Men Who Stare at Women

If you’ve ever seen the TV series “The Big Bang Theory”, you’re familiar with Raj, an Indian man who is so shy around women he is incapable of speaking in their presence. Now that we’re in India, I get it. Men here act like 14-year-old boys around foreign women. Sometimes it’s endearing, sometimes it’s creepy, but usually it’s just downright annoying.

Wherever we go, it’s “Yes, sir?” this and “Yes, sir?” that. Men will shake hands with Matt, talk to him for awhile, and ask him what my name is and if we’re married. I will be standing right next to him and never once will they glance my direction! One time we ordered some food and when the server had a question about how I wanted my plate prepared, he asked Matt. I understand that to a certain extent this is a part of Indian culture and that the men are just being respectful by not paying me any attention in Matt’s presence. As annoying as this is, it’s better than getting bad attention.

Once again, we are back in a land where people love snapping pictures with foreigners. Matt started to charge people money and some people would actually pay while others just walked away feeling confused and awkward. One time a family arranged their children around us and snapped a photo without even asking permission first. Another time I thought a man wanted me to take a picture of him and the woman he was with. But then he handed the camera to her, and she looked less than pleased as he made it apparent that he wanted me to stand with him in front of a fountain. Oh, heck no!

And everywhere we go – when men haven’t gotten buddy/buddy with Matt – they stare and stare and stare at me and fellow female travelers. I have NEVER been stared at so much. They do not understand just how awkward and uncomfortable this makes us feel. If I made eye contact with them they would continue to stare. When I fell asleep completely burrowed in my sleeping bag on night trains Matt reported that they watched me while I was passed out. I could not help but be creeped out and completely thankful that I was traveling through India with a man.

I wouldn’t be surprised if their lack of social skills with the opposite gender is due to the lack of opportunities to interact with women outside of their family. First off, marriages continue to be arranged and usually the couple does not date beforehand. Secondly, wherever we go, I have my eyes peeled for women. Countless times I have been the only woman present in local restaurants, in a metro car, and in a train compartment. There have even been streets where I am the only woman amongst hundreds of men. It is a rare occasion to spot a woman working at a restaurant or selling merchandise. Feminist that I am, it didn’t take long for this to grate at my nerves and I’ve asked a few men where the women are. At home, duh!

We’ve visited lots of forts in India and learned how women were “protected” from the lustful eyes of men back in the day. Kings had a harem consisting of their wives and hundreds of concubines. These women weren’t really ever allowed to leave the fort and were shut-up inside where they could gaze down at what happened outside the fort through some screen that was devised so that no one could see in but that they could see out. Talk about a caged bird.

And when women make it outside the home these days, they are segregated. I was shocked to see that in India, which is a democracy, there are gender segregated lines for buying train tickets and a few metro cars that are only for women. And they are full. It appears that more often than not, women choose to ride in the segregated car than be packed in like sardines with men. These cars were created to protect women from the stares and groping hands of men. I couldn’t blame them! Had I not been with Matt I would have jumped right in with these women! But as the women continue to self-segregate themselves from men, we couldn’t help but wonder if “protecting” women only exacerbates the problem. How will Indian men ever learn how to get their hormones under control and develop less creepy social skills if women continue to be such a forbidden fruit?

I’m so thankful for how far the US has come and grateful that women have so much equality back home.

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