At the very onset let me confess that I am neither a gender specialist nor a blogger. The reason for me to write this article is to give voice to the demons of doubt which have recently started possessing me.
My fault – I am a Man. I work with women. I have a power equation (mainly tilted in my favour). I have a perspective.
Before I embark on the tales of my demons, let me set the stage for them.
In the last few months, a lot has been written and discussed about the perennial issue of women facing predatory advances from men with whom the women share/d a professional relationship or were mere acquaintances. The campaign #MeToo brought to the forefront the gravity of the issue and lived up to Alyssa Milano’s expectations when she had tweeted “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem”… and it did succeed in empowering many women to come forward and tell their own unfortunate incidents; and in the process also made the world aware of the magnitude.
This is where I’ll introduce my first demon of doubt.
Doubt 1: Is #MeToo enough?
I believe that the campaign did exceptionally well to:
- Establish the magnitude of the problem
- Encouraged women to come forward and share their ordeals
- Reveal powerful men who were/are serial offenders
However, a dispassionate objective look at the above would suggest that the job is half done. I shall at best give two arguments (both of them could be weak but at least worth a read).
Argument 1: This will help victims come forward but is unlikely to deter men
A google scholar search would show up extensive research done on such men and their disposition towards sexual harassment and violence against women. Review of such literature has made me think about the heterogeneity and homogeneity of these offenders. There exists in-depth research that proves that no two male offenders are same and there is a significant heterogeneity when it comes to their profiles. At the same time, there exists research which establishes certain patterns with respect to victim selection and preferences.
My own interpretation of the situation is that regardless of heterogeneity or homogeneity, there are four main dominant narrative structures which describe the psyche of such men:
- The rejection-revenge narrative: These men often confess that they were rejected by women during their younger days and such acts helped them nurse their bruised egos.
- The quid-pro-quo narrative: These men would often justify their dastardly act by stating that it was consensual till the deal went sour.
- The denial narrative: These men often in psychological tests would admit to forced intercourse and coercion but deny rape. They feel they were assertive and persuasive.
- The intoxication narrative: These men would externalize and rationalize the act and blame it on the alcohol, drugs which led to such indiscretion.
But deep beneath the narrative is the even scarier insight – there is always a justification. Justifications colour our world view and once that colouring has taken place, it is unlikely to deter us.
Argument 2: Media hype is a double-edged sword and such men will use the wrong side.
It would be imprudent to think that these serial offenders never thought of getting exposed. If they were habituated to such offences it is likely that with their power, affordability, and intelligence they would use their political and legal nexus and leverage this media hype to their advantage and to their defence. Let’s not forget media trials weaken such cases as they are often seen to be influential in pronouncing the accused guilty even before he has been allowed to defend himself via a fair trial. Is it not ironic that the very media platform which ‘exposes’ you also provides a ‘shield’ to you? Think about it.
The purpose of the above two arguments is not to dwarf the achievement of the #MeToo campaign. Instead, it is to make the problem at hand gigantic.
#MeToo as a campaign reinforces the belief that sexual offence is a woman’s issue and hence onus of the issue is with women, the victims. This is disheartening as it is men who commit the crimes, and this is where I believe the crux of the problem lies – shift of the onus.
At this junction I will introduce my second demon of doubt.
Doubt 2: Am I equipped enough to fight?
For once, let’s shift the onus to men. We know, with #MeToo, some men have begun participating themselves by confessing to their own misbehaviour as aggressive or narrating their own stories as victims. (#IWill or #HowIWillChange).
But what about men who are neither aggressors nor victims? Let’s talk about men like you and me, who want to support such causes in such a manner that the issue of sexual harassment of women at workplace traverses the ‘who next’ phase to ‘what to stop this’ phase. In other words, men who want to take this fight forward.
Having introspected, I realized that I might not be equipped enough to take this forward. Let me explain:
- Do I know enough to not offend – I do believe that gender sensitization should become a part of every education system and must start early. There are many men who often claim to be confused about what is inappropriate and what is innocuous. When does charm cross over to harm? When does innocuous flirting become dangerous? More importantly, how to read and rightly interpret signals which tell you – STOP, ABOUT TO TRANSGRESS?
- Do I know enough to protect my self – What in case I am framed or I am the victim? How should I protect myself? How can I handle and manage such situations? What are my rights?
- Do I know enough to help a victim – If ever a woman comes to me seeking mediation and support, I might not be in a position to give her the right advice or myself take the apt decision. The perennial question which bothers top management is ‘how to safeguard women’s well-being and deliver justice without ruining the company’s reputation?’
Intuitively, we might all know the answers to the above questions. I, however, strongly believe a systematic sensitization and training might be more efficient and effective in taking the fight to the enemy.
Otherwise the third and the most evil of the demons would get a chance to surface.
Doubt 3: Is FLIGHT the better option? (Remember, the primitive brain knows only two responses. Fight or Flight.)
Often I get this advice that things are overly sensitive and it is best for male leaders to avoid getting involved in situations which have a remote chance of being misinterpreted. I must confess that I did pay heed to such advices till I realized that this is not ideal and does not help the cause at all.
The advices that I received ranged from showcasing preferences for male member for projects to avoiding one-on-one interactions with women even if the same is a professional requirement. I was also advised to vary my leadership style – be friendly and casual with your male colleagues and extremely professional with female colleagues.
Going forward: Did I fight or flight my demons of doubts?
I have made my choice. I will fight.
I will take on the onus. I will not be a coward and escape.
I will learn, relearn, unlearn.
I will empower myself as well as those working with me.
I will never be one of those men. #NotMe