A famous saying, “Not every wanderer is lost”, comes to my mind when I read the article ‘Loitering: Radical Possibilities for Gendered Dissent”. I have read the article and also watched the video ‘Why Loiter’. Thought to be a very unproductive activity, loitering is only seem to be practiced by some male members of society and not generally associated with something good.
The writer talks about how gender has come to play specific role in our understanding of owning the public space and claiming our right to citizenship. Women are said to be taking more public spaces in both Mumbai and similar is the case with Karachi. Ironically, the concept of time and space and the purpose play an important part in where the gender is defined by the role rather than just being. this is important because we often see women working in offices, in cafes, in shopping malls but most of them are there for a reason. None of them are not just loitering. So when the writer thought to take on the adventure of loitering, she came to understand the different perceptions and labels associated with women.
She talks about how we have made the conception of good women, bad women, respectable and not socially acceptable. A women out for work, study or shopping is seen to be respectable while a women on a bus stop or chai stall may attract gaze from others, especially if it is after the sunset. She elaborates that not only women fall prey to this objectification and labels but also men are also seem to be targeted. Most of the men loitering in the street are often thought to be tapori in Mumbai because they seem to lack any purpose. This also happens in our society too.
I would like to share my example here. There are times when we all want to go out for no reason and just observe the people and surrounding or to take a break from our routine life. At my workplace, I sometimes feel so claustrophobic because the space is quiet compact and there is no window to experience the natural weather. One day, me and my colleague thought to go out and walk the streets in order to feel more refresh. We roam around and a few people noticed but on our second round of the same street, every head turned up and we could feel the fixed eyes on us. When we took the third round because we don’t want to go far away so people started to give comments and tried to make us feel uncomfortable. It was only for a short while but we could see the difference how many males wander those streets every day and never gets noticed while we were seen as ‘the other’.
In the essay, the author emphasized on the point how loitering has come to play an important part in our gendered public space. As much as the women are seen in the enclosed, walled chambers, they earn a degree of respect from the male and even other women but as the one steps outside, the time, the person who she is with, her dressing all gets noticed in order to give us title of respectable women. Ironically, women seen in public spaces also is associated with inciting other gender for sexual relationships. This is particularly true if we take the recent example of the convict from the much known Delhi rape case who said: “A decent girl won’t roam around at night. A girl is more responsible for rape than a boy.” This shows how much accessible a public space is depending on your gender. The writer also contests that as much legitimacy you have, less access a person would have to public space. Women who are respectable would not seen in public spaces much compared to the lower middle class men.
Furthermore, the essay compares the example of window-shopper and street walker. Although both the activities are purposeless but seen in contrasting comparisons. It mentions how certain strategies come to play an active role, from clothing, accessories and body language in differentiating between the good and bad women. It further talks about the difference between the ‘good private women’ and ‘bad public women’. The good private women belongs to the work space and education and is there for a purpose while the bad public women is seen on the street without any purpose and is not deemed worthy of protection and respect from others. This is true because not only our society but also our family would never appreciate us to go out and walk the streets without any purpose. Even visiting a chai stall on roadside with your friends would not be considered an appropriate activity in our society.
The essay concludes with how loitering is different from tapori and is not defined as something related to identity but a pleasure seeking venture. It is claiming the public space without associating oneself with any group or ideology and is aimed at self gratification than anything else. Since it is purely pleasure seeking activity, it can help us transform the gendered public spaces with more inclusive image of the city. It can give equal access to women in public space without questioning their identity, women can enjoy anonymity in public space without attracting the gaze. While giving equal access to female in the public space is affirming the notion of equal citizenship. And finally, the most important result that loitering can yield is defining social relations without forming a community as the loiter is not associated with any ideology. It should be the fundamental right of the citizen to loiter alone or with groups in order to claim the public space without being segregated on the basis of gender.
But as much as the idea of equal rights appeal to everyone, we know that it is not possible and not acceptable in our society. The idea of women seen on streets, chai stalls and any other public space without any purpose is not a welcoming one even in our near future and gendered dissent will persist in owning the public space.