In August 2016, Kerala senior IPS officer and Excise Commissioner Rishi Raj Singh declared that a man staring at a woman for 14 seconds or longer could be sent to jail for this offence. Now, while the jury on staring as a crime is still out, the idea of it as something close to sexual harassment lingers on. Some people consider it normal (especially in India, it’s a cultural thing). But most people, overwhelmingly women, are uncomfortable with the incessant ghoorna (staring).
Opinions were divided, so we went to the place we all go for answers – the internet.
Clearly, we weren’t alone. Plenty of explorers before us had asked the good citizens of Yahoo Answers, Quora and Reddit if staring was indeed a ‘bad’ thing.
Comparisons to objects were aplenty. And women were still considered to be ‘asking for it’.
This commenter compares women to “a new attractive toy or gift” but manages to sneak in a self-absolving distinction between himself and those other perverts who do ‘dirty stare’. The good versus bad dichotomy of staring veers towards classist territory, separating the men who are simply appreciating (as they must!) a woman from those who are leching. Men will make this distinction themselves though.
Nicotine stick is our new favourite phrase.
The cultural nuances of India find a new, slightly racist take?
Not all hope was lost though, as stared-at parties responded with their perspective on starers.
Staring is clearly a complex, contested issue, although most people did understand the implicit knowledge of when a glance turns into something uncomfortable.
Being stared at isn’t fun, and reading some of these dismissive comments which promote staring at women as a ‘normal’ thing, or even better, something women should be grateful for, was upsetting.
But it is interesting to see how ingrained male entitlement really is. Our only consolation is that the internet continues to be a place where we can stumble onto discussions and perspective we would never have otherwise.