The allegations of sexual harassment against TVF’s CEO Arunabh Kumar have been shocking – not only in terms of the organisation involved but also because of the sheer number of allegations. Sexual harassment at the workplace is being discussed fervently, and so are the ways in which it can be dealt with.
In this context, one particular video has been doing the rounds on social media. Uploaded by Bombay Diaries on YouTube on March 7, a day before International Women’s Day, the video has clocked over a million views. It open with the setup of a typical government office.
A man calls a woman with the clear intention of harassing her. He stares at her backside when she goes to look for a file and at her chest even as she tries to explain to him an answer to his query. What happens next? Watch here:
The woman calls him out for continually sexually harassing her, making her feel uncomfortable and even mentions his married status. And while the woman shaming the man and his advances in front of everyone is cathartic indeed, let’s face it: this rarely happens.
For one, let’s not assume that this is how every woman “should” respond to sexual harassment. There can be various reasons a woman may not be able to speak up. Take the example of this working professional in Bengaluru whose company’s management ensured that she was isolated and no one spoke to her when she spoke up about a colleague sexually harassing her.
Lack of a support system – from colleagues as well as the management – caused a lot of suffering for this woman.
There is also the issue of the woman in the video dragging the harasser’s wife into the discussion. It is almost as if she’s saying why he feels the need to harass her when he already has a woman at home. The argument is problematic on many levels: it feeds into the idea that only sexually frustrated men harass and also that sex is a given for married men regardless of the agency of the woman they’re married to.
The video also shows everyone in the office standing silently, witnesses to her naming and shaming. But that hardly happens in real life.
Sexual harassment is treated like an open secret – the way the peon knew who the harasser was talking about when he asked him to call “Madonna”. It is not necessary for sexual harassment to happen in closed doors. And the TVF allegations are testimony to that too.
The problem here is not just the passiveness of the bystanders, but also how the passiveness actively contributes to the silence around sexual harassment. It is unfair to expect women, who are often left to fight their battles to speak against the power structures which want to protect harassers in the name of ‘saving reputations’.
This is not to say that women should not be encouraged to speak up, but if they don’t, they should not be victimised for it. And while the video does help the former cause, it is important to acknowledge that in reality, this scenario is rarely that simple.
(Views expressed are personal opinions of the author.)