The Fragile Male Ego on the Streets of Colombo
Wrath, frustration, bullying and intimidation are just a few of the things you will meet when you are a woman on the streets of Colombo. I have been wanting to write about what it’s like to traverse the roads of Sri Lanka as a woman for a while now. Because it’s truly an experience of facing the fragile fabric of the male ego of this country.
Now I understand that there are plenty of nice guys out there. Before you get your knickers in a twist, may I remind you that you are the minority. Because a majority of women face all kinds of violations when they step out on the streets of this country. From cat calls to whistles, to boob grapping, butt groping to ‘jack gahanawa’ the list is endless. And it is unsolicitated. Not once has a woman been ‘asking for it’. Instead the idea seems to be that walking on the street, taking public transport or driving in your own vehicle is an invitation for comments and other forms of abuse.
Women drivers will listen to insults from being called a vagina to a female dog to being a ‘patta’ female dog to all other kinds because they have made a mistake or they are not going fast enough.
I started riding my bicycle a few years ago and realised just how much it bothers men to see a woman on a bike. Because the horning is endless, the comments are galore, everything from ‘ah nangi’ to comments about your ability to ride. When on a bicycle, you are super exposed. I usually avoid traffic times (coz I don’t want buses running me over) and I ride on holidays or at night when the traffic is less. We use lights, we wear helmets and we ensure that we are visible.
Recently I was riding my bicycle at night with another female friend. We were using the back roads of Attidiya because it is close to her place and those are relatively empty at night. We ventured onto Galle road near Ratmalana and I saw my friend give a van full of guys the finger because I figured they had said something. Sure enough they had been commenting and shouting at her. We meandered down a road in Mount Lavinia and ended on Abeysekere Mawatha where we were riding side by side but with enough room for vehicles to pass. A three wheeler started honking and driving right behind us and we indicated with our hands to pass by. Yet this man kept at it and I my friend rode ahead and I got so flustered by his headlight being just behind me that I braked suddenly on my front tire and went flying off my bike. More than my fall I was pissed off at this man who passed me and stopped in front, just as a police car drove up. I told him people like him should have lightning strike on them (hena Gahanna oney) and asked why the hell he was horning like a maniac and driving close behind us when he had plenty of room to pass. He said you were talking and riding and we asked ‘so what?’ You had room to pass. Why does it bother you that we were talking and riding? He was then dismissed by the police who checked to see if I was ok and I said my falling is not the issue. This man was right behind which totally flustered me. I am not an amateur cyclist. I have been riding for years. Still, this prick should not have been right behind me honking and harassing me. My friend was adequately pissed and asked the policeman why they let the man go. The police were saying it’s not a good road, there are drug addicts (kudu karayas) and my friend said, these are the roads that lead to our houses, if we can’t travel on them, then are we to stay at home and be scraping coconuts? (pol gaannadha kiyanney gedharata wela). And she was right. It got me thinking. The answer to these problems is not that you hide the women away, you address the perpetrators. Why the hell did that three wheel driver have a problem with two women riding on the road when there was plenty of room for him to pass? Why the hell did the police dismiss him? Was he one of their known buddies or suppliers? Why the hell does this country have such an archaic attitude to women on the road?
Standard comments for a woman driver is that she is bad, slow, not good and most men assume this of women drivers. This constant doubt and bullying is what makes a lot of women drivers fearful anyway. Coz when you have large vehicles come and honk behind you and shout abuse, it is abuse. It is bullying. And it’s not bloody ok. But this country sees road rage as a very acceptable norm. A man is a ‘man’ because he can use abuse and filth on others, especially women, and that’s ok. Coz ‘boys will be boys’ and women should accept in true ‘humble fashion’.
Fuck that shit.
All abuse and bullying on the road showcases is a coward hiding behind a vehicle and using his position of power to belittle others. It’s a problem. And it needs to be addressed. And no, women will not be staying at home scraping a fucking coconut because it is not ‘safe’ for them to venture out. Coz today, every road has kudu karayas. Every community has drug addicts. This country has a severe drug problem. The three wheeler dude did not like two women riding bicycles, that was it. If it was two men, he would not have dared even horn. But no. Women have to take shit for the fragile male egos on display every day in this country.
This is why we need feminism. To ensure there is equality. We were not riding our bicycles in Binthanne. If it was Binthanne, they would probably have treated us better. This is Colombo. This is our home. And we have every bloody right to go where we want – on the roads at least. Not like we went inside someone’s house and expected to be treated well. The road is a public space. It belongs to everyone. Not just the fragile male egos and those who support and uphold such garbage.
My challenge to the nice guys out there. Please call out the assholes who spend their time abusing women on the road. Call out your bros and your buddies for commenting on women just because they have a mouth and think it’s their divine right to do so. Your support will be greatly appreciated and will help teach people something called basic decency.