Why loiter? Shilpa Phadke
This particular reading starts off describing the desire of women to be given the freedom to express themselves without being watched or judged by the society. A problem the Shilpa Phadke brings to light is the fact that women all over the world raise their voices for violence against women, rape, equal right etc. But no one speaks about the simple day to day activities women are deprived of such as loitering.
The author then moves on to explain how loitering for women is problematic and is a ‘peculiar desire’. This point brings to light the pressure many women in India face as they do not even have the freedom access public space. The article furthermore, gives insights that were derived from the Gender and space project (2003-2006) conducted in India. Some of the points discussed include:
– Women are the bearer of all respectability.
– The presence of men and women in public spaces is always a battle between middle class women and lower class men.
– Lower class men or tapori’s are a potential threat to women and their presence causes anxiety.
– A woman’s presence in a public space must always serve a purpose. She cannot exist in a public space simply sitting ideally or loitering otherwise she will be labeled as a ‘bad’ woman.
– Public spaces belong to men, and women can use them only for the purpose of consumption or chores.
The insights in this article make it clear that even in today’s time where women are educated, there are still some rules of the society they cannot break free of. This situation is present however, in a few of the middle eastern countries. In India as stated in the article, women are not only the bearer of all respectability but they are objectified and sexualized to such an extent that even their presence becomes a distraction to men. They begin to wonder what her purpose for loitering in a particular area is, and if they find none, the woman is assumed to be a prostitute.
If one actually thinks about it, depriving women to utilize public spaces is an absurd idea but it also explains the control men have over women in a particular society. Even in places in the Western world, women who want to steer clear of sleazy men and cat calls need to avoid certain spaces, pubs, town areas etc.
The issue that limits women in numerous parts of the world to utilize public spaces is sexual harassment. Even if a woman is not being physically harassed, there is verbal harassment such as catcalls. Even the act of watching her is a source of discomfort as the male gaze is so intense that women can’t help but feel objectified. To avoid these encounters the solution for them becomes easy, stay in places where women can go.
However, by taking this decision they inadvertently hand the power of their freedom to men. It is men who can decide where a woman can be or not be. On the other hand, the lack of presence of women in public spaces makes the situation worse for women because men also get accustomed to watching them in public spaces performing particular roles only. The presence of a woman loitering hence becomes a stigma in itself.
The only way to change the scenario to some extent is to produce laws that make women feel secure. Even though women are no less than men in any aspect, it is the threat to their security that limits their existence in the world. Maybe the situation would be the same for men too if their bodies were sexualized and objectified to such an extent.