Culture & Society

Poem: The Male Gaze 

Social worker Radhika Pradhan writes a poem on male gaze

Representative image
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I hate the way you look at me 
when I step out of my house
in a blue mini-skirt.
Your gaze travels down, 
from my face to the free space 
that separates my skirt from my thigh. 
You try to look inside.
I never invited you to look 
but still you do.
Without my consent,
as though the only reason I stepped out in that skirt 
was for you. 
Little did you know, 
my friend had died that day.

The day she gifted this skirt to me, 
we painted tiny apples on the back.
When I found the skirt in the back of my almirah this morning, 
the smell of the paint took me back to that day.
Her eyes glistening with a wide smile
haunted me all day. 
So, I put on that skirt
to keep her close,
and went out to our favorite spot in the park
where we would lie down and listen to punk rock. 
But the minute I left my house,
with all my grief on my shoulders, 
your gaze followed me, 
to make me uncomfortable. 
For those five minutes, 
I forgot my friend, 
pulled the skirt down a little, 
and dialed my mum on the phone. 
I clutched the pepper spray in my bag
and held onto the bag for my dear life. 
My heart raced till I reached the park, 
turned and checked all around.
That day I couldn’t even grieve freely,
for the mere fear of you 
hiding behind the trees sneakily. 

I hate the way you look at me 
when I step out of my house in a black and red saree.
Your gaze follows the protruding traces of my bra through my blouse,
and stoop down to try to look behind my pallu.
My ten-year-old son asks me,
‘Mumma, why is that man looking at you?’
‘He is a bad man,’ I reply,
but still didn’t glare you in the eye. 
I averted my eyes as you peer through my pallu 
and trace the curve of my waist. 
You followed me to the sabzi mandi that day, 
and I phoned my husband 
to pick us up on his way. 

I hate the way you look at me
when I step out of my house in my little bicycle shorts. 
I wear a top with little butterflies on it.
It covers everything. 
Either way, I don’t have much curves to show for myself 
for you see, I am just a girl of eight. 
But still, 
your eyes never fail to follow me
each time I get on my bike and ride 
from my house to the end of the street, and back.
You stand in the same spot and stare,
and I don’t understand what you do there. 
Are you planning on kidnapping me, or worse?
What could you even do to an eight-year-old?
Perhaps I asked this question too early,
understand, I didn’t even want to challenge you nearly.
Yesterday, when my father turned on the news channel, 
I saw what a man had done to an eight-year-old. 
The mere information sent chills down my spine, 
I ran to my room and cried. 
I stopped taking my bike out alone. 
I always paired up with friends who bullied me in school.
For being around them was still better, 
than being a tragic prey to the likes of you. 

(Radhika Pradhan is an aspiring development worker on gender-based violence. Currently, she is a social worker who works from the urban slums of Patna. Her work is inspired by the socio-cultural reality of women in India.)

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