Hello ji: Girls' trips through a man's eyes
The Womaning Talks, Edition 2.
Welcome to the second edition of Hello ji: The Womaning Talks. This week, I spoke with three youngsters - Anvi, Arushi, and Puneet - about the stark differences between the male and female experience of public spaces.
The idea for this conversation came up when Puneet told me - in the context of this piece I wrote - about how he took road trips with some female friends of his recently, and how that completely changed his perspective on public spaces.
Here is the full piece that this “Hello ji” conversation is based on (for those who missed it, and those who might like a recap)
It was a conversation that captured the essence of Womaning perfectly - women sharing experiences that we can all relate to, and yet, which blow men’s minds completely.
A piece of feedback I got after I posted the first edition of Helloji was that some of you - who are more comfortable reading long-form pieces like my usual newsletters - might like to read transcripts of the Helloji videos alongside the video itself.
So this week, I am sharing some excerpts of the conversation below. If you prefer to just watch the video directly, you could scroll down to the end for the video of the full conversation.
Anvi on walking with men
Back in December 2020, we were traveling to Jaipur and Pushkar. During that trip, we met two of Puneet’s friends who were staying in Jaipur for a while. So, we decided to meet them and we were all like walking on the street. It was about 9pm and the street that we were walking on was quite dark. There weren't a lot of street lights. And they were like, “Okay, guys, let's just walk through this stretch.” Because they apparently really enjoyed walking - quite a privilege which they don't realize.
So they said, “Let's just walk on the street. You know there is a really fascinating building that we want y'all to see.” Now, I was comfortable just because he (Puneet) was with me. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have said “Yes”.
So we started walking. And they were saying things like, “You know, you only get to experience the true essence of a city when you take a walk through it late at night.”
Eventually, I said, “The only thing the only thing I think about when I'm taking late night walks in a city is ‘What if I get kidnapped or raped?’ That's all I think about. I don't get to ‘experience’ a city as a woman alone. So just don't even talk about that!”
Maybe that got them thinking for a second. But then we went on ahead. Ultimately, we were standing there, admiring a very, very average-looking building!
That also got me thinking - and eventually, we had a very long conversation about it - about how the experiences of men and women in public spaces, especially at night, are completely different from each other.
Puneet on walking with women
I went on two road trips with some friends – one was with Anvi and another female friend, and another was with Arushi and a female friend. So, both were ‘girls trips’ where I went along. When I went over those road trips again in my head, I realized there were so many things that I had gone through in those trips, which I don't experience in a boys-only trip.
For instance, simple things like taking (parents’) permissions. Taking permission for guys and girls is very different. For Anvi, the permission process is very long. We would have to ask her parents two months in advance! She has to give all details – who she is going with, how would we go, where would we stay, etc etc.
Then traveling - you have to make sure that you're not traveling at night and everything. Lodging - you have to look for a place that is safe. As you (Mahima) have mentioned in your post - how women keep furniture in front of their doors before sleeping at night, things like that. And especially things like walking on the road – which is a very basic thing for us (men). Anvi and I used to do it, but generally, there's one more friend with us - Divyanshu. Divyanshu and I used to go on walks during our entire college life. We just used to leave at 12 am and then walk around South Delhi till 3 am. It is a beautiful experience. If you're privileged enough to walk!
But I realized that that privilege dies when you're walking in an alien city with two women. Because I've never felt unsafe while walking. Whenever I travel, I am with three-four guys. In such a situation, other people might feel unsafe, but you can't feel unsafe! But when I was with Anvi, and I was walking down that road on Pushkar around midnight, I turned to her and said, “I am feeling very scared. I have never felt like this before!”
And Anvi said, “Do you realize that we go through this every day?”
Things like this make you understand how – and you (Mahima) have mentioned this in your post as well – that men and women live in two different worlds. Entirely two different worlds. And most men would never experience what women go through.
On universal experiences women have that men just can’t relate to
Mahima: So the door story that you're (Puneet) talking about - for those who haven't read the post – is basically how I was talking to a group of colleagues at work about work trips that we all had recently taken. And I was mentioning how rooms in the hotel at which our organization had put us up had auto locks on the door. In posh hotels, there is usually there's an auto-lock, but there is no physical latch. So every time I'm in a hotel like that, I feel very unsafe because I feel that anyone with a master key can enter the room at night. Since there is no latch physical latch, I sometimes even put a chair or a table in front of the door so that - even if it doesn't stop that person - at least I'll wake up and realize that someone is in the room. I said that waited for everyone to say I was being paranoid. But literally, every woman in the room said “I can relate to that. I do that too.” And there was like one male colleague and he was like, “What are you all talking about? I've never experienced this before!”
