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Sexualized workplaces, predatory men and the rage of women

November 21, 2013

Listen. Can you hear it? That low growl on the horizon, coming closer, growing louder? It’s the dam bursting its bounds. It’s the quiet shriek of convivial silence being ripped apart.

The silence around the normalizing of a range of behaviour from the apparently casual to the outrightly violent. The laughing sexual innuendo; the misogynist jokes; the well-known ‘displaced squeeze’ of the upper arm, the shoulders; the repeated, relentless expression of romantic or sexual interest despite clear NO’s; the grabbing of the breast, the unwanted kiss, the out-of-town work trip ending in physical assault, presented as flattering interest; and through it all, the clear invocation of the power relationship.

You look great, Sir, retirement suits you, says a younger female colleague to a Professor visiting his former institution. Really, he smirks. Two other people told me this, and they are both women. What do you think it means? She smiles uncomfortably and hurries out of the office of the male head of the institution in whose presence this comment is made.

A professor in his 60s writes romantic poems to his MA student, one after the other, until she leaves the institution, never to be heard of again in academics.

A mid-level woman academic is greeted at a formal committee meeting by a former male teacher of hers, ignoring her outstretched hand, with a close hug and a kiss on her forehead. Having never been on any terms of intimacy with him, she can only…smile uncomfortably while the rest of the people at the meeting look on impassively.

A young woman journalist is told to ‘seduce’ someone to come to a high profile event by her female boss. When she protests at this terminology, the boss tells her not to be so sensitive. To have a sense of humour.

The male teacher says to a woman student entering late – please be on time. It distracts me when you enter late. You shouldn’t be so beautiful.

The woman IAS officer gets her bottom pinched by a senior police officer. Years of courtroom wrangling and his indictment later, he retires, full of years and honours.

The workplace  – from the classroom to the court to the newsroom, every single workplace in short – is utterly sexualized. It is sexualized in a masculinist and misogynistic power-laden way. The continuous invocation of the possibility of sex and of women as sexual objects is the very air of the workplace. Women learn to take most of it with that uncomfortable smile, or to join in so as not to appear strait laced, or of course, to protest, knowing full well the price they will pay.

There are consensual affairs too, of course, but there is never any clear delineation of conflicts of interest – the boss sleeps with his employees, the professor sleeps with his students, or with younger colleagues dependent on him for jobs and promotions, and since this can never be publicly talked about, the ways in which these liaisons vitiate the professionalism of the workplace can never be addressed. These men assume that every woman will say yes given the right amount of pressure, it’s just a matter of upping the ante. Many women say yes because the rewards are great. The women who say no pay another kind of price.

And these are just the upper class professionals. The routine sexual violence faced by women on construction sites and inside middle class homes where they work as domestic servants, and in every other kind of working class location is of course, even more normalized.

But that charming convivial silence is being shattered by the growing rage of women. And it’s happening everywhere.

The gutsy young Tehelka journalist who has blown the cover on the sexual assault she faced from Tarun Tejpal, and the principled and unambiguous support she has received from fellow staffers in the face of the Editor’s attempts to ‘manage’ the crisis. (We haven’t heard the last of that incident yet).

The legal student who blogged about the retired Supreme Court judge who physically molested her. The other young lawyers who are speaking up.

The student at a university in Delhi who demanded and got the public humiliation of her supervisor who molested her – he had to tender a written and oral apology to her before the entire gathered department.

The Dalit school-girls in Harana raped by upper caste men in connivance with the police, who have lodged formal complaints and named their rapists. And yes, they continue to go to school.

The male establishment is all aflutter with anxiety. Senior advocates, the Times of India reports, are “getting wary about employing women juniors because they don’t want to run the risk of being accused in the future.” That’s a nice clear signal to send out to women – put up with it if you want a job. Especially in the judiciary that can invoke confidentiality with grave seriousness.

The need to enforce the implementation of the Vishakha guidelines has never been more starkly evident. Men in the workplace need to know this now and with certainty – their sexualized behaviour is not charming or harmless, but a criminal offence.

Oh these feminazis, they sigh over their single malts, do they want to end all spontaneous interaction among men and women? Not a bad thing, says this feminazi,  if the workplace is not characterized by spontaneity but by well considered and utterly professional behaviour. Why should spontaneity of all qualities, be the hall mark of a workplace? Especially if spontaneous behaviour for men is simply to grab and squeeze? Or to joke about breast size and oral sex?

Above all, we say – respect the victim’s views on how she wants to deal with the situation. Let her decide whether to take the legal route, go to the police, invoke Vishakha, call for a public acknowledgement and apology. All we need to do is back her. So that she is no longer the victim, but the agent and the survivor.

