Gemma is the earth. And I am the moon. Naturally I seem to gravitate towards her, although it’s only in India where I have to rotate around her too, in an attempt to stop people staring. Disapproving or lustful staring.
Before we came to India, Gemma and I read up on Indian tradition, their culture and the biggest religions in order to be respectful and to fit in. There were certain things we read which, although questionable to our Western culture, we wanted to learn about. In line with respecting Indian culture, Gemma has been dressing very conservitavely covering her shoulders, legs, and sometimes her head. Despite this Gemma gets stared at by about 45% of Indian men in India. Some stares are curious, some are sexual, and some are simply disapproving. It is both uncomfortable and infuriating.
It happens to an extent the world over, and the curious stares are fine. And some of the less intrusive sexual stares are ignorable. It’s the overtly sexual and threatening stares, and when people try to follow us that it gets scary.
And as for the disapproving stares – well I hate to say it, but not only is it sexist, it feels a bit racist too.
Some men seem to think it’s ok to touch Gemma (only her leg so far and believe me, I’m acting like a hawk, no one will get any closer) and others think it’s ok to shout at her in the street. I won’t write about specific experiences as, more than anything, I don’t want to remember them, but it’s not nice to see this many people ignorantly judging someone you care about.
It’s an issue which the Indian government seem to be aware of too – there are separate queues for women at most tourist attractions and each town we’ve visited has (thankfully) had tourist police scattered about. We’ve been told that some beaches even have people specifically employed to deter staring.
I want to make this clear though – we have met lots of Indian men and women who are respectful, friendly and welcoming too. And many seem aware of the problem, often promising not to stare at Gemma on trains. People here feel embarrassed that it happens. But they shouldn’t, as they’re not the people making tourism in India hard for western women. If anything a friendly face makes it so much nicer!
The reason I write this as a blog post in itself is because I want to keep this issue separate from our other India blogs. We spend all day batting away unwanted attention but when I write about Indian towns and cities I want to write about our positive experiences, not negative.
Unfortunately, because this is how Gemma has been received into India, we’re finding it harder to respect how Indian culture depicts she should dress. So bare those shoulders Gemma, and I’ll bat people off with a stick… For I am the moon. And this is my dark side.