Sexual Harassment & The Workplace – Listen Up Men!
You know what I’ve grown tired of?
The overrated-ness of mozzarella cheese and The Foo Fighters. Peplums. Waiting for the ever-impending Tool album. Selfies captioned with inspirational quotes. Loafers. People luring you into their lives by seeming interesting at first, and then revealing that they are fans of Coldplay, and the Coldplay of literature, Murakami.
And when people write off sexual harassment as the victim’s lack of chill.
In 2015, I had joined an upcoming multimedia content website as a visual content creator. What excited me about this place was that it seemed progressive, willing to talk about the things that often get hidden away, and provide a platform to the contrarians and the underdogs.
Soon after I was hired for a salary that still gives me nightmares, a very senior journalist was also hired to head the website’s editorial. This very senior journalist (let’s call him CP) came with quite the reputation. The moment news of his hiring spread, journalists and other friends of mine (in the know) started messaging me asking me to be vary of his wandering eye and lack of professional boundaries. I laughed it off at the time, thinking an organisation like this could never hire a person with a history of sexual harassment.
But soon enough, I regretted not keeping a safe distance and unwittingly invited a barrage of very inappropriate comments in very quick succession.
Every edit meet would be a countdown until something horribly sexist was said by CP – directed either at a third person, or sometimes directly at members of the team, including but not limited to myself.
I was appalled. I felt stupid and completely at fault at first. I ignored it for a while, thought of smart comebacks that I never had the balls to follow through with, given his seniority; and finally decided to go to HR, who at the time happened to be a warm, maternal, senior lady.
I came out with it, telling her about CP and his inappropriate, embarrassing, and downright disrespectful comments at the workplace and how it had made women in the team uncomfortable. She asked me to repeat the exact conversation, so she could assess whether they were inappropriate or if I was being too sensitive. When I related a few of the comments (which included an unwarranted speculation of my sexual kinks during a meeting, comments about my body and the way I dressed, among others), she sighed a knowing sigh.
I was relieved to think she was on my side. Instead, she went straight to CP and disclosed my complaints right back to him, along with my identity. That day onward, I was persona non grata to CP. This would’ve come as a good thing, except when a senior you work closely with refuses to acknowledge your presence lest their ‘very natural’ disposition offends you, getting work done is very hard.
I realised much later, that to expect progressive behaviour from people and/or organisations that self-proclaim a progressive worldview is folly. Of course this realisation came, not just through my own understanding of these situations, but via a lot of unsolicited advice I received from co-workers, friends and acquaintances over the years.
But you know another thing I’ve grown tired of? Advice that implies a need for the change in the attitude of the victim, not the perpetrator.
So instead here’s some advice I have for working men, to aid them through the tedious process of not being sexual harassers.
For starters, don’t flirt with the people you work with. It’s really just that simple. Don’t touch them unless necessary, don’t offer to drop them home a third time, when your first two requests have been declined and do not feel free to comment on anything that isn’t within a professional purview. You might think you’re being friendly, and I do congratulate you on your lack of social anxiety, but even your work-friends are your co-workers first.
And if you’re upset about how, many women misconstrue your jovial disposition for an unwelcome advance, consider this – if higher hemlines is asking for it, then so is ’harmless flirtation’.
Men I’ve known, have gotten quite riled up about cases of sexual harassment. An example they like to cite often is the Tehelka case, where a good portion of people like to defend Tarun Tejpal by implying that the flirtations were mutual. If this is true, it’s unfortunate. Not only because Mr. Tejpal could have been falsely accused, but also because he was a married man at the time, who should have known better.
All said and done, however, the honest truth still remains, that perhaps you should look outside of the office, when looking to have your muffins buttered.
Media Courtesy: Giphy