Reactions to the Reach Out Project – Bhagya Senaratne writes on her experience of working on the Man Up! project.
Several months back, I was asked by a few friends to come be a part of a network of young girls (and then some guys joined too!) who were working towards creating a safer space for women in Sri Lanka. Their initial work started in Colombo.As part of ‘reaching out’ to society, the Reach Out bunch decided on using types of theater; and disruptive theater was singled out as one of the means to address this issue. We decided on having sessions of disruptive theater in the random bus on different bus routes, so that we spread the word to a variety of people commuting in public buses.We also decided, disruptive theater in buses alone won’t help. Public spaces where youth and women visit and spend time at were deemed equally important. This is where I was came into volunteer and be a subject of a scripted ‘perversion’.The actors were to go to Majestic City (MC) and act out a scene of guys perving and annoying a lone girl walking and window shopping. Two friends were to follow and randomly cat-call. Their basic motive was to be that of a normal pervert and annoy me. The experience was baffling, especially when I went up to people to ask for their help! Most of them just turned and walked away, leaving the victim (me) in distress! Alternatively, when I approached a lone guy whom I was randomly passing to help me, he actually stopped to help. He didn’t say a single word, but he made sure to stand by till the two ‘stalkers’ went. I thanked him, because I did not expect him to help me as none of the others did so when previously approached.I suppose I can easily say that I am generally a ‘perv-magnet’. I attract all the wrong attention and get perved on quite often, be it touching, squeezing, rubbing on etc. on a normal day-to-day basis. So for me to actually go to a public space and act out reality had be on my nerves with something bordering on paranoia! I was skeptic and I was practically refusing to go up to strangers to ask for help. But the two other ‘support’ friends that were there, insisted that it needs to be done, at least for the project’s sake. From this ‘experiment’ I realised my basic notion of other people not wanting to meddle in another’s worries was correct. Then again I also came to realise, that not everyone is like that, and there is the odd person in society who will go out of his way to help someone in distress.Thanks to this lovely project, my perceptions on people changed a bit and kudos to Shifani and Rushda for giving me this opportunity and to Himal and Naveen the two professional perverts!