Silence is Considered Assent!

Jyoti Shekar

sexual-harassment-at-workIn my profession as a lawyer, I interact with many people on a daily basis. Recently, someone from my client’s office sent me a message saying how much he loved my straight hair look and if I could send him a photograph. I must add, I have spoken to him only once in my official discussions!

Naturally, I refused. But, I made the mistake of being polite in the first instance. He immediately retorted that there is nothing to get offended about. Sensing the discussion to be useless, I did not respond to him. He kept sending me messages every few seconds to get my attention. Finally, I replied with a really rude remark and he apologised for his mistake and went offline.

I learnt a couple of things from this experience.

First, we seem to be living in a society where women are expected to be okay with unwanted advances. Such men act surprised if we find their advances or remarks offensive. It makes one wonder, is it not the reason #metoo movement is getting diluted? As many of the #metoo incidents are being discounted as ‘not a harassment experience’, simply because men do not see it as particularly harassing! Because that is how they are conditioned to think and behave.

d1c886ae-ed05-4fca-b8bb-47db75ffcedbSecond, when someone is making unwanted advances, being polite to them may not be taken as a strict ‘no’. As a child, like every other girl, I was taught to ignore eve-teasing, not react to men making unwanted advances and essentially keep quiet if I feel ‘wronged’. But this incident showed me that as long as I kept quiet, it was taken as a yes (the guy at one point, when I did not respond at all, said ‘Ok, do not respond, I will simply wait for you to change your profile picture.’). Only when I responded rudely, without any subtlety whatsoever, did he get the message.

To be honest, I know it can give me a notoriety of being ‘too aggressive’.

But the way I look at it – if it helps me put across my point and give a message that I am not to be taken lightly, I choose to be called aggressive. I choose to be called rude.

What I narrated above, may not be a typical #metoo incident, but it clearly indicates the mentality of men who question women facing such uncomfortable episodes.

Having said that, there are men who are actually sympathetic to #metoo and encourage women to speak up. Not all men take it on their egos and feel hurt about a woman complaining of harassment unless of course, they are harassers themselves.

I spoke to a couple of men who support #metoo to understand their reasons for doing so.

Victor Chakraborty, a writer, social worker and a women’s rights advocate, says:

‘We live in a society which is based on the fundamentals of sexism and misogyny that has enabled men to be at the throne of power while women were always seen to be under them, often underappreciated and mostly, heavily exploited.

The power structure has always played a predominant role, in which it is always a man in power both financially and on a social class basis, and it is always a woman from a lower power order that becomes his victim. In the Indian context, the power often ranges on the basis of caste, gender, and religion. Often a man here in power assumes that he is the sole controller of a woman’s consent since he holds power.

Even some women are commenting on how a strong woman will reply a harasser with a tight slap on his face to protect herself, and not wait for years to find justice for herself. However, I feel that this point of view completely ignores how society conditions a woman’s mind, and in severe cases, the mental health aspect of a sexual abuse survivor or a rape survivor. Often, a woman can end up with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) that can take her years to recover from.

To conclude, I would say #metoo is an exceptional movement that unites the survivors from all sides to stand up together in solidarity to end the crimes on women. And while #metoo is a fight for justice, if we only spend our valuable time judging a survivor and her story, then #wetoo are the problem.’

Venky Iyer, a financial services professional and a blogger at Empower Mindset, says:

I believe that anyone who is hired to work at any organization, especially executives and higher, or who runs an organization is educated enough to understand the meaning of harassment and its repercussions. I do not understand why people try to take advantage of a female who is junior to him or a vulnerable female who does not have any option other than adjusting, because of various reasons.

So, I would urge the women to speak up. If one person is exposed, then it will have an impact on other males too. Think, if everyone who has been harassed raises their voice, the problem will be solved forever. You can create a better future for your children.’

download (4)While #metoo remains a debatable topic, Eyra supports women speaking up against harassment. We feel that every woman should contribute towards a safe working environment for all women, it is no less than their duty to do so.

 

Here is to our sisterhood!

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