Coffee in one hand, denial in another — Stop smelling misogyny and sexual abuse a mile away, and look to your own!
On my birthday this year, bereft of much faith in the process of graceful aging,my friend and I sat on my sagging couch, and discussed sexually disturbing behavior we both had faced. It was a strange topic to float in the midnight hour, sans any drink in our hands. And the only narcotic permeating the air seemed to be my ever growing realisation. That we can cheer about being a part of the small but ever growing tribe of Nietzsche reading, Harry Potter loving, wine glugging women who confidently walk up to chemists asking for a pack of flavoured condoms on Sundays, AND have existential crises on Mondays; BUT we carry a cloak of deniability when it comes to confronting the demons amongst our circle of movement. Whether socially or at work.
I remember being a 21 year old, fresh out of college graduate working in a big agency; feeling like I was well onto the part of eventual ‘arrival’. I had vehemently fought my father about immediately doing an MBA, and had instead insisted, that I wanted to take a step or two on the corporate ladder before getting an education to escalate my way to the top. I was mostly surrounded by and worked with men almost a decade senior in age, and several rungs in terms of designation; given the speed with which ad agency life either hurtles you to the top, or renders your ambitions devastatingly immobile.
To be fair, in most men I garnered a certain respect and encouragement I rarely see these days amongst my own tribe, trying to be leaders to a millenial generation they dont know how to both party and powerpoint with! I’d like to believe my training rendered me a privilege rarely meted out to trainees. I was more a part of meetings, brain storms and inner office workings; rather than glorified CD burning jaunts. I hence strutted about the place with a confidense I felt must come with the territory I had been accorded. I had conversations like an eager equal, and decided my days of being bullied in my last years of schooling were an aberration in what was otherwise going to be a very ‘Girl in the city’ narrative.
This is not to say that I didn’t know the locker-room personality that lurks within most men. Being an early bloomer in the mammary department and a boarding school stint nonetheless, I was often subjected to glances and prolonged ogling. Most men, and I’m not talking about the street vermin who we freely subject to our outrage, believe they are being subtle about the art of ‘The Scan’. But every woman knows. I don’t know a single woman who doesn't ‘scan’ herself first, before she enters a room checking if her inner boyfriend (read :brassiere) is peaking. Or that her cleavage never ever sees the boardroom lighting. Hide the bra and boisterousness in equal measures, are words of advice our parents, society and old fashioned TV, have often given us. Our reaction to being ogled atis usually adjusting our dress and gaze, instead of calling out someone else’s; pun intended.
Hence when I say I wasn’t prepared for a particularly distateful episode of verbal molestation, I would be wrong. Almost all women know it will happen. We hence temper clothing and confidense in the hope we skip that large universe of victims. It’s not the knowledge of it that is fearful, it is the trepidation of not knowing our response to it. We just dont know how we will react when it happens so blatantly, in what we otherwise consider safe spaces, from people who are not ‘conventional vagrants’. I remember feeling so surprised from my inability to react, that I have almost repressed this memory. And even in the retelling I almost always laugh at the end, as if the thought of it happening must elicit some sort amusement from the nostalgic right of passage.
To recount the incident, the man in question made a sexual pun on the brand name of the product we were discussing, and offered to shower with me in so many words. This while two of his subordinates sat in the same room, all of us within 3 feet of each other. I dont recall my own mumblings to that in detail, but I distinctly remember feeling the embarassment of the men party to the conversation. I also vividly recall them apologising to me for my ordeal afterwards, and wringing their hands in frustration echoing the inability of anyone to truly do anything about this. This narrative hasnt changed drastically since for most people, as much as Twitter would have you believe so.
I’d love to say that the incident was the last straw.And that post that forced epiphany, I went around getting people to smell the feminism coffee all around. That my experience got me to avow against not speaking out. But it has been 7–8 years to that, and I have seen these men permeate every echelon of society and pop up on both my Tinder feed, and my open workdesk. And it has taken me a long time to understand how I must be more afraid of the sexualised office chatter and the drunken banter with my friends, rather than of the peeping tom on the train. To acknowldge how conditioned we are to sexual abuse and downright character maligning, and that our biggest hurdle is denial amongst both the perpetrator AND the victim. That most women I know, will NEVER follow through on righting this behaviour.
Women are conditioned to NOT BE ENABLERS. But that advice is completely misplaced, its trajectory often deriding our clothing, and our gait. But what is truly enabling is the silence.The silence in our lives to this behaviour in our everyday lives, from our everyday people, rings louder than our clamour for change on the streets.The silence against not using the words ‘rape’ and ‘gay’ as light hearted lexicon, and getting others to do the same. To realising that when a friend comments about the lack of the gap in your thighs even though he has sheltered you from many a drunk stragglers, he deserves equal condemnation of his behaviour.
I have seen peons and cab drivers have more respect at times, than a friendly acquaintance. And complains in this matter are often met with the ‘Intent’ card, and the ‘You KNOW me’ card.And the rhetoric, that I have misplaced passion and gumption rather than social gravitas. This is not an easy road, and if there was a Maslow’s hierarchy of priorities, most people would tell you to point your opinionated-feministic splendour at the vermin out in the world, and not your own backyard. Most people dont even know the death sentences they hand out to women’s confidence and self respect in the guise of comedial respite. And they will never know, until your raise both your eyebrow and your voice. Dont be afraid of being called an activist, coz campaigning and campaigning hard for your own respect, is a beautifully necessary thing.Misogyny has many colours, but open your eyes to the fact that you may be handing out paintbrushes amongst your very own.