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When women speak up about sexual harassment at work, what is the first reaction they receive? Scepticism and disbelief. And you are surprised more women don’t want to speak up?
For quite some time now, I’ve put a self-imposed ban on my social media consumption in order to focus on my long term goals. Maybe that is the reason why I got this news so late. This morning while going through the recent news on my phone, I came across the sexual harassment allegation written by The Indian Fowler against Arunabh Kumar, Founder of viral video makers, TVF.
In response to this post (and despite several others agreeing to such things being possible at TVF), the threat like response issued by TVF proves one thing: most big corporations don’t give a damn about women’s safety in the workplaces and know that they have the legal power to win the battle against a puny individual, and that is the reason so many women like us keep silent. Because most people are skeptical about our complaints. Because the onus of proving that we were harassed lies upon us and NOT the perpetrator.
Even if you go through the comments section in the original post, you’d see people asking why she stayed silent for so long, when she had clearly mentioned that she was contract bound and TVF’s legal team was pursuing her and even her parents asked her to keep quiet. She even wrote, “I just wished i could kill myself.” Just to gain sympathy, right TVF?
Why am I so bothered about this incident? Because it feels so close to home. In one of my previous organizations, a multinational ITeS firm, renowned worldwide, I was sexually harassed by a manager. He made me shift base to a city where I had no friends and family and then he would routinely persuade me to join him for weekends at resorts or on getaway trips. When all his advances failed, he called up my previous manager and slut shamed me and said I was a raging alcoholic. He would routinely make me work late and on holidays, he would loudly insult me in public, and call me dumb and stupid. In other words, he made my life a hell in those eight months that I was forced to be on his team.
I later came to know that this manager, who was married with two kids, had been previously charged with sexual harassment as well. But even then, you know what the HR manager’s first response was? ‘Why did you wait for all this time (around four months) to come to complain? Is it because now you’re homesick and want to be transferred to your hometown?’
Yes, this is the reason we keep quiet, because the first reaction we get is skepticism. Even before going to question the perpetrator, we’d be asked a series of ‘Why’s’. Without a bit of a consideration to the fact that we are putting our careers in the company and in the industry in general at stake, we are putting our personal lives up for public scrutiny, we are risking everything we hold dear in order to speak up, yet, we are the ones who have to prove that we had been harassed.
I write this with anger and despair because this victim blaming is not even restricted to grown women, you know? Even when I was molested as a six year old kid by my uncle’s best friend, my uncle just asked my mother to not let me interact with the man. My uncle on the other hand continued his friendship with this man and continued going for trips with him along with his family, as if nothing happened. You see, from that age on I knew. We are supposed to keep quiet. Because most people are ready with their questions for us. Before even launching into an investigation or trying to talk to the perpetrator they’d first ask us, whether this has all been a figment of our imagination.
The only ray of hope I see is from the fact that despite all the odds stacked against us, some of us will still not stop fighting. We might be the mere Davids in this fight against the mighty Goliaths but even then, in one way or the other we will try speaking up. I do wish the world took a bit of time to listen to us with compassion though; maybe then, the leader of the free world today wouldn’t be a man who could publicly boast of grabbing pussies and getting away with it.
Top image via Pexels
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It is good that you choose to tell your story and it is certainly not an isolated case story. Wherever there is a gross imbalance of power between groups or individuals, there is bound to be misuse of authority, that comes with such absolute and totalitarian power. In traditional patriarchal societies, power is hierarchical and concentrated at the top to an extent that soon, those higher up begin to enjoy such unchallenged power and authority that exploitation becomes inevitable. This plays out everywhere-in homes, outside homes, at workplaces and political/religious/social spheres too. The individual and institutionalised misuse of power and authority that has been vested in large sections of males in patriarchy, has led to a widely recurring phenomenon of neglect, abuse, harassment and violence against girls and women. In earlier generations, girls were married off at a young age, denied education and the means to earn or own wealth/property. The resultant dependence on males, left them in a very unequal and vulnerable position to challenge the status quo. However, we have thankfully begun to move ahead from those very dark times to relatively better times. Things are slowly changing now and change they must. With the growing awareness among women about their rights to education, property and capacity to earn/be financially independent, they can and must set the balance right. The inequalities in privileges and disadvantages suffered by women need to be challenged, resisted and wiped out. Women must support each other and gain strength from unifying to be a force of some strength and magnitude to reckon with, rather than continue as individuals to be trivialised, ignored and exploited. It may take us one painful step at a time to get there, but the course is now clear and we must not stop, now that we have started this journey. It is indeed fantastic to see so many women choosing to speak up about their harassment/abuse and even demanding accountability and justice. This will give other victims the courage to do the same and help them identify as a group with a common goal. In the more recent history of human civilisation, exploited groups have had to go through similar processes in their fight for justice. We too will have to do the same- resist, challenge and expose the exploitation whenever and wherever we experience it. The brutes, despots and monsters must be reigned in or rooted out and we must seek to right the imbalance of power so that all decent men and women may live with equal dignity and respect. Every voice counts and yours is certainly one of them!
Thanks for sharing this story. It is unfortunate that this happened and the attitude of the organisation was pathetic, I must say..As an HR manager, I have handled dozens of sexual harrassment cases at work and I have never come across a single woman who has lied about this. This is not to say that it cannot happen but it is very, very rare. Another reason why women do not report it is also that the industry is very well connected and if the woman gets branded as a ‘trouble maker’ by some people in the organization, there can be a possibility that she does not get a job elsewhere. This fear also prevents women from reporting the issue.
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