Because I’m not Eve, and because this isn’t teasing

Here’s a simple grammatical exercise. Replace the term “eve-teasing” with a more accurate word, and this is what you might get:

“The eve-teasing incident which further sparked of to tensions between the two communities has forced the authorities to increase the police presence in the area. Reportedly, few unidentified youths passed some lewd remarks on women passing through the area.”

“The sexual harassment incident which further sparked tensions between the two communities has forced the authorities to increase the police presence in the area. Reportedly, few unidentified youths verbally abused some women passing through the area in sexually explicit terms.”

Instead of the chatty ‘Eve Teasing with Bipasha Basu’ (so reminiscent of Koffee with Karan), how about ‘Bipasha Basu physically assaulted’? And “groping” is another convenient euphemism to describe an unwanted and unwelcome act of sexual aggression.

And “teased her” sounds mild, compared to the reaction of the “tribals” in this story. The problem with this school of reporting is that it leaves you with absolutely no idea of what happened. Was the woman in this case verbally harassed, hit, abused, threatened? Was her physical space invaded, was she touched against her will, was she actually attacked?

And here’s Bhaskar Ghose complaining that “eve-teasing has become a fine art”, in a story that outlines many familiar issues about violence against women. It also illustrates why I hate the term eve-teasing: because it’s such a mild, obfuscatory term for the acts of sexual aggression and intimidation it’s supposed to describe. And it’s blinding in its mildness. A woman being eve-teased–yeah, we all know what that means. But do we really, when even the language we use doesn’t allow you to see what is really happening in each case?

There are subtle differences between the man who wolf-whistles at you from across the road, and then pays no further attention; and a ten-minute barrage of sexually explicit, demeaning suggestions and threats of violence unleashed at you by men who will follow you all the way down the road, until you reach a “safe” area. Being “groped” is an unpleasant, and for young women especially, a frightening, violation of physical space; being grabbed, pinched or held so hard that the act leaves bruises is not something that can be described as being “fondled”, “caressed” or even the relatively more accurate “groped”. If a man or a group of men–there seems to be little need for the term adam-teasing–surrounds, follows, threatens and then attacks you in such a way as to cause hurt, pain and shock, that would be assault. If they punch hard enough, then that would be battery. And further down the road, there’s always the old standby, rape: we don’t yet use eve-teasing as a euphemism for being raped, though we have useful euphemisms in most Indian languages, usually containing the terms “honour” and “looted” in conjunction.

It may seem that there are more important battles to be fought on the violence-against-women front than a linguistic war. But I would also argue that language shapes the way we think. Eve-teasing is a word that reminds me of a chador, or a blanket; a word designed to conceal far more than it reveals. It’s telling that the second most frequently used euphemism, in the language used to describe assaults against women in India, is “molestation”, defined as “unwanted and/ or improper sexual advances”. It’s another mild word that should be used to describe relatively mild acts, but I see it often used to describe acts of actual violence, aggression and sexual assault.

Molestation, harassment, verbal abuse, unwanted sexual advances, physical aggression, attacks, assault, battery, sexual violence, attempted rape, rape: that is a more accurate, if incomplete, range of terms that might begin to describe the violence that many women face, far too often. Would you, perhaps, think harder about what happens to a girl or a woman when she’s attacked, if it was described as an attack, rather than another incident of eve-teasing? I would. I do. And in all the years I’ve been living in Delhi, I’ve seen women who have survived everything from simple harassment to severe battery to rape to post-rape attempted murder. None of them have ever used the term “eve-teasing” to describe what they have experienced. It’s been fifty years since we first started using that euphemism; it’s time we stopped. End of rant.

7 comments

  1. This is an incredibly important issue. I'm so glad you are raising it.When we talk about violence against women, few things are as important as the language we use. This violence is allowed to continue in large part because of the words we use to minimize or explain it away: "eve teasing"… "She asked for it…" and all the other euphemisms you identify. As you point out, these euphemisms structure the way we think about what is in fact violence. I think there are few things more imporant than language regarding this issue, because without accurate language, criminal acts will be explained as naughtiness, and they will continue. (I also wonder about the use of the word miscreant, which is commonly used to describe religious fundamentalists who kill, burn, rape, etc…but that's for another day).The press needs to do a much better job on this.Here's to "NO means NO""Rape means Rape""You can't hit a woman."and other such stuff.Hari

  2. And yet another euphemism: violated her modesty. As in 'unidentified youths violated the modesty of women passing through the area.' I've always been embarrassed by the term 'eve teasing.' As far as I know only we, in India, use it. So many other euphemisms we use are owned, and operate, internationally, leaving me free to critique with no cultural embarrassment.

  3. Couldn't have put it better myself. Don't diminish it by calling it a rant. If this is a rant, we could do with more of them. "Eve teasing" is a hateful, hateful term and should be immediately excised from the vocabulary of our illustrious media.

  4. "In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism., question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them."- George Orwell, 'Politics and the English Language'

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