taking up a job researching rape culture: ten observations and then some

by Priyanka Sutaria

my boss is
interviewing me for the job
I will eventually take up,
and she asks me if I have ever
experienced sexual violence.

I say no.

it is my first day
at work and my boss is
still wondering how I have
made it through life without
experiencing sexual violence,
and I tell her that I have
never been assaulted, but
I ignore the daily reminders
that I am not safe
in this world
as a woman.

my boyfriend and his friends
argue about whether he should
drop me home. when I ask
why they are contemplating this
so seriously, they eye
my short dress

I am walking back to
my college hostel, a man
follows me on his motorcycle
asking me to fuck him
the whole way back.
it is the main road,
in broad daylight.

the boys in my college
are friends with all my girlfriends,
but whenever the girls are drunk,
the boys hit on them
in the hopes of
getting lucky.

a drunk man in a car
propositions my flatmate and me
outside a bar, and after we
reject him thrice, he tells us
we're bitches and
that we should
fuck off.

men take aim and fire leers
and whistles and catcalls at me
everyday, and the people
around me swab my hands
for gunshot residue.

I am shocked back to the present.

sexual violence exists.
you know this of course,
but now you have to
confront it. You have
enjoyed your privilege
and life with a few good people.
you have not been abused
or assaulted and people
call you lucky.

you probably are.

there is no good rapist;
once a person rapes
they are a bad person.
you may not know they
have raped, but they are still
a bad person.

if you know they have raped
but you continue to
associate yourself with them,
for personal or social reasons,
you are also a bad person.

you will find out
that people don’t care for the
manner in which men occupy space
while women measure their every action,
unless the space that the man occupies
is a woman’s body and her entrails
are pouring out of her gut
on the side of the highway,
and the country measures
the moments until she dies.
when she dies,
they draw up a binary
of how rape occurs - between
nothing and nirbhaya - and call it
a scale as though it can possibly
contain the multitudes of rape culture
within itself.

you will learn
that men do not like being told
they are complicit in this culture
of gendered violence.

a year and a half ago,
I gently told a man that
what he is doing may be
contributing to rape culture;
now he goes around telling people
I accused him of being
a rapist.

this entire world
is a metaphorical locker room,
and most women are walking
at a swift uncomfortable pace
from one to another, locker keys
sticking out awkwardly
between two fingers, a test
for anyone who tries to reach out
and grab them, use them
as towels for their bodily fluids.

this entire world is a
metaphorical locker room,
and most of the times the hands
which reach out to grab
aren't even real - they slither out
from movie screens
and whatsapp jokes
and facebook comment sections.
you can hear the
of the fingers
as they leave behind
pieces of crumpled fear
in your other inbox.

if you call your project
Why Indian Men Rape,
like my boss did, people will
only see the linguistic connotations
they wish to; they will want to know
why you are assuming
that only Indian men rape
and why only men rape
and why women rapists are
being ignored and how 98%
of all rape reports are false,
you fucking feminazi.

if you call your project
Why Indian Men Rape,
like my boss did, men will
immediately tell you some random
fact about rape they heard
“that one time”
because obviously they have two
paisa to give to you in exchange
for your emotional labor;
they probably earn more than you.

besides, even if you have shattered
the glass ceiling, you will be forced
to walk over the shards of glass
to the other side. violence arrives
at your body in so many forms
when you are a woman.

if you call your project
Why Indian Men Rape,
like my boss did, the survivors
will find you, seek you, tell you
their stories. you will learn empathy.
and relearn it. and relearn it,
until you realize that there is no
universal empathy manifesting itself
through you; there is just you
redefining it in a flux of existence.
the survivors will teach you about living
in that flux, moment by moment
by moment of awareness,
a lesson more powerful
than you will ever receive from
anywhere else.

this is the final number
on this list, because there aren't
enough fingers on my hands
to count the number of things I am
learning about this culture
which is so deeply, painfully,
terrifyingly rooted in a singular,
objective notion of body as un-being,
enough to be treated
as not even non-being should.

I am learning how to
gather my fear into bouquets of anger;
I distribute them wherever I go.
each bouquet is studded with those
who have feared, those who have risen,
those have feared and then risen -
there is not a voice or an opinion
that can alter this rage at knowing
that I am growing
into a world like this.

this so you know
that the end of this poem
is not the end of our fight -
this will not be our graveyard.
you will not bury us here.
the holes you have dug as traps
for our bodies will be the ones
you fall into as you chase us
as dusk settles on the horizon.

in the morning,
we will engrave your tombstones
with the words you hurled at us.
whether you are rapist
or bystander, your bones will
rattle in your graves,
a warning
to all those
who ever


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