I remember a time when it was socially acceptable for me to play with boys. In fact, during my primary classes I had more interests in common with them than my girl friends. Though it took a LOT of prodding to get accepted into the guy circle, it was worth it, as I finally had someone to play BeyBlade with. My upper primary, high school and higher secondary classes were all female-only so I had limited to no interaction whatsoever with the opposite gender. Thanks to certain rumors (we all know that girls-only schools thrive on them) I became convinced that men were the cliché wolves in sheep’s clothing and that ‘good’ girls never associated with them. Before I knew it, I had begun to regard interaction between the sexes the same way the society did-I, who used to enjoy playing with my guy friends. This change in perception took even me by surprise, and as college began, I took it upon myself to be more open about such matters. It all went well, I met someone I could consider my best friend, and I was starting to get over my irrational fear of men.
Then I began to notice things change around me. Outside the college, people began to throw disapproving glances whenever I talked with my male classmates. This reached its zenith when an old lady actually pinched me hard when I and a friend were having a perfectly innocent conversation in a bus. We weren’t even loud, and it irked me that I was getting ‘punished’ when he was the one doing all the talking. Even among my peers in a different class I attended, some girls decided to make me an object of observation when I so much as smiled at the general direction of males, as if they were willing me to make one wrong move so they could pounce on me. Now I was the victim and I realized how it felt to be judged.
Is friendship defined by gender? Is there some sort of unspoken code that deems that xx can be friends only with xx? In what is considered a ‘progressive’ society, how is interacting with males a crime? From my experience, male friends can be one of the most treasured people in your life. And even if the relationship is of a romantic nature, its hypocritical how we promote movies about young love but are fiercely antagonistic to it in reality. Is love acceptable only between George and Malar? If we can keep ourselves from throwing bricks at the screen when two lovers hold hands and dance around proclaiming their love, surely we can stop ourselves from pinching the girl who dares to speak with a boy. Surely we can keep ourselves from saying “She deserved it, she was out with her boy friend” about a girl who was raped. Surely we can keep ourselves from judging others.
What we, as a society, need to realize is that it is none of our business. We have no right to interfere with other people, granted that they are strangers. Even if they are related to us by way of ‘my father’s sister’s husband’s mother’s brother’s son’s granddaughter’ (the kind of messy relationship we Indians bring up only during these situations and marriages), we do not have a say on everything they do. I’ve often come to wonder how it was that my parents and grandparents were comfortable with my guy friends while it was a crime according to random people I didn’t even know. Our opinions, views and judgments are unwanted-though it seems unacceptable, this is the truth. Gone are the days when girls and boys shied away from each other and a simple touch amounted to being a ‘bad girl’. Gone are the days when women were passive. We are equals now, and as equals we DESERVE to stand with men. We DESERVE to not have our virtue questioned by others just because we exercise our equality. We DESERVE to be human. And (though its sad that we have to voice this so that people could understand) we DESERVE the right to have companions of both genders.
And to the old lady who pinched me all those days back, my grandma is disgusted by you.