It has been a tiring fortnight for women. From actors to journalists to comics, some dire stories have come out from the world of media and arts, just amplifying the fact that so-called ‘liberal’ occupations having safe workplaces, is a myth.
While the testimonies of these brave women have given many the strength to speak out, the comments from the so-called “devil’s advocates” are a punch in the gut. A lot has been said over the past few weeks about women who have spoken out against their abusers and harassers. The sheer number of people telling survivors “if you did nothing, you probably wanted it” has, time and again, forced us to recoil into a world of self-doubt and repression.
“If you froze, you consented.” “If you did not push him away, his move is justified.” “If you did not say no at that moment, you probably wanted it too.”
Here is what happens. A former senior colleague looking you up and down, his gaze settling firmly on your chest as you walk the corridors of what you thought was a safe space to work, is hurriedly ignored as you try to squirm your body out of his line of gaze. Or you freeze.
I froze when another former senior colleague brushed his hand against mine once. I brushed off the first instance as a genuine mistake. But when he did it the second time, I froze. He continued to run his fingers over my hands multiple times, and then he finally stopped. Does that mean I enjoyed the act? Nope.
Please note that the act of freezing is a form of expressing shock. You are so taken aback that your body simply refuses to move, whether you are 20 feet away from him or you are sitting next to him. What needs to be heard clearly is that freezing is NOT a form of consent. It is NOT agreeing to the man’s advances and “letting” him do things to you. Women do not have to be loud to protest advances, the onus lies on men to understand that they are not entitled to a woman’s body just because they are in a position of power. Silence is NOT a form of consent.
Instead, men should realise that anything other than a loud and enthusiastic “yes!” is the opposite of consent.
I have not been able to confront the colleague. At some level, I feel I have been conditioned into thinking that since I did not voice my opposition immediately, I may have consented. Or the fact that I took more than two seconds to move away from a former friend, when he tried to push himself onto me inside a cab, probably translated to me ‘enjoying’ it subconsciously.
Abusers and harassers cannot take freezing as an encouragement, or a hint that what they are doing is okay. Neither can they dismiss women's experiences as an afterthought if we choose to confront them days, weeks, even years after. Nobody voluntarily and willingly wants to don the cape of a victim of sexual harassment, especially in India. Just because at that instance we did not have the reflexes to smack your hand or push your body away, does not mean we consented.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are the author's own.