Many men are of the opinion that to save themselves from being accused of harassment they should avoid women at all costs. Just yesterday, the Wall Street was in the news, for its new unwritten rule of avoiding interactions with female co-workers, in order to prevent being accused of harassment. This is a familiar conversation which found its way to the streets, drawing rooms and boardrooms in India, when #MeToo stories begin to break out in October this year.
This is something every woman has heard in the last two months from either a male colleague, a complete stranger or someone as close as a brother or a friend or a partner. Many Indian men casually put it forth that they fear for their reputation, as they do not know when a woman will shout out misconduct. This statement can only be interpreted in one way. Men are indirectly accusing women of blowing things out of proportion. According to them, many women are misreading their body language and casual arm slapping as harassment. So every common man in our country, today, is wary of harassment accusations, but in the most illogical ways possible.
It is as if we are some bloodthirsty vampires who are out to hunt men and christen them as sexual predators.
The solution is not as simple as avoiding women
This stance among men shows how little they hold the male behaviour accountable, when it comes to sexual harassment. They see themselves as victims, turning the tables on women, and accusing them of preying on innocent men. It also puts forth that these men care little about how sexual harassment impacts a woman’s career, health and overall well-being. For them the key takeaway from #MeToo is that they the men, are at risk of losing everything. Their career and reputation are obviously of more value than ripping out the weed of harassment from our system. Hence, they would rather stay away from women, than work with them to create a society where women are respected and treated with dignity.
- We often come across men who opine that they should stop interacting with women altogether, to protect their reputation.
- This stance among men shows how little they hold the male behaviour accountable, when it comes to sexual harassment.
- It also puts forth that men care little about how sexual harassment hurts women for a lifetime.
- Sexual harassment won’t go away by avoiding women.
I agree that amidst the massive pile of relevant and credible allegations of sexual misconduct, hide some false accusations. Sometimes they stem from a desire to extract vendetta while on other occasions women do misinterpret male conduct. But men are clutching at these few straws and discrediting the entire movement as a sham, while conveniently overlooking the pattern of entitled behaviour and aggression so prevalent among their gender.
Sexual harassment won’t go away by avoiding women. Just like it won’t go away if women wear “appropriate” clothes to their workplaces, or aren’t too friendly.
It will only go away when men accept their part of the blame. When instead of analysing where women are going wrong, men introspect their own behaviour. Washing hands of the women-kind, entirely will only deepen the rift between the two genders. It will further increase miscommunication. Wouldn’t it be better to open a dialogue instead? To be better allies to each other, so that we can present a united front against a problem which affects both the genders, sometimes in different ways? If men and women combine their forces and eradicate the culture of sexual harassment, no one would be able to use #MeToo as a weapon against innocent men. As much as it is the responsibility of women to not misuse #MeToo, men should start looking at sexual harassment as a crime, not an over-reaction.
#MeToo highlighted a decrepit system which festers exploitation and protects abusive behaviour of those in power. Today, the victims that we know, are women. Hopefully, tomorrow some men will find the courage to come forward with their #MeToo stories too. Maybe then, they will understand that the solution for ending the culture of sexual harassment in our society is not as simple as avoiding women.
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.