I opened my eyes today to the horror of a quote in Mumbai Mirror.
It read “ I am a heterosexual single man and when I found a woman sexy, I tell her she is sexy. I compliment women, is that wrong?”.
These words were uttered by Arunabh Kumar, founder and head of The Viral Fever, now accused of sexual harassment by some his female co-workers. Let’s dissect this.
Let’s start with the compliment part. By his own admission, Arunabh has admitted to the nature of his comments with his female colleagues. What’s baffling to me is that he is trying to hide behind the veil of familiar statements that we share with familiar people.
I come from a ‘progressive’ (for lack of another term) field of advertising which is also filled with glamour on the outside and hard nerve wrecking intellectual work on the inside. Being a man, I have been privy to sexualised discussions about women and the size of their breasts and bums. And being a gay man, I have had the privilege of listening to women’s discussions about men which stop at height and broad shoulders and smiles. But, having said that, in my decade long career in advertising and event management, I have not seen any heterosexual male boss walk up to their female employee and tell them that they look sexy randomly when they don’t share such camaraderie with them. It is not okay.
As a homosexual man, I have definitely walked up to my female bosses and have complimented them for their figure or have just told them that they are looking sexy. However, I have done so, only after I have established a sense of rapport with them. People don’t even take sexuality for granted. The space where it is spoken, to whom it is spoken and the tone in which these golden words “you are sexy” are said is of paramount importance. Whether it is an abuse of power or a compliment can only be decided by the person at the receiving end of the message. Which in this case turns out to be the woman and the woman alone. That’s the basic code of decency. And if the women who Arunabh has called SEXY feels offended by his so called “compliment” then they have every right to speak against it.
The assumption that heterosexual men have the right to say sexual things to a woman and that the woman should take it, is the epitome of a totally patriarchal mindset. And the audacity to end the sentence with, “is that wrong?” is not an innocent statement taken out of context. It is a justification of the words being said to a woman even when she clearly doesn’t appreciate it and also a slap on every woman’s face by the contaminated hands of patriarchy.
And about the words “I am a heterosexual single man….” I know heterosexual single men who are kind and nice and also those who are uncouth and nasty. I am not for stereotyping of either as the trait of the heterosexual community. “Heterosexual men” don’t go about calling women sexy and grabbing breasts, passing lewd comments about female co-workers. I would want each and everyone in the silent majority to speak up against such ludicrous statements that makes it look like every heterosexual man is a boob-grabber and lewd-blabber.
And finally, who said single heterosexual men have the licence to say whatever they want to a woman? And what has marital status got to do with creepiness? Creepiness is neither genetic not generic, it is constructed by the culture of silence and violence that is not dealt with. And it is killed by people who speak up loudly and clearly against such uprising forces.
Coming back to Arunabh’s statement on Heterosexual Single Men, will the silent majority of heterosexual single men, please speak up? This is really about stereotyping your clan as molesters. Will you speak up or are you waiting for an auspicious time?
(Harish Iyer is an equal rights activist working for the rights of the LGBT community, women, children and animals.)