In the wake of the recent #MeToo campaign on social media, I let my mind go adrift on past experiences on casual sexism and sexual harassment at the workplace over the years, to realise that I have been fortunate. Barring a couple of underexposed, rigid and harmfully old-fashioned leaders, I have had solid male colleagues at work.
Some five years ago, my own understanding of sexual harassment at work was so little that I wrote odes to the “normal” men I had known. These were men who didn’t participate in sexist hunger games themselves, and were always just pleasant enough to laugh a little at both sides – the men who were sexist and the women who wouldn’t take it lying down. They recognized the “drama” in all of it and were better off watching from the sidelines, safer, saner, always telling the women around them to “ignore him”. I loved these “other” male colleagues for being a voice of reason, for making me see light, simply for not being a problem we needed to deal with everyday. I realize now that I was holding them to an extremely low bar – but not anymore.
Image : Shutterstock
The more I read about and occasionally experience workplace sexism, the more I realize that as women, we can fight all we want, call out every man in a position of power, and refuse to be labelled bossy because of our no-nonsense approach to work. But nothing will change if the “good men” around us don’t become the allies we need, because “ignoring” is obviously not a solution to a problem that refuses to go away. The challenge has remained if not become more serious because men who make sexist remarks, sexual advances, or encourage gender roles blindly are never held accountable for their behaviour till it becomes a matter of bad press. Take the examples of Uber, TVF, and more recently Harvey Weinstein and IPL ads closer home, the ubiquity of gender bias is worrying.
In the last few years, after suffering gender bias in every aspect of their lives, women took on themselves the burden of “calling out”. It is exhausting; nerve wracking, but it is a thankless job that must be done. But is it only our job? No, the real solution is for us as a community, a business, a society to stop normalizing gender bias, harassment and sexism. It needs a shift in attitude.
Gender based bias and harassment is not only a “women’s issue”, but a law and order issue and a policy issue. Believe what you want, but sexism is not a funny office anecdote. While women must continue to do their bit and they will, we can’t make a dent on the issue if the community doesn’t become our ally. It is simply a matter of numbers, and so far it seems to me that the women who have taken the burden of calling out these issues are grossly outnumbered. The general tone deafness of our society doesn’t surprise me anymore; I attribute it to generations of conditioning, the disparity in education and awareness. What does surprise me is the deafening silence of seemingly progressive, liberal men we work and interact with every single day. Without their partnership, women are left to protest on their own or simply accept exclusion, bias and harassment as a “learning experience”.
Sexism flourishes because most men don’t want to get on the wrong side of their fellow "dude-bros" by being categorical in their criticism. They are complicit if they chuckle at sexist WhatsApp forwards in work groups, or hate the forward but won’t lend their opinion a voice. If you are more comfortable calling out incompetent politicians, racist or communal slurs, petty thieves and murderers but not men who trample on the personalities, minds, bodies, work, confidence and psyches of women who work and live with you, your priorities are clear and your silence is complicity.
Your organizations can train you in gender sensitivity; your news feeds can be full of hashtags and stories. But the onus to internalise and sensitize yourself to the problem and speak up still lies with you. As our only woke male colleague, will you help us wake up a few others too?
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)