So much pain across the internet and social media. About the times one was hushed into silence and exploited or almost rendered defenseless. Innumerable stories, scary and concerning. It’s not like some of us escaped unhurt or something. Only, sometimes, we managed to get the situation under our control. Much to the chagrin of the predator. Those lessons were valuable.
Every woman who has travelled by night buses or trains will tell you about men who feel you up, or follow you. We hold our pee because we don’t want go into strange dark toilets, or use one on a moving train in the dead of the night. We hold our breaths. We basically hold everything. And if we could make ourselves invisible in the face of a brazen predator, we’d have thanked the forces that be. Alas but that’s not the case.
In the face of pain, I wanted to share my two moments of glory, stories of resistance in my #MeToo moments. I am not deriding those who had to suffer (including myself on many other instances), but just thought I wanted to share the times when adroitness helped. Again, in all humility, I shall submit these stories, read on.
The first incident of harassment was with my photography professor at the University where I was pursing my final year of journalism Masters. He already had a reputation by then. So when he began to call me to the ‘dark room’ that was part of the photography department, at late afternoons when there would hardly be anybody on the campus, I was alarmed. I avoided it a few times citing random reasons. My dissertation was to be submitted to him, and he withheld it forcing me to decide either way. Not accepting his advances would mean my Masters degree would be in jeopardy. My two years away from home gone, and my dream of becoming a journalist would be shut off forever. Exams approached and I was right under his tentacles. I was mostly in tears all the time wondering who to share this with and HOW!
I confided in a few classmates. A good number of them came together and said they’d stand guard outside the dark room when the exam was going on, and would break in, if need be if I cried for help. And for me, I used a shimmery brown lipstick that was almost of muck colour, to ensure the colour would stay on his clothes/hands or body if he tried coming close.
The professor was smart to see the solidarity and didn’t act funny. “That lipstick is revolting” he said. I pretended to be deaf and developed the pictures on the tray.
It didn’t end. One evening, prior to written exams, he saw me walking and stopped his vehicle next to me. He insisted on dropping me and I continued to walk. He said he could get me question papers and make me a topper if I went with him. “Wife and kids not in town so you can study overnight at my house if you come now!" he said. Like wow! That simple he made it sound. I murmured about having to return to hostel right away. He then threatened, "Your results will be withheld if you don’t adhere to this."
Something hit me hard. I turned around and told him, almost shouted even as passersby could hear. “Sir, I left home and comforts for this degree. If you make it difficult for me, I will surely stay on and do whatever it takes to get that degree and make life difficult for you. Want to try? I will sit on a dharna right here if you speak one more word…” He was embarrassed and ran away from there since people stood there watched me shout at him. Later, my marks were compromised in his subject, but that’s besides the point. This however gave me immense confidence.
In another incident, many years later, I was working with a hospital as Corporate Communications Manager when the newly appointed Sales and Ops Manager kept making passes. He even had a senior lady pimp out for him. She’d ask if I wanted to go with him to ghazal nights, club or pubs or to meetings where I wasn’t even required. Since he was the favourite of the management, I couldn’t complain. The man was in his late 40s (me in late 20s) senior, balding and unmarried. Obviously, he had power and wielded it to see if he could get some free romping may be.
I kept dodging all these signs. I was humiliated and ridiculed before many people. Meetings turned miserable. I was living alone and would cry almost every evening. Some friends suggested that I quit. “Stay, else you’ll face the same fate everywhere else. You may not be interested in office politics that does not mean office politics won’t happen with you. Face this and win,” a single parent of a head nurse told me. Something changed within me and I turned around, began to play the exact games he was playing with me. Find fault with his plans, out him for being autocratic, and feign ignorance about projects that had to involve me (genuinely). My theatre skills, I must say, helped me great deal. He got desperate and made bad moves. He even told me once, “You are in the periphery, you need to get into the pool to play well” while staring (politely?) at my breasts. He often spoke to women’s breasts only, except if they were in very high positions or seniors by qualification.
I took this sentence to the higher-ups, gave a complaint. He was affected and made even more mistakes. Sales began to drop since he suffered a loss of face and his team had spread the word about this in the market.
I was to get married in the next one month. Just as I was wrapping up work for the day, on a cold December evening, the man came to me and shook hands. “It was a pleasure working with you,” he smiled. “I cannot say the same thing about you, sir,” I said. I was emboldened by then. He shook his head and left. Another colleague told me that day was his last in the organisation. Eventually I left the organisation too, since I got married and shifted cities. But these two successes taught me the most pertinent lesson. Resist and fight.
One may not have such choices all the time during #MeToo moments. But the taste of these two successes was heady. Never after. If being brave is something you can do, go for it. This is to enable our daughters to work in far balanced environments tomorrow, than we do in our todays.