The allegations against TVF founder Arunabh Kumar have stirred up important conversations about sexual harassment in the workplace. This is bittersweet because it took four different women coming out (so far), to get us riled up – and even then they are fielding disbelief from the general public. One of the many questions being asked, by well-meaning, yet ignorant (or perhaps naïve) people is why these women are only speaking out now, sometimes months or years after the incidents.
A while ago, we came to know of a similar incident involving a close personal friend of ours. As progressive as we thought we were then, we learnt that socialisation had made us ignorant. Today, we feel just a bit more equipped to address this question, and hope to help others understand the climate in which many women live.
Perils of Living in a Gendered Society
Women tend not to enter the workplace with inflated egos, even if they’re eager to prove themselves. They come into that world riddled with insecurities, about baseless things perhaps, because they already live in a gendered society. They don’t start at zero as half the population does, but five rungs below that. They are less likely to have made the interview, less likely to be hired, and less likely to be taken seriously; and if they do get past all that, they’re more likely to live in fear of harassment.
Because after the initial disbelief and confusion, what inevitably follows is fear, which pulls them lower down from that already unequal footing, making their abuser seem all the more powerful. Abuse hides behind the security of power, be it a superior position in the workplace, or a figurative one.
When they stop treading the line of what’s appropriate in the name of that fear, they enter into a vicious circle, moving that line further and further away from the moment that first made them uncomfortable.
And it’s a slippery slope then, that dulls their outrage, especially when weighed against the possible consequences of losing their jobs, having their discomfort dismissed, or being ostracised by their coworkers, even their own family.
Normalising Fear at Work Place
Each time it happens after that, it takes a toll on their self-worth. All their suspicions about women being treated like objects, or being patronised because they believe in equality, might start making sense.
If this is what silences them, what probably perpetuates that silence, is that we live in a society where making such an allegation is an act of courage, implying that we have normalised fear at the workplace.
To the question of “why now?”:
The powerlessness that comes with being violated, objectified, and sexualised, in an environment that one depends on for livelihood, is something we cannot seem to empathise with.
If it took her two years to make an allegation, still choosing to be anonymous; perhaps two years is how long it took her to climb back up.
And if the allegations made by the anonymous blogger turn out to be false, it gave (at least) three others the courage to speak up.
(Karan Singhal and Nisha Vernekar work as research associates at Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)