I mustn’t have been older than 12 when it happened to me. It was a hot summer afternoon and I was riding my bicycle on a deserted road, en route to my tuition. Since I was a bit early, I was riding at a snail’s speed. Besides, who is ever in a hurry for a face-off with deathly maths equations. Suddenly, I felt a sharp pain in my breast and something whizzed past me. It took me a second to realise that a boy, may a little older than I was, had been following me, and had just pinched one of my still-developing breasts and ridden away.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Girls often grow up resenting their bodies as they transition into womanhood.
  • Their families tell them to dress “decently” drilling in the fact that the physiological changes they are experiencing are something to be ashamed of.
  • They face an onslaught of unwanted sexual advances, which makes them resent their own bodies.
  • But is it our bodies that are at fault at all? Should any girl have to feel ashamed of simply growing up?

For young girls, the physical transition into womanhood isn’t a happy one, as the predatory male gaze makes them realise that now they are a legitimate “game” for them

Much to my amusement today, I shouted at him and followed him, though he was considerably ahead of me. I lost him after a few turns, finally giving up on the chase to cry. It was a hot afternoon, the doors to houses on both sides of the road were shut and I could hear the soothing hum of coolers, with water trickling down from khus panels. There was no one to talk to. So, I cried alone under the sweltering sun and wiped my tears to proceed to my tuition. That was the day I grew up to realise that my body was changing now, not with amusement and elation though, but with resentment. Like me, there are millions of girls who realise these changes, coupled with fear and bitterness, to no fault of their own.

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For young girls, the physical transition into womanhood isn’t a happy one, as the predatory male gaze makes them realise that now they are a legitimate “game” for them. Sadly, being a girl of any age is marred by sexual threat in India, but when our body changes with teenage, that is when the realisation of sexual and gender dynamics in our society fully dawns on us. Cover your chests, wear decent clothes, mind how you sit, we are told by our families. On the streets, we suddenly come face to face with catcalling and a lecherous gaze. How many girls grow up hating their breasts, their periods and their sexuality, because it takes away their childhood from them and imposes innumerable constraints in return? But is it our bodies that are at fault here? Or is it the society that focuses on policing women, than curtailing male sexual entitlement?

Dress sensibly, don’t travel alone, be wary of your surroundings, womanhood becomes a checklist one must byheart for the sake of ones’ safety.

We are told to cover our bodies, but are men and boys conditioned to respect us? We are asked to dress “decently”, but are all boys taught not to objectify the opposite gender? The society turns a blind eye towards male predatory behaviour, putting the onus of our dignity on our shoulders. Dress sensibly, don’t travel alone, be wary of your surroundings, womanhood becomes a checklist one must learn by heart for the sake of ones’ safety.

I can still feel the stab of pain in my breast from that incident. It shattered something inside me, perhaps a carefree attitude which one associates with childhood. The guard that went up that day hasn’t gone down ever. Whether I am travelling, or watching a film, or simply shopping, I go around my life fully aware that I am a woman. I must always be cautious. I must look over my shoulders to see if anyone is following me. Or ensure that I am dressed “properly” if I am stepping out of the house, especially after evening. It is tiring, to never have the luxury of being careless when it comes to my sexual safety. And yet, that wasn’t the last incident where I felt dehumanised. I got groped, catcalled, shamed and objectified. Some days I fought back, other days I just braved the situation with silence. Don’t we all?

However, I carried the burden of resentment towards my body for years to come after that incident. I internalised the blame for a ruffian’s conduct. But not anymore. I know it isn’t my fault that I have breasts or an arse. I know today that there is nothing wrong with what I wear, or how I speak or when I step out of my house. And that is what I want to tell every little girl growing up in this country, including my daughter, and boys. A girl shouldn’t ever have to resent growing up. Womanhood is amazing and every girl should be encouraged to embrace this transition with happiness. If she feels disgusted by her own body parts, then we are clearly doing something very wrong, as parents and as a society, and that needs to change.

Image Source: Daily Viral Updates

Also Read: What It Costs Women To Travel Alone In The Dark

Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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