The time has come. It is now.

62 Comments leave one →
  1. Whatistobedone permalink
    November 21, 2013 12:28 PM

    I know you’re outraged, angry and making an extremely pertinent point. But please please do not use the term ‘feminazi’. The two-even when times look like they almost call for it- cannot be conflated. We can be feminists and make this exact demand in the robust, forceful and precise manner you’ve put it..

    • Nivedita Menon permalink*
      November 21, 2013 12:49 PM

      I was kind of taking on the label in an angry way, but I see what you mean…

    • essemmarr permalink
      November 21, 2013 5:16 PM

      We may also be non-feminists to raise our voice against such horrible conduct…….why should a woman be labelled just because she raises her voice against male subjugation and attitude. I am not a feminist but I do not put up with the nonsense that a man does…..and fully support women in trouble of any kind

      • anan permalink
        November 21, 2013 8:23 PM

        Then you probably are a feminist. What the hell else do you think it means anyway?

        • essemmarr permalink
          November 22, 2013 11:26 AM

          wELL aNAN , sometimes every act does not have to have a label. I went to the India Gate to protest the Dec 16 incident as so did lakhs of youngesters , well u wud’nt label every one an activist wud you ……and from her posturing n vociferous defense of women and talk on women issues Ms Shoma Choudhary appears a feminist but what wud you call her reaction and the handling to of the Tejpal incident….it wud be wiser to let people do what they do with out labels….

      • November 21, 2013 9:39 PM

        The bare minimum definition of a “feminist” is someone who believes in gender equality. Anyone who upholds that standard in thought and action is a feminist. The “feminazi” caricature of the bra-burning militant feminist is a deliberate distortion used by the patriarchy to kill the movement. Most feminists do not fall in that category. There is no reason to disown the label.

        • Sagorika permalink
          November 24, 2013 7:30 AM

          Glad to see an Indian man understand the label and not disown it. You are on of the very rare ones.

  2. November 21, 2013 12:44 PM

    Great piece and well written! Let me correct you, it is sexualisation not only of the workplace, but of society as well. Many women face sexual harassment even at home and neighborhood. I am a single women beyond the “prime of youth”. Over the last many years I have faced harassment (of the subtle kind, vulgar mails, blank phone calls, suggestive comments) from certain members of my own family – my reaction: yeah, yeah… silence… tolerance… women always have to uphold the family honour, you see… while the men have full freedom to denigrate that same family honour! Men attack the honour but remain honourable, women protect honour but become dishonourable – that is our great Indian culture :-)

  3. Manoj permalink
    November 21, 2013 1:06 PM

    Well said Nivedita…..All we need to do is back her. So that she is no longer the victim, but the agent and the survivor…

  4. Sankaran Krishna permalink
    November 21, 2013 1:07 PM

    Excellent piece. You do a fabulous job of exposing the cover of “humor,” “spontaneity,” and other euphemisms that routinely hide sexual and power harassment in India. I have felt for some time now that this issue is ready to explode – and I suspect this is the trigger. All power and support to that brave journalist – whatever she decides to do.

  5. November 21, 2013 1:09 PM

    No HR department arranges a session for female employees to express their concerns within or outside the office. They tell their concerns to their friends, and not the HR division. It is even alleged that managers recruit good looking women ignoring others. No manager is questioned why certain people are accepted or rejected. Therein lies the immense scope for everything. We have a serious problem here.

  6. Sridevi Sarma permalink
    November 21, 2013 1:21 PM

    Thanks for writing this Nivedita Menon. Deeply angered and in utter shock with the current turn of events. Its time we forcefully demand for safer workplaces.

  7. November 21, 2013 2:01 PM

    I think you need to demarcate your sense of what is unacceptable more clearly, and in a way that has clarity as to where the agency of women fits into all of this. Or at least indicate that the debate should go in that direction.

    Complex arguments about sociological framing may reveal certain levels of reality (which I broadly agree with, though you do *seem* to fudge the issue of women’s agency in all of this somewhat) but sexual harassment has to resolve around the setting of boundaries in the workplace.

    Attacking the term “Feminazi” does not get you very far into the territory of exploring how that boundary setting should work. There does need to be a clearer sense of these boundaries, yes, but also because traditional ways of men and women relating to one another do not hold very well in the place of work, so there is a need, for all parties of a new code of conduct to take shape.

    Yes, this is about power, but it is also about having a strong enough social frame around the practices concerned in order to help those involved navigate: It is not *just* about how men oppress women, that is a move that means ignoring the uncertainties of life-as-we-live-it from the analysis.

