entitlement at my body.” But what is entitlement? Stares from people whose cultural norm is to look when they are curious, or to expect people to change their cultural norm now that you have entered their country?
She followed the “rules,” to not smile in the streets and dress conservatively. Not because it is a barbaric nation, but because culturally, that is the norm. In my parent’s wedding album, there is not one picture of them smiling, despite the fact that they courted for several years prior to the day and were ecstatic to be united. Smiling is not the norm for public displays of emotion. Being discrete in women’s clothing is out of respect, not because their bodies are “hidden away” according to the writer.
I have shopped for more saris than I can count over the years on the streets of Colombo. Breathtaking, vibrant fabrics adorned with glittering stones and sequins, intricately and carefully woven by hand. Not once has a man groped or grabbed me on a shopping trip.
Not to mention the South Asian men who protect me. Who walk me home at night to the door, who would never utter a disrespectful word, who would rather put themselves in harms way than see a woman in danger.
As much as there is an international spotlight on sexual violence in India (and I am well aware of the prevalence of the problem-I am currently working with an anti- sex trafficking organization in India), there is also a chivalry pervasive in South Asia unlike anywhere I have ever experienced.
My father, my grandfather, my cousins, my nephews-these are the BEST men that I know. They honor, respect, and cherish the women in their lives in a way that most of my friends only believe exists in fairy tales.
I am not sure where the writer of the article went shopping. Or what kind of hotels she visited or areas she traveled. Just like in the US there are areas that are safer than others.
But I am sure of one thing. India, as a nation, is not an “extremely dangerous place for women.” Globally there are many areas that are less safe for women than other, but even in the safest areas, violence against women thrives. Racist stereotypes about an entire nation of 1 billion people-that will only deepen the wounds of hatred and anger.
Perhaps if the writer can separate the sexual harassment from the beautiful experiences she was privileged to partake of in India, she can look back on those moments of joy without all of the memories being shadowed by a villainous country. Process the trauma. Don’t blame the entire nation.
Then, as we extricate such ignorant and racist stereotypes from what is a global epedemic of violence against women, and we understand that as human beings we must join together in protecting women and not cause more divisions based on race or class, then as we unite, then and only then, the healing process can begin.
Dushyanthi is a South Asian, American born woman who is passionate about preventing Violence Against Women. She has served as a consultant to the United Nations and is currently consulting with an anti-sex trafficking organization in India. She holds her M.S. from Columbia University, and resides in New York City.