There’s a nice swimming club in my locality, well-maintained and peaceful. I have been going there since last year. Swimming around sunrise mostly calms me down. But something curious happened this morning. It was middle of our session and I was swimming in my favorite left lane as usual when I heard a lady in a mid lane is yelling at three teenager boys. Apparently they were splashing water at her while laughing among them, clearly making her uncomfortable. They swim ten times faster than me, so the incident reached the senior trainers, they scolded and warned those boys and settled it at once. Left lane is generally not crowded enough for intense gossips, but there had to be some discussions. For such case is super rare in this club (at least I never once faced anything like this). The much I could gather through my above-water ear is mostly a vibe of unfortunate event, with a tinge of regret for those boys and ‘could be avoided it she had chosen a different lane’ etc. Very honestly, I felt bad for those boys too. They were probably just playing and even if they did splash water, it’s mostly in the same spirit of bratty kids ringing doorbell and running away. This club has two well-maintained pools, a strict authority, and amateurs and athletes of all sizes and colors. People are really well-behaved inside the club. That’s why I have recommended this club to lot of my female friends who tend to hesitate, because there’s no ladies’ batch or female trainer. Incidents like this are just so unnecessary… but things are not always that simple, however trivial they look.
I later gave the whole thing a second look. Like me, probably that lady felt comfortable too. That’s why she may never have hesitated to take that lane, or considered changing lane because some boys are splashing water. Her own boy also comes to swim with her. It has already been two months of this session. Then how much awkwardness could it take to make her yell and complain? Believe it or not, no matter how absolutely logical it is for a girl to survive in the present social condition, we really don’t consider every male around us to be potential predator. Because we simply can’t. For our own sanity. And nowadays, this ‘male’ has to include boys below 18 as well! How can we, how can anyone? So whenever we face anything non-explicit ‘odd’ anywhere, we always start by thinking it’s probably not ‘that’. Not only we fear of humiliating someone innocent, but it’s convenient for us as well. Just imagine the amount of right things to do after one acknowledges that they has been harassed, and the amount of retaliation from inside if they fails to do those right things somehow! But whether one understands, misunderstands, fails to understand, accepts or not, these odd things keep on occurring anyway. And it’s still logical for a girl to doubt every male around her, however impossible and even impractical that is for her. Because however improbable, this doubt is never impossible to be true under the system we live within. This is the girl’s side. Now what about the boys?
Maybe their spirit was actually of bratty adults’ rather than bratty children’s (often they are, due to poor guidance or whatever reason). But what if they were just being naughty, the same way they would have been with an older guy? Just because the lady lives in a relatively hostile social environment and felt more uncomfortable than a guy would have felt, did they deserve to be treated like that? It’s not their fault that the lady felt differently and that was definitely not their intention at the first place. Didn’t the environment become hostile for those boys too? Then I remembered an old Aesop’s tale from elementary school, called ‘The boys and the frogs’. A very common one: some boys play with pebbles by a frog pond. They throw pebbles in the pond to make the frogs jump until the oldest and wisest frog comes up and say ‘what is sport to you is death to us’. Now we see such people all the time: indecent tourists who pull out crabs from their holes or pluck flowers in wilderness just for fun, people who tie firecrackers to dog’s tail in Diwali or colors on animals in Holi. But kids can also do such cruelty just out of curiosity, without any sadistic angle. They can trap flies or dissect bugs just to see how they move around, ’till they understand what that do to those creatures. The boys of the story could be those indecent tourists, but they could be these curious kids as well, innocently observing those frogs jumping at the pebbles or water getting red with those pebbles. But that doesn’t make any difference to those frogs. Those frogs will react the same way every time a pebble hits them: they jump in pain or they die, no matter if it’s innocent curiosity or sadistic pleasure.
As soon as a child starts to show the very intial signs of womanhood, she is flooded with advices of self-conduct. Mostly for her own safety, like adjusting the dress in certain ways, be conscious of certain body parts of her especially when walking in a crowd. It’s never just the mobile and money purse a girl worries about in a crowded platform, without even being conciously aware about that; that extra something which a guy never has to worry about in general. This is just a small example of the hostility a girl has to grow up within, and a boy doesn’t need to. And mostly the boys grow up completely unaware about that. And when the time comes, they end up being surprised, offended and even hurt and feeling victimized by women’s reaction at some of their apparently innocent actions, because they clearly haven’t meant to. I once encountered a man in a crowded platform who kindly assured me showing up his hands,’Don’t worry. See, I have bags in my hands’. I smiled back and realized how I might have looked at him over the my shoulder. He was not only aware of my condition, but conducted his best to cooperate. Unfortunately I didn’t see many men like him.
Is it unfair for the young boys to lose their innocence and understand that they are and will be seen as potential predators by girls for the rest of their lives? Absolutely yes. Is it unfair for the girls to grow up within such hostility and be defensive from almost half of the population around them? Yes again. But despite all our fights for change, as long as we live under patriarchy and one significant part of population relentlessly burn inside their heads, it’s neither possible, nor fair or balancing that the rest of population never feels the heat. Now it’s up to our empathy and upbringing, that how this heat will be shared: through understanding and cooperation, or through further hostility.