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I am an Indian woman, residing in India and single. And the latter brings a lot of unwanted attention to myself, from both genders. Females make fun of me stating that I need to get married and start giving me unsolicited advice. Male colleagues take it for granted that I am available. As far as I have seen, married women are respected a lot and they are even spoken to smoothly.

I have lunch with a few colleagues, one of them is a married female. We all have good conversations and it was okay until a few days back. One day, that female colleague had a slight dress (read, Indian salwar kameez) mishap and her cleavage was visible. She was not aware of it and was still talking to all of us. I noticed and messaged her and she adjusted. She is a busty woman. The important point is, I found that two of the men didn't want to see that cleavage and they put their heads down though they were listening to her.

A few days back, I had such mishap too. There was no female to correct me and it went unnoticed. But, those same two male colleagues were staring at my cleavage and were giggling. I was in an Indo-western attire. Even if I were in Indian casuals, I think I would have got those nasty stares and giggles.

I really wanted to tell those men that I had respected them when there was a similar mishap with the other colleague and they chose not to see it. But, when it came to me, they chose to enjoy the scene (as termed in Indian context).

In what ways do I convey this point to them that their irrational behaviour is not welcome with me? Can I state the same thing what I have written here?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – John Mar 18 '18 at 0:04
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You should confront them the next time this happens. You can either address the problem in a joking tone as the previous answer mentioned or you can be really serious and ask if they didn't attend any anti harassment training and how they'd like a visit to HR.

From my personal experience, it's not always about marital status and respect. It's mostly about how much lenient/casual/friendly the lady is. I'm a married woman from India and occasionally face the problem of guys staring at my chest as they talk. If I know the person well, I'll confront them about it in a casual manner ("My eyes are up here"/"Stop behaving like a teenager") but otherwise, I just ignore the glances as long as their conversations with me are appropriate/professional.

There was an unmarried lady in my team who was staying alone and everyone was always very respectful to her and rarely spoke to her unless needed. This was because in the very first week she joined, she confronted a senior guy (who couldn't control his roving eyes) by telling him directly within the hearing distance of the rest of the team "Please look at my face when talking unless you don't mind me filing a HR complaint"

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To be perfectly truthful, I think it's the culture in this part of the world, and there is little to do about it. Even if you bring it up with them in a respectful conversation, the men will not take you seriously and maybe even make fun of you.

I would suggest that the next time something like this happens, just very casually call them perverts/uncivilized almost in a joking manner. (ex: "Ew you guys were staring like thugs on the street. What's the matter, is your mother still supervising your internet, or are you just uncivilized?") It must be said in a casual and joking tone, otherwise, it is likely they will get defensive and complain to your boss.

Hopefully after you point out the fact that you actually notice their behavior, the more decent ones will realize their mistake.

As for the men thinking single women are always available, you can mention in a few conversations that you are not interested in "office romances" due to the problems it brings; or you are busy trying to support your parents right now.

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The earlier answer by @svj carries high validity for coming from Indian women's point of view. I am Indian myself and understand your situation very well indeed, though only from men's perspective. In fact I just recently asked (and answered) a question here on how my unmarried sister can convey in a prospective job that she is not "available" for an "office romance." The boss was alleged to be womaniser in that case.

1.Double Standards

Your main objection to those men's behavior seems to be the double standards involved in that, in an identical situation, the men were "respectful" with your female colleague, looking away because she was married, and outright nasty disrespectful with you (staring and giggling like schoolboys) because you are an unmarried woman they consider "available." If that was not your reason then please edit Q to clarify.

Sad but true, that double standard is entrenched in this society and also in many other cultures worldwide. Since the married woman is considered sexually "unavailable" in India by social taboo, those men probably did not want to "inflame their senses" in a hopeless cause. Moreover she could have insulted them loudly if she caught them staring and her husband could have thrashed them even at risk of breaking the law: both acts would be considered a justified reaction by most people simply because she is a married woman.

2.Social Conditioning

Married women are "respected" in India not only because disrespecting married women invites severe social punishment, but also because Society wants to condition women (and men) to see "married" as the ideal state and thus make unmarried women aspire to the married state. It makes it easier for patriarchal society to control women, though feminism is still not popular here. Unfortunately the negative form of reinforcing this social conditioning is to make unmarried women insecure by treating them disrespectfully as "available till married."

3. Futility of Discussion

So you are fighting established social stereotypes experienced by millions of women. The difference in those men's behavior with married and unmarried women is not even worth addressing with them because they seem stupidly insensitive from your description and probably wouldn't understand what you are trying to tell them. They don't respect the married woman; they just want to avoid complications. You also risk wasting your psychological energy trying to make them feel your sense of injustice that you are not being "respected as much as a married woman", when in fact you deserve the utmost respect as a woman and there is no real way to interpersonally communicate that to a man who does not respect women in the first place.

4. All That Remains

All that remains is to assess whether their behavior towards you specifically (ignoring how they behaved with the married woman) could be described as "sexual harassment at the workplace" or even "conduct that outrages the modesty of a woman" which are punishable offences in India. Next time they do it, you can make that assessment and decide whether you want to file a complaint either with your superiors or with a legal entity. Note that the law does not differentiate between married and unmarried woman because it is discriminatory to have such a difference.

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