  8. November 21, 2013 2:12 PM

    “The male establishment is all aflutter with anxiety. Senior advocates, the Times of India reports, are “getting wary about employing women juniors because they don’t want to run the risk of being accused in the future.” That’s a nice clear signal to send out to women – put up with it if you want a job. ”

    I cant help but think that this WILL happen … whether openly or discreetly, but it will happen … Ideally it shouldn’t … but ‘practically’ it will ! … no matter how much emphasis one puts on enforcing the Vishaka guidelines .. not hiring women is just the easier thing to do for any employer.

    To give an analogy … good companies will willingly enforce labour laws but sweat shops won’t … sweat shop workers can’t quit because they are desperate and if they die or commit suicide they can be replaced … basically they are dispensable … just like women in the workforce … the “male establishment” doesn’t need women to be working … there are enough men out there to take over for them … so there is really no reason for the “male establishment” to make sure that Vishaka guidelines are actually enforced (even if they are implemented on paper).

  9. Surabhi permalink
    November 21, 2013 2:57 PM

    Brilliant as usual Nivi. Just thought will point out that even the empire of the all powerful Godman Asaram Bapu with millions of devotees and enormous political clout was brought down by one young courageous girl and her family who dared to speak up. It opened a pandora’s box of many such complaints and the result is that the mighty has fallen from the heavens and landed behind bars.

  10. Milind Wani permalink
    November 21, 2013 3:18 PM

    But who can decide in the length, duration, form and intensity of the penance? Does the man get to do that all by himself? be the judge, jury and executor? He has even managed to garner some sympathy (after all we value our martyrs more than our victims!)..And so if this is what Tarun wants to self-inflict are the rest of us expected to gape in admiration?

    Should not the terms of penance be decided by all those hurt by this incidence? Will we allow Asaram the luxury to decide on the terms of his penance then? Also well worth asking if this offer of penance comes before or after the fact was disclosed? Was the remorse felt after (as in afterthought) or before the story went public? And 6 months? why not 3 or 7 or 9 or more months? what is the logic? If someone had behaved like this with someone higher up…say the editor herself…and if the perpetrator was a junior in male staff…would he not have been thrown out of Tehelka?Why has this man not lost his job permanently? oh yes…you cant throw the owner out can you?

  11. Ambrin permalink
    November 21, 2013 3:20 PM

    The decadence that creeps in our society is due to loose moral values & societal upbringing. Excessive porn, tv & movie- serial characterisation, pub / night out culture are equally responsible. Frustration & Stressful life is also developing predator instinct. Men are beast undoubtedly will pounce at the slightest opportunity. Women better fend for themselves & always be on alert & report the incident immediately. God help those who help themselves !!

  12. Stella Sherman permalink
    November 21, 2013 3:54 PM

    Amen! “Spontaneity” for some reason only ever refers to men’s . Does anyone stop to consider that women are constantly on their guard lest they be attacked, harrassed or even accused of “seducing” men? How about their spontaneity?

  13. November 21, 2013 4:19 PM

    Nivedita, very well written and I do realize where you are coming from. I am a man and I run a practice and though it is small, we do take very serious view of harassment amongst all partners and even between employees. At the same time I would also say, an interaction between 2 people of different gender sometimes can be fun and not always with a sexual intent. The person should however understand a NO means NO and not try to push the boundaries. Like the Bob Dylan song, “The times they are a changing”, interaction is increasing but at the same time we need to teach ourselves and our kids self respect and to respect others at the same time.
    Cheers!!!

  14. November 21, 2013 4:38 PM

    Good one!

  15. Hargopal Singh permalink
    November 21, 2013 6:03 PM

    Undoubtedly it has created an uproar across the people who know tehlaka as a journal and tarun tejpal as an investigating jounalist.Initially it does crate repulsion against both .i do think the reputation of both must take a nose-dive from now onwards.Surely a voluntary withdrawal from the chair for six months does not condone the misdemeanor .However it should be interesting to go into the details as to how this all happened.It would be prejudicial to natural justice to jump to any conclusion.The gesture of Tejpal has to be seen in that perspective.it would not be proper to reject or ridicule it.One thing is certain that the incident cannot take place all of a sudden.There must have been a built-up behind it.Unless we know the past in minutest details nothing can be said with certitude.It is of course a good advice that .”respect the victim’s views on how to deal with the situation”We should back her in every way.

    • Sonika permalink
      November 21, 2013 9:15 PM

      Why must you insist on the ‘minutest details ‘ to condemn a crime that has been owned up to by the perpetrator? Are you implying that there could be a context in which this kind of behavior can be justified, explained or accepted. It is a simple enough argument. No means no. Even if that no comes from your wife. Even if it comes from someone who might have slept with you consensually before. Even if it comes from someone who might be considering sleeping you with in the future.

