A man was sitting next to me in my flight home last week. A fairly annoying and talkative man. Every time I tried watching a movie, he’d start a conversation that would force me to pause the movie and talk to him. He started with “Your good-name, please?”, and then went on to ask me what I do in Singapore, how long I’ve been there, and how much I paid for my ticket home. He then proudly informed me that he was a doctor and proceeded to advise me to not bite my nails or play with my cuticles, because doing so greatly increases the risk of infection.
I have never been very open to advice, especially the unasked-for variety, so the free medical advice was the first thing that irritated me. Then the various, un-encouraged attempts at conversation turned me off. And then came the touching.
Jet Airways allows very little personal space to its passengers. So, I couldn’t be sure whether the ‘touching’ was intentional or not. But throughout the 5-hour flight, I was at edge, on my guard. There wasn’t a lot I could do at this point, except pointedly putting my cushion on the arm-rest between the man and me and keeping my knees tucked away from his side. But I kept thinking about how sad the whole situation was. Here I was, sitting next to a man who could easily be perfectly respectable and decent, but I just couldn’t convince myself that he was perfectly respectable and decent. As far as I was concerned, his elbow that was always ever-so-slightly on my side could as easily be a precursor to more contact.
I’ve been felt up in crowded markets and malls more than once. So has almost every girl I know. And because of this, I can’t trust any stranger. I’m always suspicious, always on my guard. Was the elbow that poked my ribs supposed to do that? Is his knee touching mine under our meal-tables intentional? Is he getting some perverse pleasure from leaning forward when I do and leaning back when I do? Is this man trying to make a pass at me?
The sexual harassment most women face everyday doesn’t just affect us at that moment, or spoil just one day. My experiences at the markets and malls affect how I look at strange men everyday. Every invasion of my personal space is a potential threat; every seemingly innocent touch has a deeper, uglier purpose. And every male neighbour on a flight is potentially a reason to call a steward for help.