Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Fear of Lascivious Men in Offices and Women's Careers

Suppose an equally qualified young man and woman join the same, high-profile job. Equivalent talent, good looks and great smarts. Naturally, one would expect both to get the same kind of exposure and growth in the same number of years. But does that really happen?

Source: SCMC Law
The man never has to face the threat of sexual harassment, or the discomfort of being the minority in male-dominated office. He doesn't have to worry about how to get home if he stays late in office, or worry about sleazy looks which can come from anyone - ranging from the janitor to the MD of the company. The woman, on the other hand (unless completely insulated) is always aware of these potential risks. Over time, these fears may dissipate as she grows more powerful, but in her initial years in office these are very real and possible and she needs to stay extra alert to face any exigency.

Without a doubt, every woman who just started work in an office has thought of these situations, perhaps even faced some of these. Those that have dealt with these have had different reactions - ranging from quitting to fighting back. Those that haven't faced these, have always been fearfully aware that any of this can happen. Hearing more and more stories of harassment or assault, they have grown more fearful, or cautious. And it is the fear that is dangerous.

It is the fear that kills women's careers. When that 18-year-old girl got molested by Tarun Tejpal or the Delhi gangrape case happened, it wasn't just about women's safety and women's rights. It was also about how this creates discrimination between equally bright women and men - and hampers the growth of women in corporate jobs. Sadly, this is forgotten when there aren't enough middle-class women in the top decision-making bodies of companies (save for female relatives of founders or owners). The popular argument that prevails is that most of them drop out to get married or have kids or are too lazy to work hard enough.

Yes there are definitely a few women who drop out because they are certain they want to prioritize their family over their career. But there are also many women who are not sure at the start of their career - but when they have to face these everyday fears, they realise that getting married or leaving the high-flying job for a 'safer' one with fixed hours would be a better choice. The costs and benefits are skewed in favor of limiting their careers.

Which brings me the main point - This is why we need to punish sexual harassers more severely - whether it is clandestine in office or open harassment on the road. The long term implications of leniency on the collective psyche of women are lost in the short term media furore about the trauma to the victim. There is also a collective trauma and damage to society - to every career woman and the choices she makes. To the families of career women and the extra stress they all have to go through to support her against so many fears.

I'd like to end with a gedanken (thought experiment), based on the Tarun Tejpal molestation case:

Assuming the Editor-in-Chief of a leading magazine was bisexual (i.e. had an equal preference for both men and women), and if an male junior had been in a lift with him, would he have dared to have molested him? I feel the answer is 'No', but want to know why not?
Would any guy joining a media firm or corporate job ever have to worry about the safety of transport while going home or sharing a lift with a senior? Why is it that even today, women are the ones who need to worry more about these things?


  1. Regarding you Gedanken... Maybe the answer to the question is 'No' because still today the bisexual tendencies remain a matter of shame in India. The fear of their revealation of their homosexual orientation may cause a greater humiliation than that in case of heterosexual. Homosexual behaviour is not yet accepted by the society and is considered as a mental illness by many whereas heterosexual sex is supported by the society itself. And its insincere representation in our movies, jokes has degraded the seriousness of the subject. Hence people may think its "normal" to have sex with a woman in an elevator than with a man.

  2. I agree with anonymous about lechers preferring to hide their homosexual tendencies and therefore not harassing people from the same gender in the lift. And you are right about some women in mcp societies where a large number of males don't see anything wrong with female harassment, opting out. Hope they come up with a better strategy instead of ending fulfilling careers.

  3. I do agree with u. Still women have to fear for their security...But y? Y is the society not changing? What happened to the mentality of all men?

  4. Hi, Really great effort. Everyone must read this article. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Hey keep posting such good and meaningful articles.


All comments, criticism and feedback are welcome! You can even post as Anonymous if you're really shy. :)

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