      • November 22, 2013 10:33 AM

        Ahhh… and just there lies the problem, Sonika, esp. with our Indian men! For them a “no” is an insult to their ego. Sooo, to justify their fragile pea-sized egos and brains, they claim “No” = Yes, Yes = Yes, Maybe = Yes.
        Saying No is very difficult, but graciously accepting No for an answer and not seeing it as a personal affront is a skill and talent that most Indian men lack, thanks to the social upbringing by their “maa-ka-laadla” moms!

  16. Lesley E permalink
    November 21, 2013 7:55 PM

    Dear Nivedita, I know that we ought to follow the lead of the complainant in deciding the course of a case. but the chain of events that began yesterday evening and spiralled out of control with leak upon leak has made this case the top headline in india and a very high decibel story. it’s great that the media are widely reporting the story. but all this attention also means that if there is no legal process, the whole country will see that – even when the brightest of lights is shone on a case of sexual assault, even when there is a confession of sorts, even when descriptions of the assault are widely known – powerful men can still get to stay out of the ambit of criminal law. I feel deeply worried about this message getting reinforced in a lot of minds, though of course we must back whatever the complainant decides

  17. Sandeep permalink
    November 21, 2013 8:31 PM

    Nivedita, the essay is very well written and brings out the reality of the workplace. We have had many discussions when incidents of sexual harassment come to light (I am using the work Incident as these are deliberate attempts and do not happen by accident).

    The discussion is heated vigorous and in most cases the conclusion is more or less psychological/moral and there is this whole debate on how our society is sexually repressed etc.etc.

    I have a different view on it and I want to present it with the intent of getting it validates. My view is that we have a system that differentiate amongst various crimes and attaches severity to each based on various criterions like the type of crime, the extent of damage and one of them being the social/economic status of the victim. We witnessed loads of protest and enough articles about the photo-journalist who was raped in Mumbai but not so much on the other victims by the same accused who were rag-pickers. There seem to be outrage only when “People Like Us” are the victim. May be it is our feudal system.

    I recently read article expressing outrage on abuse of domestic help and the question was that “how could an educated person do such a thing”. This question did not make sense as the underlying premise was that we or “People Like Us” are above such. We also heard comments by Delhi police officers (senior officer) that Delhi is unsafe because of influx of migrants. “We are all good boys and girls these outsiders are the Nasty lot”!!

    My view is that as said earlier we differentiate between various crime and give different importance to each type. Some crimes are more important than the other and hence the action. I can understand that the punishment could be different but how could the action to address a crime be different. That is why we “tolerate” or “expected to tolerate” certain crimes as a behavior anomaly until it is too late.

    What is required is a complete change in the way we think. Thinking at the level of administration where the agenda for the Police is just not “to maintain peace” but “to provide safety and security” to the citizens. Do not determine actions based on the “type of crime” but to provide the same level of importance to all reported crimes and take the required actions.

    Only when we implement this only then will we be able to build confidence in the system and only then we will have people reporting such crimes. Today the aggressor or the perpetrator goes about because he is sure he will not be reported let alone being caught and the idea that he will be ever convicted is a pipe dream.

    What we need are not new laws, what we need are stronger implementation. We need to instill the fear with current or possible perpetrator. What we do not want is more discussions and psychological rationalization of such despicable behavior.

  18. Achyut Chetan permalink
    November 21, 2013 10:08 PM

    A very clear and incisive cut in the everyday depth of masculine/male power. For men it is a win-win situation, Keep women at home, maintain the rule. Or send them out, for us to ‘have’ them.

  19. November 21, 2013 10:12 PM

    Read this. Very hurried response.

    Workplace is a sexualised zone, no matter what protection you afford the woman, or what structures you establish at the workplace or what strategy you ask her to adopt in the face of probable damage/harm from colleagues or superiors who view her as a sexual object.

    Why not shift the feminist gaze to other issues and try to reflect why workplace continues to remain such a sexualized zone–why not ask what happens if in an ideal world, Vishakha guidelines are implemented and hypothetically the harassed woman gets to book the offender? Will she still be given a sanitized space to work with dignity? What about her unwitting and unwilling subjugation to typical hyper-masculine nature of a workplace? Let us, for example, ask ourselves, Nivedita, why are feminists opposing the ‘Golden Mother Award’ initiated by the Calicut University? Why are feminists so opposed to a woman’s agency in say ‘motherhood’? Why should notions that cater to ‘motherhood’ as an individual choice of a woman make a feminist uncomfortable? Because, many of you rubbish these notions centred around the woman’s role inside of the ‘home’, the workplace remains hyper-masculine. A workplace will therefore continue to remain a sexualised zone.

