Instead Of Saying, “Why Didn’t She Report”, Ask “What At Work Made Her Not Report?”

Whether depression, menstrual cramps, gender bias or sexual harassment at workplace, women have never stopped being working persons. Hats off to them!

Whether depression, menstrual cramps, gender bias or sexual harassment at workplace, women have never stopped being working persons. Hats off to them!

I remember starting as a working woman right after my college. I had a graduate degree in hand but no real training for life and a very little idea of what to expect at the workplace. In hindsight, I am looking at this obliviousness as a grave failing of our education system, which emphasises mostly on good grades, hefty pay packages ad nauseam but does little to make the students ready to face life.

But I digress. As much as this article is about the ups and downs everyone experiences while working, it is also specifically focused on dealing with men in the workplace. I am looking back and thinking about all the inappropriate instances, comments, and actions that have still remained fresh in my memory. I am thinking, why did I put up with them? Why did I not confront or complain? As an avalanche of #MeToo stories fills up our social media feeds, it is easy to risk getting triggered and doubtful of one’s own responses. In an environment dotted with victim blaming and brazen sexism/misogyny, it is easy to get stuck in a quagmire of “why me?” and “why didn’t I speak up?”

The innocent beginning

What I know today, I didn’t know then. When I started work, it was easy to get enamoured by the gleaming buildings, the name-tagged cubicles, the sumptuous pantries and the everyday ceremony of corporate work-life. It was ingrained in me to brush off comments that sounded ridiculous and to give everyone endless benefits of doubt. I thought I was supposed to laugh along when my 30-year-old team lead who would refer to me as “roly poly” and openly flirt with me.

It was a two-person team, by the way. We were all well-versed in the art of rolling our eyes and brushing off creepy comments from our colleagues, especially the senior ones. We just knew that uncalled for invitations to closed-door one-on-one meetings and to hotel rooms spelled danger. We knew that it was on us to heed the signs and take precautions, and not to wonder why it was all happening in the first place.

The suppressed memories

It has been a tough time recently coping with all the suppressed memories that are floating back up and pinching the conscience. No matter how educated and well-traveled we are, we as women are conditioned to doubt, second-guess and outright reject our own suspicions. It doesn’t help that most Indian work environments function on a hierarchical axis, constantly reinforcing the rungs to drive home the message that some people are above the law, so don’t bother complaining.

When you are straight out of college or starting at a new job/industry, you naturally tend to remain quiet and absorb the newness. You tend to acquiesce and not stand up for yourself because you have been taught that speaking up and talking back are the same things that can bring upon a career downfall. Which is why so many of us don’t fight back when a colleague routinely badgers you to come out on a date or asks private questions in the canteen.

We are start scared of being tagged a ‘trouble-maker’ and we carry that fear all through. We develop elaborate systems to protect ourselves. We do all that needs to be done because, ultimately, we think, at least I have a job, at least I get a paycheck, at least I get to possibly grow to a higher rank, at least I have one male colleague who is respectful, at least I have access to a foreign trip, at least I get a byline, at least I get to meet a famous person, at least…

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What can be allowed to slide?

So, here it is. If you have been one of the people who has questioned the intentions and timing of the women (and possibly, person of any gender) who have come out against a man, powerful or otherwise, whom they worked with, I tell you – it is time to change the rules of what is ‘acceptable’! At the workplace, at home, on the streets, in the bedroom – it is time to change what can be allowed to slide.

If you feel entirely comfortable blaming the women, then I want you to question the environments in which we function as well. These are offices where we have invested our time, talents and energy, but they have let us down. We have worked in these places even when depression numbed our senses, we have come in on time even when menstrual cramps have ripped through our insides, we have attended meetings even when we have been interrupted a million times, we have continued to do our best even when we have been bypassed for a promotion, we have continued to be team players even when our commitment has been questioned when we chose to become mothers, we have never failed to be respectful even when our colleagues and bosses have body-shamed us. We have never stopped being working persons!

Focus on the message, not the messenger

If you are questioning the ones complaining, here is a thought – have you complained against the work environment that lets the abusers thrive and get away? Why are you questioning the messenger, when the message is where your focus should be? Instead of saying why didn’t she report? it is time to think, what made her not report? What is wrong with the work environment that we have built? Is the workplace a safe place for all, or just one category of people? What is the common perception of a woman who chooses to work, smoke, drink, socialise with men from the workplace? Why are women who are open and expressive considered fair game by some men? Why are there so few female employees/bosses in your workplace? Why are so many men resisting the idea of female bosses?

In short, is time to rethink the workplace. It is time to rethink what is ‘acceptable’. It is time to rethink workplace gender ratios. It is time to rethink workplace complaint redressal systems. And, it is time to rethink how we view working women.

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About the Author

Shruti Sharada (She/Her)

Shruti Sharada (She/Her/Hers) is an award-winning Queer Feminist Writer and GBV Activist. She curates The Feminist Reading List on Facebook and Instagram, and hosts a virtual conversation series called At The Intersection. read more...

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