I worked at an educational institution for 8 years. It was a haven, where I was surrounded by 5,6 and 7 year olds, all day. I use the word ‘haven’ to describe my place of work because it made me feel safe; safe for the woman in me. I had to travel to reach school, but it was not much of an inconvenience because I knew that I was travelling to a place I felt as comfortable in as my own home.
I quit my job some time ago and since then have been a homemaker, far, and safe, from the world out there, where wolves and hyenas roam free. I read about women having to face sexual harassment at their workplace and every time I read such news, I think back to my time at my workplace, which for me, was like a warm cocoon. A place where I could walk freely, without the fear of someone lurking around the corner, or in the restroom, waiting to pounce on me.
Few days ago, I came across this news article about a CEO of a company – let’s call him, Mr. Hyena. This Mr. Hyena was in the news after a woman employee accused him of sexual harassment. In his defence, he said,
“I am a heterosexual single man and when I find a woman sexy, I tell her she is sexy. I compliment women. Is that wrong?”
His words left me feeling disturbed. I could actually hear the creepy hyena laughter in those words!
Was he doing some sort of a service towards the women at his organisation? The women he works with are his colleagues, not his girlfriends, for heaven’s sake! What was he trying to imply when the despicable man spouted those words, I wonder! Is ‘despicable’ even the word that should be used to describe the scum? I am sure there will be a list of choice adjectives women would like to use for him and his ilk.
Women the world over face countless hurdles to reach the goals they set out for themselves. The career choices they make, the adjustments they are expected to make, the restrictions they face, all so that they can carve a niche for themselves in their chosen fields. They fulfil their duties towards their families and leave their homes to travel all the way to their workplaces, all to get subjected to this? This physical and mental torture by their male colleagues, who look down upon their women colleagues/employees and consider it to be their prerogative; they even imagine it to be consensual!
Why, for a moment, do these men not consider the fact that these women have worked equally hard, if not harder, and made it on their own merit? Why, for a moment, can such men not recognise the talent and the intelligence of their female counterparts and just accept their female colleagues as human beings, who are equally, if not more, hard-working and striving to make a name for themselves?
Is it so difficult?
A few days ago, I viewed a video circulating on Whatsapp on how a male superior would physically harass his secretary on an everyday basis. One day, as the situation reaches boiling point, the woman confronts her superior. She leaves aside all the subtlety that she may have possibly used in the past and strikes back with full force. She unmasks the man and shames him and his character in the presence of the entire staff, much to his astonishment, and walks away with her head held high. The man, left red-faced, learns a lesson for life.
Men don’t think twice before using sly innuendos or physical proximity to sexually harass their female colleagues. For them, it’s akin to exercising their rights over women thanks to the patriarchal society we live in. Is it any wonder then that they rarely are dealt the punishment they so deserve? Often times, the reasons such cases fail to get the attention they deserve are women and their fears vis-a-vis their jobs: their financial security that comes from their jobs is important to them, and so is their assessment as workers at the end of the year. These factors render them helpless, hindering their efforts at taking a proactive approach to deal with the harassment, and thus they stay mum.
We women aren’t some alien species dropping from the sky, to be minutely observed under the microscope and groped and grabbed to get a feel. Ugh! I feel disgusted even as I type these words! But, alas, it can’t be put across in a language less crass and revulsive, because the thoughts that float around in such men’s minds are as crass and revulsive, if not worse.
The harassment is not going to stop, despite it being spoken about so vociferously. But, there’s a limit to how much a woman can tolerate. So, it’s high time women learnt to use their voice in a way that these cases come to light and the culprits get duly punished. Women ought to speak up against whosoever it might be: the employer, their colleagues, their subordinates. They deserve that peace of mind. Sexual harassment can wreak havoc on a woman’s psyche, affecting her productivity, her way of life. Therefore, women in such situations deserve all the support they can get from their co-workers, their families and even the society.
I feel lucky to have worked at a place that allowed me to function in peace. Hoping for such peaceful environment in every workplace does sound utopian, but, why not? Why not hope for such a place where women can breathe easy as they work towards fulfilling their dreams and providing for their families? Isn’t sexual harassment a crime, too? Then why can’t we hope for it to get dealt with all the strictness it deserves? As members of the society, isn’t it something we can expect for ourselves so we can live our life with dignity?