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Sexual Harassment: Not Just About Sex


19 Votes | Average: 3.79 out of 519 Votes | Average: 3.79 out of 519 Votes | Average: 3.79 out of 519 Votes | Average: 3.79 out of 519 Votes | Average: 3.79 out of 5 (19 votes, average: 3.79 out of 5)
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Sexual Harassment: Not Just About SexThe first time it happens, you are inclined to brush it out of your mind, just as someone has accidentally brushed against you at work while they are headed elsewhere. The second time, a niggling doubt begins to form, but you are still not fully convinced. By the third time, you have inwardly begun to cringe from the person who has been ‘accidentally’ touching you, and subsequently, you feel comfortable only when a biggish table or a broad corridor separates you from this person.
 
Sexual encounters in the workplace, or those encounters that border on the physical, and cause a vague discomfort, are a lot more common than people admit. “I have a perfectly friendly colleague who has this nasty habit of holding his crotch suddenly during some conversations in our break time,” says Srividya, working in a large BPO. “Its hard not to notice, and even harder not to speak to him about it. One of my girl colleagues was finding it so disturbing that she asked another male colleague of ours to point it out to him. God alone knows if he was doing it on purpose or just instinctively. But he has stopped after it was told to him.”
 
Some gestures that pass muster for some time, before they become points of irritation and annoyance, are putting a friendly arm around a colleague’s shoulder, leaning over a colleague as they are at work, and cracking the odd off-colour joke. This may seem like routine acts in the office camaraderie scenario. But even such acts can pass for ‘sexual harassment’ particularly in the strict laws relating to this in the United States, where multi-million dollar harassment lawsuits have made news for several years.
 
“My colleague clearly has a problem – his wife is frigid, while he seems to be over-sexed,” says Lavanya with brutal frankness. “But why should I have to suffer his lewd remarks and stupid sex-starved gestures just because of his situation? Do I get extra allowance just because I am broke and its still time for salary day? Being in the same office does not entitle you to behave with over-familiarity with your colleagues.” Overly familiar behaviour is a problem area that must be negotiated with care by both sexes. While men may cross the line in a physical sense, women often turn offenders by acting too possessive and proprietorial, or too curious and inquisitive about their colleagues.
 
Women are also found guilty in cases where sexual harassment has been linked to power. Just like the militant lawyer tells Michael Douglas in the famous film ‘Disclosure’, ‘Sexual harassment is not about sex – its about power.’ When any gesture with even mildly sexual overtones emanates from a person who has authority over you, then it can be classified as sexual harassment almost immediately. Abhijit, a young officer in a bank, had a difficult time when his female boss began to take an inordinate interest in his love life. “She used to jokingly refer to my ‘girlfriend troubles’”, he says. “Then one evening, she bumped into me at a mall near our office, and invited me for coffee. Somehow, the whole set up made me very uncomfortable. One side she was cribbing about her husband being away all the time, being a heavy drinker. Another side her cleavage began to show when her ‘pallu’ slipped – she was wearing a saree – and generally I got the impression that she was coming on very strong. I was terrified. This was the same woman who had a reputation for being a real terror, quite vicious, in fact. What was I supposed to do with her extra-curricular interest in me?” Fortunately for Abhijit, his lady tormentor moved to a higher position in a different city quite soon after the coffee incident. Not every boss who begins to make sexually loaded gestures gets so conveniently moved, however. In such cases, forming one’s own strategy to deal with such people becomes all important.   
 
Improved avenues for reporting and dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace have made it easier, at least in theory, to report possible violations. Yet this remains an area of relatively hidden and obscure suffering. Do you have your own encounter in the workplace to share?
  

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Responses to Sexual Harassment: Not Just About Sex

  1. 1 Amit

    Someone has to say it after all: women are wrecking havoc in offices behind the protection that tradition provides them. The incidents of sexual overture made by women to men is 200 times more than men harassing women. Still, the sexual overtures made by women are softly called “overture” than “harassment.” I am a man and I too experience surreptitious touching, tapping and caressing on explosive places of my person by elder women every single day in crowded buses. Even younger women are not far behind these days. The days of Savitri are over. The writer might well be one of them.

    It happens most often when you get ready near the gate of the bus to get down and have a woman behind you (also wanting to get down, obviously). The woman would almost inevitably hold her vanity bag in a way such that her fingers are pressed in the groove of the back of the man, that is you. I have been using public transport for 28 years since my school days; people like me know it very well. Women go even beyond it but I have no taste describing so much here.

    In office I often see women almost wanting to drop their pants if requested. Still, I think it is not a harassment to an individual man because he enjoys it and fantasizes over it. Especially when it comes free of cost. But the sexual overtures that are frequently made by almost half the women in an office on any given day affect the organization hard enough to be called “nuisance” if not “harassment.” Therefore the writer of the concerned article should stop complaining about the sword wound—the sword is double-edged; you got your due from the male edge because we suffer the never-ending nuisance created by the female edge. It is a battle of wits; don’t complain when you lose. Don’t rob it of the color by lodging bland complaints. We men never complain, do we?

  2. 2 Scharada Bail

    Was I complaining in the article about men vs. women? I don’t think so. It was meant to be a piece that both sexes may identify with.

    Your personal comments on my ‘Savitri’ status are quite unwarranted in a forum of this nature, where opinions can be freely exchanged without rancour.

    All the best!

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