    Instead, why not argue for a level playing field for women at the workplace? Creches, flexible work hours and the like. Ask a woman advocate/lawyer what it means to thrive in a hyper-masculine, male dominated aggressive culture like a court room, a senior advocate’s chamber, or a law firm. You will know the contours of harassment. Also, it is no recent news that senior advocates desist from hiring women. This has been an unwritten practice since time immemorial. Reasons cited–women leave after marriage, pregnancy. And of course, what if they can’t take a ‘joke’?

    • Nivedita Menon permalink*
      November 22, 2013 10:28 AM

      Jhuma, no feminist to my knowledge, is opposed to women’s agency in motherhood. I wonder where you got that idea. If anything, it is feminists who have made visible the restrictive conditions under which most women are mothers, the lack of agency in other words, that characterizes motherhood for most women. Creches at the workplace (for all employees, not just for women employees) is precisely a feminist demand. So the idea is that women are mothers, but they are not only mothers wherever they are and whatever they do – hence the opposition to the Golden Mother award instituted by a university, which should be providing the conditions in which all people can be better parents. But conversely, not only women are parents, and if mothering is the fulfilling activity that we feminists recognize it to be, then it should be made available to people of all genders to experience.

  20. November 21, 2013 10:22 PM

    Touché Nivedita (I am a first time reader of your writing) and well elucidated…

    A quick reaction to Hargopal… Let it first get investigated sire… And in such cases you have to start with either of the one beliefs – either molestation happened or it didn’t… There is no such thing as a build up or one man’s perspective vs another… It is such ambiguity that people like Asaram and Tarun can & will exploit.
    I write this with no prejudice but to ensure that the girl/woman has to get unwavering support in such traumatic moments.

    Oh, btw, I belong to the ‘purush’ gentry!

  21. November 22, 2013 12:14 AM

    I understand your point about the end of spontaneous interactions between men and women in the workplace (a concern raised by many, in the light of the spread of PC culture amongst Indians), like you say yourself, ‘spontaneous’ interaction is usually a celebration of Indian male privilege. Great article!

  22. November 22, 2013 1:21 AM

    Right! I support but with ought diluting or diverting I also want to note that this is not just happening to women.

    Who ever the victim is regardless of the gender we should support like you said

  23. Shankar permalink
    November 22, 2013 9:03 AM

    Blah. The writer seem to be quite happy with workplaces turning robotic and impersonal. If that’s professionalism, then I’m quite happy I don’t call myself a professional. I’ve worked in small and new enterprises. The attitude there is quite different. It’s light and open. But as soon as a place grows into an ‘institution’ people are expected to submit to a regime of self-repression in the interests of being ‘professional’. I absolutely call such people ‘feminazis’ as the writer suggests. And I have no qualms about being openly critical of them, both the female AND male population of them (who, in my experience, are usually a lot worse than the women – being merely the moralists of old converted to a new cause. The same people who gave us the code of chivalry and all other such crap).

    And just so you know, I consider myself a feminist. You know what that means to me? It means I treat women the same as I treat men. That’s equality of the sexes. And I certainly do not skirt around men, as the writer would wish me to do with women. I don’t assault them or discriminate when judging performance (either sex), but I don’t censor myself or coddle them either. Eventually, hopefully, we can one day switch the word from feminism to simply humanism.

    • Nivedita Menon permalink*
      November 22, 2013 10:10 AM

      Thank you Shankar, for providing irrefutable proof for why we need feminism. Your comment is a text-book illustration of how sexism works – first, come out with a straightforward attack on the idea of gender sensitIve norms in the workplace, a site that should be “light and open” apparently, rather than considered and professional (which would be “self repression”, and heaven forbid that men should ever have to repress the slightest thought or desire – instant gratification is the right that descends on them by birth). Then, realizing how far you have exposed yourself, add quick asertions, not only of treating men and women alike, but even, as a last desperate measure, claiming feminsim while deriding me as a bad feminist, a feminazi! If this were not the real face of the misogyny and power and violence that women face from the feminism-spouting men at the workplace, it would be hilarious.

    • November 22, 2013 10:40 AM

      My point too… why have labels, treat man and woman equal. Sooo, next time you feel like fondling a woman colleague’s breast or pinching her bottom, FIRST try it with your male colleague… then if you feel you have been “well-received” by the man, try it on a woman… until then… long live the feminists, feminazis… call it whatever you want – WE shall continue to fight for our rights, Thank you!

