'Sexy college girl smoking cigarette'
This is not a discussion on the pros and cons of smoking in itself, nor is it an opinion on any practical aspect of the laws and policies regarding smoking cigarettes in public. This is merely an expression of the frustrations many women face every day, purely because they are Indian woman ‘brazen’ enough to smoke where people can see them.
This bothers me specifically because the highlight of the problem is not the smoking of the cigarette; men do that with impunity in the exact same places and no one seems to mind. The focus is always, always the women. People don't really have a problem with smoking, they have a problem with women smoking. When Indians see women smoke, ugly things start to happen.
What are these ugly things I speak of? I won't dwell upon the stares and glowers that female smokers face constantly, because there will always be people quick to inform me that there's nothing wrong with just looking, that people only stare because they aren't used to seeing it, and anyway, don't be so sensitive. So in the interest of not-being-so-sensitive, I'll bow my head and move on, as befits a good Indian woman; ignoring, of course, the fact that there's a difference between a look and a stare, and that while judging a woman for smoking may not be illegal, it certainly is unsavory and symptomatic of a deeply rooted patriarchal bias.
So. Cigarette-wallahs often point-blank refuse to sell cigarettes to women, while continuing to serve the hordes of men milling around them. It's no secret, they tell you quite honestly, they will not sell cigarettes to ladies. Shopkeepers permit men to smoke outside their establishments, women are immediately shooed away, loudly and never politely. Women seen smoking are harangued, cursed, vilified, muttered and spat at (no, literally) by the general public.
The sight of a woman smoking, as I've said, has a strange and profound effect on the average Indian mind. A cigarette seems to take on numerous additional layers of meaning when seen in a woman's hand. It is always immensely problematic when a single object becomes a symbol of something other than it's primary or original purpose. This is particularly true when dealing with cigarettes. When a woman smokes, the cigarette suddenly becomes a sign of her availability, sexual promiscuity, bad upbringing and absolute, woeful moral decay.
Because, of course, only such women smoke. You know, the type of woman you fuck, never marry.
Female smokers are rarely surprised to see cars being driven slowly in circles around them, their drivers grinning and tooting their horns, even lowering their windows to make lewd advances. The only way to chase them off, I've found, is to whip out a cell phone and pretend to make a call. Hooting at a college girl is one thing; no one wants to deal with her buff boyfriend, though. Female smokers also learn, out of necessity, to be ever-vigilant, always on the lookout for the omnipresent idiot with a camera phone, eager to video tape the whole sordid, scandalous scene. They’re everywhere, you know, lurking in dark corners with a phone held deceptively at eye-level. You can find the products of their hard work on Youtube, of course, just search for ‘sexy college girl smoking cigarette’.
Worse still, women who smoke do not have the luxury of relying on the protection of the police, or anyone really, when harassed. Any woman who made such a complaint would be laughed out of the station, at the very, very best. It's the usual idea: if you're a woman who smokes, you deserve every bit of harassment you get, and more. Hell, policemen routinely stop, harass and bully women who smoke on the streets, ignoring the numerous men doing the same in the vicinity (because petrified, cowed college girls are much easier targets.)
An astonishing number of people, both male and female, also seem to have no qualms in marching up to women to treat them to an edifying lecture that makes references in equal number to the duties and responsibilities women have, the defining characteristics of prostitutes, and the terrible effects such evil habits can have on their wombs. Again. I am making no judgments (here) on smoking itself. I just wonder how many men have found themselves listening to an old, strange senior citizen enlighten them about the toll smoking can take on their fertility?
Listen. It is not your birthright to lecture, videotape, threaten, harass and bully those who do not subscribe to your moral standards. Female smokers are not the reflection of everything that's wrong with this society, the people who harass them are. They are doing you no more harm than the men you seem to be able to ignore. So in essence, I'm not asking for much, just what most women always seem to be pleading for anyway: please, just leave us the hell alone.