Harrassment of Women
by Reshma Sangle
I didn’t intend to make you uncomfortable –
A man’s perspective to harassment.
Here is another woman, trying to understand what a man thinks, looking for clues in his verbal and non-verbal behavior, and basically over-thinking her guts out.
Alright, let’s take it from the top again. I belong to a sub type of women who have had the responsibility of interacting with the opposite gender as a third party to a complaint of sexual and/or mental harassment. I do not intend to assert that I know all that a man can think or how a man perceives what is expected of him. All I am trying to do is to dig in deep on why do men look exasperated at being confronted on harassment and why is it that they always seem clueless that their behavior is unwelcome.
During my interactions with the respondent (a man against whom a complaint of harassment is made) it has often occurred that the man is outright shocked to see a complaint against him. It got me curious to find out which one of the two was happening – (a) was there no indicator that the women felt uneasy; or (b) was the man not able to understand what it meant.
I have often wandered in the corridors of large multinational companies observing the behavior of the workforce. What are surprising are the assumptions that people have about each other. Listed below are a few: -
a) She stayed back to help me with the presentation – she is interested in me.
b) She often talks to me when the boss shouts at her – she wants to marry me.
c) She knows I like blue and she wears blue often – she is signaling me to ask her on a date.
d) We had an argument and now she is sitting with David for lunch – she wants to make me jealous.
e) She was really worried when I had fever in the office – we are mated for life.
A single glance at these assumptions tells you that whilst these are not outrageous assumptions, these traits could also be looked at as common courtesy. The only way to tell what the woman feels is to
ask her about it. Unfortunately, confrontation does not happen to be the first resort for many men as they still think that having a game plan and getting indicators from the woman seems more plausible. And you can’t blame them with years of the film industry teaching us “uski na me uski ha hai” and “ladki hasi to phasi”. Agreed that asking a girl of her true feelings kindly seems less romantic (filmy) and no media or parenting teaches the man how to handle a refusal from the girl.
Thus begins the goose chase of sly remarks and surreptitious comments. A big problem with this chase is that the next move from a man is dependent on his understanding of the behavior of the woman in question. Women are fundamentally taught to be polite in their refusal as against being blunt honest. Thus when a woman displays her seeming discomfort with a smile and tries to communicate that his actions are not welcome – the man sees it as code to try harder. Now it is the turn of the woman to blow it out of proportion and exclude herself from all contact and play the victim.
What is interesting to note is that neither the woman nor the man mean any harm. We keep forgetting the fundamentals and need a person outside the scene to remind us that it is fine to be fond of someone and express it. It is fine to not have the fondness reciprocated. What is not fine is to impose ones feelings on another and also to avoid an unpleasant conversation and keep ignoring at your expense. I wonder how many men would want to cause discomfort when it is crystal clear that their actions are unwelcome. I mean if it is an outright abuse of power, it’s better to report such a person to the Internal Committee and help take action. However, if a person genuinely wants to show their love and see if the same is reciprocated, it’s time we moved away from the over-drama and kept it real. After all, unrequited love does not always end up in Atif Aslam songs. Some of it also knocks the door of the Internal Committee for sexual harassment. ***