  24. Balaji S permalink
    November 22, 2013 11:46 AM

    “The woman IAS officer gets her bottom pinched by a senior police officer. Years of courtroom wrangling and his indictment later, he retires, full of years and honours.” – The lawyer responsible for the ‘courtroom wrangling’ was one of the panelist in a TV last year discussing about punishments for rape!

  25. Law intern permalink
    November 22, 2013 12:14 PM

    This is great, but I don’t get why you make this distinction between a workplace that has spontaneity and one that doesn’t identifying the latter as more professional. Spontaneity should not equal sexual harassment – of course workplaces should be spontaneous – they would be suffocating otherwise (saying this as a law intern myself). That doesn’t mean they are less professional. There are jokes that are not sexist – friendly advances that are not sexual or romantic in nature – people who do not know that need to learn the distinction and those who do know the difference shouldn’t feel compelled to curb spontaneity in any way. And workplace relationships are perfectly normal – people need to figure out when someone is interested speaking in open and honest terms instead of hitting on every single female colleague without any regard for their interest hoping that someone will eventually say yes.

    • Nivedita Menon permalink*
      November 22, 2013 12:58 PM

      The problem with spontaneity in the workplace is that it cannot be so clearly defined. That is, what you describe as acceptable behaviour would require many to curb their spontaneity. People have to think whether the joke they are about to make, the friendly gesture they take as normal, are in fact sexist and contribute to a hostile work environment. The term spontaneity in India when used in this context has a very specific coding. It refers to the way in which sexist humour is normalized and laments that “political correctness” has taken its place.
      I see no problem with people having to consider their behaviour in the workplace, and to be reflexive about it. Not just say or do everything that comes spontaneously to them.
      As for consensual relatuonships, the power relationship has to be centrally addressed. If you’re someone’s boss, if you’re a teacher, then relationships with students you grade and employees should be avoided, or if irresisitble, then it must be made public and public measures taken to ensure that there is no conflict of interest.
      There are incest taboos. People do learn to control their sexual instincts. Why must sexual desire be taken to be so natural and absolutely uncontrollable?

      • Law intern permalink
        November 22, 2013 10:52 PM

        Thank you for replying. I did not say that people should be allowed to do and say whatever they wish to. “what you describe as acceptable behaviour would require many to curb their spontaneity” – This is true – people need to curb it to the extent that it doesn’t make others uncomfortable. I think the msg we need to give people is that you cannot use spontaneity as an excuse for being an asshole. You can be spontaneous without being sexist and predatory, that is how most people are, and you have to adapt to that idea. We simply cannot ban all forms of spontaneity, that is dictatorial and no one will take us seriously. I’m sorry, banning workplace spontaneity altogether seems like banning sex to prevent rape. No, you just teach people to learn to internalise the fine distinctions instead of giving them the easy way out.

  26. SMT permalink
    November 22, 2013 12:39 PM

    Even in some of the most outwardly progressive workplaces there are constant jokes about women, their sexuality, age, single status body type… I had this boss who was a great guy to everyone but every single time the female client sent him changes he would say to me, ‘she must not be getting any.’ If a colleague asked for better accommodation while traveling she could get a – ‘are you planning a good ‘bang session’ on the outdoors?…it is endless. and these men have intelligent equal partnerships with their wives, they would be horrified if anyone told them they are sexist. but they are. It starts from there. You make women feel less about themselves every time you single them out for being women.

  27. Achyut Chetan permalink
    November 22, 2013 2:05 PM

    “I see no problem with people having to consider their behaviour in the workplace, and to be reflexive about it. Not just say or do everything that comes spontaneously to them.” Thanks Nivedita, for those two sentences. For me they answer to a lot of confusion I experience dealing with my own female students.

    As a young male professor in a small town gradually opening the sexual segregation in public life, I consider it part of my job to help boys and girls mix and cooperate with each other. The institutional context of the college and the conservative domestic space between which these girls constantly negotiate are two entirely different worlds and often overflow into each other. There is some truth in the element of ‘perspectives’ in this debate, not at the level of actual physical acts but surely at the level of gestures and words. Male teachers occupy a position of material and symbolic privilege and they need to reflexive about every word they utter, no matter what happens to the spontaneity of the classrooms. After all sexual harassment is not only what you intend but also the effect on vulnerable girls/women who are engaging with an alien world.

    Men have to be responsible for their actions and also for the plausible interpretations of their acts. As feminists we all are aware of the difficulties of imposing universality of definitions. Sexual assaults are also culturally dependent/defined. And it only stands to great ethical reason that men exercise restraint and linguistic tact in behaving with women. Even a spontaneous gesture of appreciation or an encouraging pat on the shoulder of a young girl needs to scrutinized in its context. It would not be wrong to expect a man to devise gender sensitive modes of communicating encouragement or displeasure to girl.

