Why It’s Not Easy To Acknowledge Workplace Harassment For Women
Yesterday, a #MeToo Movement began in Indian journalism when women came out in the open to acknowledge workplace harassment. In an outstanding display of courage, numerous women outed creepy male colleagues and superiors, only to find out that they were not alone. By afternoon, almost every man accused of alleged inappropriate conduct with women faced multiple accusations.
It was as if the women’s dam of tolerance had been broken by a flood of repressed anger and frustration at their complaints going unheard. That sexual harassment at workplace is so commonplace came as a shock to many. But we, working women, have long known, through our whisper networks, how routine inappropriate conduct among men at the workplace is. We face unprofessional behaviour from men on every possible level and at every possible occasion. Whether it is during an interview, or while being out on a team dinner.
We all know about those repeated and unnecessary pats on thighs and knees. Those inappropriate comments on bust size and that seemingly careless graze which lingers on our skin a little longer than it should. Yet, before #MeToo happened, most of us chose to keep quiet
It’s a struggle to out a predator in a world where you are unwelcome
It is not easy to speak up against sexually inappropriate conduct for women. Firstly, because it is not easy being a working woman in a man’s world. Men have a sense of brotherhood when it comes to their male colleagues. They consciously or sub- consciously alienate women, and thus women find themselves lacking friendship and support. Men have each other’s back, and always turn a convenient blind eye to their bros’ misconduct. We have seen it, we have experienced it and thus we know we are outsiders in an office space, where the stakes are set very high against us. At the end of the day, it is our word against theirs.
- It is not easy for women to speak up against sexually inappropriate conduct of male colleagues and superiors.
- Over time, women have ended up normalising harassment, thinking it is a routine part of a working woman’s life.
- Besides, people expect women to prove their allegations, and not predators to prove their innocence.
- What we have learned in the last two days is that women need to be louder. The whisper networks need to transform into megaphone networks, now that we have all the momentum and attention that we need.
Over time, this has given rise to a tendency among women to normalise the harassment they face
This is how it is at workplaces. If one has to survive, then one needs to learn to bear these misdemeanours with a poker face. The most you can do is to gossip about it with your female colleagues. A daring few go to the extent of filing a formal complaint. But how does that go? Your guess is as good as mine. Taking an action or calling out a powerful male predator is just too complicated. Besides, it ends with harsher professional consequences for women than those men. No one is nice to a tell-tale at the office. It is the women who get accused of bringing the workspace a bad name ironically, not the men who abuse their power to leer after them.
Another aspect of our struggle is the social tendency to place the onus of providing proof about accusers. No harasser is ever asked to prove his decency, but a survivor is always asked to prove her allegations. But then how does one “prove” an inappropriate pass or touch which made you uncomfortable. The fingers running on the bra strap? Or the persistent pestering to go out for a coffee or meal? Or how your boss sits too close to you during meetings, for your comfort? How does one prove those repeated verbal offers or demands for sexual escapades, which keep coming your way despite your loud and firm “No”?
It is not that easy and sometimes it is even hard to convince your female co-workers, let alone male
What we have learned in last two days is that women need to be louder. The whisper networks need to transform into megaphone networks, now that we have all the momentum and the attention that we need. Let’s talk more and understand that neither are we alone, and nor are the things happening to us acceptable or correct. The more we talk, the more there will be a conversation on acceptable and unacceptable workplace conduct. Most men and women in India still know what counts as appropriate workplace behaviour.
It is too soon to say how this will end for creeps lurking in office spaces, who have been named and shamed today. But by speaking up openly, women have at least struck some fear in their hearts. That there will be consequences sooner or later, is something which should be clear to every person who abuses his position and power to outrage other’s modesty. Which is why we need to keep speaking up.
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own