Then last week, someone mentioned to me how all women have another thing in common. When we are in a cab or an auto, and the driver takes a route which is different from the usual one, we are all used to looking out of the window and doing a mental calculation: “If this man attacks me and I jump right now from this moving vehicle, will I survive or not?”
And when somebody said this, we all had that exact same moment - where all women said, “I have done this! I have done this mental calculation of Will I die or not?”
Anvi on pretending that every house on the street is her house
I feel like I've been conditioned to do this other thing. As a kid, my bus stop was a little far away from my house, and I had to walk back home every day from there. So when I would get off, and whenever I would see some man following me, I would just pretend that whatever house is the closest to me is mine. I would pretend to open that door and just enter that house just so that he can pass me by, and then I can keep walking towards my own house.
I did this almost every single day without fail. I was so scared, imagining, ‘If he attacked me, how do I run, where do I run? What do I do?’ I don't think we (women) are born with it. I think we're conditioned to it. It's so deeply ingrained in us that we might feel like it's a part of us. But it was made to be a part of us - actually trained in us by virtue of the incidents that happen in our lives.
Why Loiter? #WeWalkAtMidnight
Puneet: So, I came across this Instagram page, @wewalkatmidnight. They host midnight walks for women. So these groups of women just go around the city from 12 to 2am, and walk. They go to 24/7 stores, and have chai, and listen to old Bollywood songs, etc. The basic idea is to reclaim these spaces for women. They mention on their page that whenever you go out and you see a woman, you think she does not belong there. So they are trying to normalize the presence of women in public spaces at all times, at any time.
Arushi: I just want to add that in places - like some cities in Gujarat - I think girls usually are free to walk around at midnight or at late hours, because that's ‘normal’ there. People generally get to see women doing that. So I think Puneet is very right when he says that people need to see things to normalize them. Since it does not happen in places like UP and Delhi - people don't see girls walking around - so when they see girls walking around, there are questions like, “What is happening here?”
But where people generally get to see things like this, they are getting normalized and girls are getting safer. So I think that's really something that we need to work on.
Who needs the police when you can moral police?
Anvi: Do you see the pattern? How every single question that comes to us circles back to our morals and the kind of families that we come from? Eventually, it all circles back to society - which also doesn't care about us!
Arushi: I think women are carrying the izzat and the sammaan (dignity) of all of society on our shoulders since the day we are born. And I think that the onus of everything wrong that happens to us is ultimately laid on us because we were the reason why these things happen to us. “Why did you go there? You should have known!”, “Why did you meet him? You should have known!”, “Why are you going out with guys? You should have known!”
The calculus to get parental approval
Anvi: This also reminds me about asking my parents to let guys accompany us for the whole road trip that happened in December.
If l asked my parents, “Can I and this other girl go?” They will say, “No, at least one guy has to be there with you.
But on the other hand, if I just asked them to go with the guy, they'd say, “Why do you want to go with a guy?”
Arushi: Same thing happened with my Rishikesh trip as well!
“How many of you are going?”
“Three of us.”
“Samriddhi, I and Puneet.”
“Chalo theek hai fir (Okay, that’s fine then).”
Puneet: Tum log ko road trips pe le jaa raha hoon main! (I am taking you all on these road trips!)
Anvi: If we said Puneet’s name one step above, then the whole trip would get canceled!
Arushi: Numbering is also important!
Mahima: So three girls is not ok. Two guys, one girl is not okay. Two girls and one guy is okay.
Arushi: Yes, and you have to name them in the correct order too. <My name>, <Girl’s name>, <Guy’s name>.
Anvi: Yeah, so all these permutation combinations you have to think about before putting up the proposal in front of your parents. It's crazy!
Mahima: Women who are watching this - DM me for Puneet’s number if you want your parents’ permission to go on a girls road trip! Clearly, Puneet is offering a great social service here. There could be a business model here for Puneet!
Arushi: It is crazy the amount of generalization we can do on this!
Anvi: Exactly, and every single thing we are saying here - we all can relate. And I am sure every woman watching this can also relate!
There was a lot more fun, stories, and laughter that went down in this conversation. Despite the serious nature of the subject matter, we managed to laugh for a large enough part of this conversation that it left my transcription garbled.
So, does Puneet now run a girls-road-trip facilitator agency?
Have Anvi and Arushi finally cracked the formula for parental approval?
And will women ever be seen walking down the street, or hanging around in a public space with no purpose whatsoever the way men are used to?
Jaanane ke liye dekhiye, poori video (Watch the full video for this and more)!
Huge thanks to Puneet for the idea for this conversation, and major props to Anvi and Arushi for joining us for it! I am linking below a piece that Puneet wrote after some thought-provoking conversations he had with the brave, honest, and road-trip-loving women he is fortunate enough to call friends!
Here’s hoping to see many more women walking the streets at midnight!
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