Parity’s sensitization program is a key element of our support to organizations that attempt to understand, and grapple with #everydaysexism at the workplace. In these sessions, I often ask a question to the women in the room “How many of you have been sexually harassed in your daily lives?” Typically no one raises their hands. Then, I ask the men, “How many of you have seen a woman being sexually harassed?” And again, no one responds.
But when I ask the women, “How many of you have walked down the street to your school or college or to pick up milk, and there was a stranger on the street whistling or commenting on your looks?” Most or even all the women raise their hands. The men agree that they have seen this happening, as well. We don’t respond to it or acknowledge it, since we’ve been taught by our parents not to engage with these behaviours. This messaging has led us to accept sexually harassing behaviours as ‘normal’; something to put our heads down and ignore, rather than confront. In fact it is so normalized that we don’t even define it as sexual harassment.
There is a fear that engaging with this behaviour stains the victim, so we pass it off as ‘eve-teasing’ or walking past a ‘roadside-romeo’. These terms and phrases trivialise the emotions of the recipient of this behaviour, while absolving the perpetrator from responsibility. It dilutes the behaviour by using terms that are casual, rather than identifying it for what it is.
When supposedly well-educated men and women, the privileged few who work in highly skilled jobs and live in metros, don’t even recognize harassment for what it is; when our movies glorify stalking as romantic behaviour; when our society chooses to brush womens’ painful experiences under the proverbial carpet; why do we act surprised when #Victimblaming or #Victimshaming is the most common response to more specific acts of sexual harassment?
Is there any one action that you, the reader, can take today/tomorrow/this week to challenge this? What if you question the next sexist joke you see on one of the many WhatsApp groups you are a part of? What if you intervene the next time you see a girl being harassed on the road or in your workplace? Every single person can be a drop in the ocean of change.