LOCATION – Hospital
CHARACTERS – a junior doctor and a senior doctor.
A young male doctor is pacing anxiously in his superior’s chamber as it’s the first day of his new posting and he has to report to his superior first. The door suddenly opens to reveal not his superior but his superior’s colleague. He stops pacing and greets him. The senior doctor looks at him from head to toe and proceeds to sit languidly on the chair. After asking his name, about his marriage status and other intrusive personal questions, the senior doctor then comments that the young doctor would have no trouble working in the department as he’s handsome and since his smile could melt anyone’s heart.
LOCATION – Office
CHARACTERS – a young architect, his office rival and people attending the meeting.
A nervous, young architect has just finished his presentation, for which he had to burn the midnight oil for many nights. As the lights turn back on and he looks at the gathered people, he’s relieved to find that most of them seemed to have liked the presentation. As the meeting ends and people start to trickle out of the room one by one, his colleague/office rival approaches him. She pays compliments to him in a backhanded way, saying that though his presentation was just fine, it would have been ok even if he hadn’t worked on it as his handsomeness and charm would definitely have convinced the people to approve his plans.
LOCATION – Hospital (let us set the scene in a different hospital)
CHARACTERS – a doctor and a patient.
A young male doctor is typing away at the keyboard trying to fill in the patient’s details in the computer as fast as he can so that his superior would not shout at him in front of everyone if there’s a little delay in uploading the files. The patient whom he’s helping is sitting beside him and leering at him. The doctor now moves onto the part where he has to ask about the patient’s drug history, alcohol/smoking history and her sexual history. The patient, as if she has been waiting for this moment from the time she set her foot inside the office, leans forward eagerly and passes some crude comments. When the doctor tries to steer the conversation back to the topic, the patient says that she would answer the questions only if the doctor would agree to go on a date with her and also says that had she been younger by a decade, she was confident that they would have gotten married.
Some of you might be feeling uncomfortable by now. Good, that was the objective here. Some of you might also be thinking that the instances described above are very rarely seen in the real world. Yes, you are right. But, what if I change the gender of the person being put into the uncomfortable position in my examples from a man to a woman and the person doing so from a woman to a man? Not so rare anymore, huh?
Every woman, regardless of age group/social status/caste/creed has found herself more than once in different versions of the above mentioned situations, where she has thought that if the earth opened up and a devil with his trident beckoned her, she would gladly jump in without a second thought. A few months back, I had gone to the passport office for my passport renewal. While waiting for my token to be called out, I saw a man trying to force conversations with the woman sitting next to him who looked like she would rather have her teeth pulled out than talk to this guy. But, she was trying to be as polite as possible so as not to create a scene. When she got up to drink some water, he saw that she was pregnant — probably, the bag on her lap might have prevented him from getting the memo earlier — and his face fell, not from shame but from dejection. When she came back, he bothered her no more. An unborn baby seemed to have commanded more respect than the woman carrying it.
So, what do we call this behaviour? What do we call those who indulge in such behaviour? Sexist? Harasser? If the excuse behind indulging in such behaviour is just harmless fun, is it harmless to undermine a person’s efforts and the hard work she has put into her work just because she’s a woman? Is it harmless to make an employee serving you at the government office uncomfortable just because you were feeling bored waiting in line. Working in a stressful work environment? Hey, let’s relieve our stress by indulging in harmless fun commenting on the looks of the female colleagues even when it has zero relation to the work. Attending an event put together to celebrate a woman writer/activist/celebrity? Let’s not talk about the substantial contributions she has made to her field, but let’s embarrass her by asking her personal and intrusive questions in front of everyone, and sit back and watch in satisfaction while she squirms. I have even seen one reporter giving his valuable analysis that the looks of the female writer — he was taking the interview of — was actually responsible for her books being on the national bestseller list. Oh, and I almost forgot about those special individuals who in spite of not knowing the other person on the social media wouldn’t think twice before sending them messages where tasteless questions are asked before even saying ‘Hi’. They even continue on to advise her as to how she should lead her life. I want to ask such men if they feel a sense of achievement in cornering women into uncomfortable positions. The line between a harmless fun and a harmful behaviour is not that blurry for you to frequently step over it.
I would like to make it clear here that I don’t believe that all men are like that. There are many good people out there. And also, on the other end of the spectrum are some women who indulge in the same behaviour. The difference being in the number of men and the number of women involved in such doings. But, regardless of who indulges in such toxic behaviour, it has to be condemned.
So, what’s the solution? I wish I knew. I wish I could say that I am so brave that when I am put in an uncomfortable situation, I know how to make the other person regret to have messed with me or that I wish I knew how to make the other person stop by handling the situation in a dignified manner. The only progress I have made is to move on from awkwardly and nervously laughing earlier to today’s maintaining a stoic expression on my face, implying that I am not ok with whatever’s going on. A few have taken the hint and stopped, but alas, a few others haven’t. My main objective behind writing this post was to tell my fellow superwomen that this issue is not trivial, and that they are definitely not overthinking or overreacting if they try to tackle this issue head-on. And, if the reader is a bloke still trying to excuse his nasty behaviour as harmless fun, I would urge you to think ‘This…. is not ok’ before you try to put down a woman the next time, because ‘Brother, there’s a limit to everything, and you never know who will be at the end of their patience if you continue on in this path. And trust me, you do not want to face a woman’s wrath!’