    • November 23, 2013 12:25 PM

      Thanks Achyut and Nivedita for supporting this: “I see no problem with people having to consider their behaviour in the workplace, and to be reflexive about it. Not just say or do everything that comes spontaneously to them.” – It is a brilliant stand. As part of the working force we spend huge numbers of hours with our colleagues, who may be of either gender and for everything if we have to stop to think and act, spontaneity would be lost. I think it is important NOT to have a blanket rule for all behavior, but be strong about somethings – be open and tell it on the face, why are you talking to my breast, which so many men do, while talking to women. I say it, I tell them to look at my face, and not elsewhere, when I am talking to them, if I find that they are looking elsewhere. But to kill spontaneity at work is not acceptable, because it restricts a creative force.

  28. Apu permalink
    November 22, 2013 5:37 PM

    Misogyny-a word that was hardly a part of our dictionaries till very recently. Till last year and before the Delhi rape case, sexual violence and other behaviors associated with a weird/inexplicable hate for women was something no one ever talked about, we’ve all been there us girls, being groped, buttocks pinched, being leered at, even being masturbated at has been a circumstance most young women have faced at some point in their lives but it was always ‘too embarrassing’ to bring up such a topic, our job was to let men be men, put our heads down as we walk on the streets lest we make eye-contact with any one of these lecherous men and that be taken as a sign that were totally into them. Someone made a point earlier about how women, just like the poor and needy are disposable, unneeded and that companies would probably find it easier to replace women than go through the hassle of getting accosted later on. Have women become such a burden on society? Are we that useless apparently that we rae replaceable? I wonder what would happen if even for one day, just one, all the women in India went on a collective strike..everyone from cleaners to teachers to doctors, nurses, lawyers, everyone..maybe when we bring India to a standstill, in our absence will those misogynistic men might appreciate us and learn how we are in fact, irreplaceable.

  29. November 23, 2013 2:02 PM

    Sexualization as a process , in my view , is one of many chemistries of human interactions & it is here to stay . But what is outright unjust is when it leads to criminal or unjust behavior. The exploration of sexuality involving often at times more than the explorer himself/herself in a misogynistic patriarchal society with so many taboos often tends to be criminal & probably always ends up being criminal. In such a society men tend to be more inclined to explore their misogynistic sexuality than they are aware of the most required of exploration-” The exploration of justice & rights”. So , what I am saying is that this sexualization is to stay but what has to arrive& arrive soon is the implemented idea of individual dignity & rights with no place for injustice. Sexualization is not criminal in itself; what is criminal is that one of sexes has been seen as to be unworthy of justice or rights – and therefore Sexualization ends up being criminal.

  30. November 23, 2013 9:03 PM

    Excellent article. Says it simply the way it reslly is is.

  31. November 23, 2013 9:04 PM

    Excellent articles. Says it simply the way it really is .

  32. Poorvi permalink
    November 23, 2013 11:11 PM

    I might want to counter the argument of how the victim should be let to deal with the incident the way she wishes to. It might go against the importance of the assertion, strongly advocated thus far, of how women must report crimes of sexual assault. Shouldn’t she, in this case, be prodded and backed in filing a police complaint? Shouldn’t an alleged crime be followed with a proper criminal investigation and penalising action against the offender? With laws in place, legal recourse might be the right approach to take in an incident such as this.

    • Nivedita Menon permalink*
      November 24, 2013 10:17 PM

      Poorvi, I think Vrinda Grover’s response below, to queries like yours, says all I want to say myself:

      Vrinda Grover:
      Friends and others have critically commented on the tone and content of my interventions on the Tehelka sexual assault/ rape complaint in 2 news channels – NDTV and CNN IBN on 21st November 2013.

      48 hours ago I took the view that as the complainant woman journalist was still figuring out how she wanted to proceed further, I will wait patiently to hear what her next decision would be. Yes, her allegations make out a case of rape by a person in a position of trust and constitutes an offence under Sec 376 (2) IPC. Yes, it is the legal obligation of the employer that the police is informed of the complaint. Yes, it is the statutory duty of the police to lodge a FIR if they receive information about a cognisable offence.

      Yet I believe and said that I will not screech for her to rush to press for criminal investigation and prosecution. I will respect the autonomy of the woman and her agency to take the decision. if she needs 24-48 hours to do that, I will stand by her assuring her full support and solidarity, long after the TV cameras have moved away. In my view the criminal prosecution route is not superior to or more valid or more legitimate, than other ways of seeking accountability. Breaking the silence and charging the top boss, Tarun Tejpal, with rape, is the biggest challenge to impunity. And I applaud her for her courage and strength. The woman journalist is not a ‘victim’, she is capable of taking decisions.

      I engage with law making processes and law reform, so that law may enable women to have greater control over their lives, which necessarily entails that violence must diminish. Not for law to overtake my life. As a feminist lawyer, I have supported many survivors of sexual violence. They have made diverse choices within and outside the framework of law, to address the violence that they have suffered. I respect them all, even those who refused to lodge a FIR. Where intimidation, coercion, or power dissuades them from prosecuting the accused, I see it as our role to weigh in on her side and create access for her. There are however women who find other form of closure and resolution. Retributive justice does not appeal to all survivors of violence. Everyone does not find closure in war. Check out the interview of the woman journalist ‘s friend and colleague – Revati Laul to NDTV at 7 pm, on 23rd November, where she explains how and why the woman complainant deliberated and decided.

      Now that the woman journalist has decided to join the police investigation, lets support her till the end. Which involves not abandoning her when some other incident/ issue strikes our lives. Trials take long, very long and each hearing is not sexy enough to attract prime time news. As a lawyer, i am left holding on to cases and people long after the media and even the activists have moved on and away.

      Unfortunately it appears that the yardstick of being politically correct is being laid down by hysterical and righteous sounding news anchors. Their holier than thou attitude is so fraudulent and fake.

      How come none of these news channels have ever said that there cannot be another version to – Soni Sori’s custodial sexual torture by Ankit Garg in Chhattisgarh; or T Manorma’s rape and murder by Assam Rifles in Manipur; or the mass rapes by the Army in Kuna and Poshpara villages of Kashmir. In each of these cases the other version was presented by the Indian State, hence the woman/ women’s statement has no value or credibility. The State stumps the woman.

      Surely feminist practice and jurisprudence will find its own path and not be beaten down by the TV news rooms or even those who have lost their ability to imagine ‘justice’ .

      • Poorvi permalink
        November 25, 2013 9:21 PM

        Thanks for sending this piece. The point I made was unstudied.

  33. Santhosh permalink
    November 25, 2013 7:40 AM

    Thanks for this wonderful piece. What strikes me is how sexual harassment strings together diverse spaces from the more colonial babudom to neoliberal, swanky work environments. A key feature of the neoliberal economy is its promise of an “open environment” marked by gender equality (better understood as gender-blindness, Indra Nooyi and all). Looks like that ship has sailed!

    Of course, this posturing of the new workplace as free from traditional gender dynamics is backed up by HR crap and an outpouring of management-related literature that turns sexual harassment into a problem to be “managed” rather than to be understood as one tied in with heteropatriarchy. This article is a really good wake up call.

  34. November 25, 2013 10:28 AM

    I support

  35. November 25, 2013 4:56 PM

    What really scares me are the people involved and also that journalists knew this about Tejpal all along and are not really surprised. Tejpal went out of the way to say everything that is politically correct in public and thats the other fear- the sophisticated men who have learnt to speak feminism’s language without letting it revolutionise their thought

  36. December 5, 2013 5:40 AM

    It seems strange to place the critique of sexual violence (or of male privilege or of patriarchy) on the same plane with calling out political incorrectness. I’m against sexual violence, but I really am quite against gestures that seem intent on desexualizing everyday life to the extent that all traces of sexuality are erased from public view… I guess I’m saying perhaps painting a canvas with too broad a brush a picture where sexuality and sociality must necessarily co-exist can seem kinda puritanical. Wanting sexual liberation without sex is kinda like wanting a monsoon without wetness. So, no to sexual violence and sexual harassment; yes to LOTS of sex, and romance, and flirtation.

    • Working woman permalink
      December 5, 2013 5:27 PM

      Careful Mr Aiyer…….the LOTS of sex, and romance and flirtation may land you in the same boat as Tejpal!!

Trackbacks

  1. E-Sandesh » India’s biggest muckraker now deserves the scrutiny he introduced to the country
  2. Sexualized workplaces, predatory men and the rage of women | Kafila | తుమ్మెద
  3. No lip talk for feminism please-we don’t need you | vinitadhondiyal
  4. High-Profile Editor Tarun Tejpal Accused of Sexually Assaulting Young Reporter · Global Voices
  5. A hunt, the aftermath, angry Indian men and a tragedy: Rahul Roy | Kafila
  6. The 3rd world view High-Profile Editor Tarun Tejpal Accused of Sexually Assaulting Young Reporter | The 3rd world View
  7. The Conundrum of Agency in Sexual Violence | Kafila
  8. Tehelka scandal: Sexualized workplaces, predatory men and women's rage - Firstpost

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