Published:  01:04 AM, 15 May 2018

How harassment is downplayed to keep women silent

How harassment is downplayed to keep women silent

The book Not that Bad (2018), edited by the well-known feminist, Roxane Gay, starts with the chapter "Fragments' by Aubrey Hirsc h. She talks about being a 22 year old writing instructor who is given a story on rape "on purpose."  A student talks about a "hero" who rapes his teacher and then pays off the police to not get arrested.

The teacher realizes, that the fictional teacher getting assaulted is actually her; however, she doesn't know how to call out this misogyny. Instead, she critiques the awful story while the student who writes it smirks as he hears her give criticism to his story. She is only a few years older than he is and instead of treating her as a mentor he has perversely objectified her in some sick fantasy. 

The incident is obviously a form of sexual harassment. It is very vindictive and cruel for this student to present this; the lack of empathy and the lack of ethics show. However, men may say it's not "actually rape", so as the title states, it's not that bad.

Both Guardian writers, Hadley Freeman and Chitra Ramaswamy, are annoyed that men like Harvey Weinstein and even comedian Louis CK think that their actions are passable offences. Ramaswamy talks about the incredulousness of Harvey Weinstein thinking he had can be forgiven by Hollywood. Her article titled "Harvey Weinstein appears to think that his time is not up."

stressed that despite multiple allegations Weinstein has not been arrested yet. Instead he says he will make a documentary about his side of the story which is basically "an interview between two men about some of the most serious and sustained sexual assault allegations of our time is trailed in a men's magazine, the more pressing question gets buried." The frustration and anger is Ramswamy's piece is justified.

As Freeman wrote in her article titled "After six months of #MeToo, the burning question seems to be: how soon can these guys come back?" that male journalists and spokespeople have the gall to mansplain rape and harassment issues to women.

She even sarcastically starts her article with "Gosh, remember the #MeToo movement? That was exciting, wasn't it? All that talk about how nothing was ever going to be the same again." The bitterness is raw because when she cites a male journalist saying that Louis CK's level of behavior is not the same as Weinstein's so someone is not that bad.

"This argument has come up a lot since the start of the #MeToo movement, with men solemnly explaining to women that a grope is really not the same as a rape, which is super helpful of them because if there's one group who really aren't clear about the severity of rape, it's women. But increasingly when I hear someone say, "Harassment isn't as bad as rape", what they seem to be saying is, "It isn't that bad at all."

All we have to look around us to know this statement "Not that bad" concerning harassment is a falsity. Even when I visit the site Everyday Sexism I am bombarded with recent anecdotes of sexism, misogyny and harassment. A young girl got admitted into a prestigious university and her parents are happy.

She is actually scared. The university has been said to have 16% of its female students complain about sexual assault. She is afraid and doesn't know how to tell her parents about her fear of this situation. She is actually reluctant to go even though it's a prestigious university. I don't think male students, on an average, fret as much of this kind of problem when being accepted into universities.

One of other recent articles talks about a confident female software developer who faces harassment in various forms and she felt angry that random men cat-called her on the street and that only when she went to get lunch with her male colleagues was this not a problem. She says she should be respected even when she is alone.

Another person talked about how she fixed the voltage of a piece of equipment and her male colleague asked her for help with it. After she accomplished fixing it he asked her the details on how she did it and she explained to him the mechanics. Then "then took the meter to the manager and explained that he'd figured it out and was praised."

So, these are all forms of harassment. They are misogynistic ways of harming and downplaying women's contributions but because it is not rape women are told not to feel bad about them. If such things happened to a cis, straight man he would demand justice and say that he has been condescended, and make a big ruckus out of it.

These crimes are not only done to women but anyone who isn't considered a  cis, straight man. In the article titled " What it's Like to be Queer, Trans, Black and a Line Cook." by Charlie Anderle, in the site bonappetit, they talked heavily about misgendering, sexism and sexual harassment. Anderle dreaded going to work because the men around the restaurant made uncomfortable sexist and rape jokes. 

The manager even attempted to grope them a couple of times. Their sense of dress was also commented on inappropriately. "As a non-binary femme person, I was almost always the odd one out in the back of house. No one asked for my pronouns nor respected them once I've made clear that I go by "they" and "them."

 Anderle stated the cis, straight men sometimes considered them to be female coded to actually harass them. Anderle also found out the last non-binary person was fired because they had relations with the same manager who had made uncomfortable gestures towards them. It bothered him that their male colleagues made jokes of this incident.  They later found a full time job where their trans identity was respected. Yet they always had trouble navigating male dominated industries for such reasons.

Anderle's plight reminds me of South Asian's Hijra population, who face harassment on so many levels. Many Hijras are harassed because they are female coded and also due to the discrimination of the third gender in general. Many men do not want to treat them as "real women" but still harass them by viewing them akin to female "objects". In South Asia, clothing becomes also a topic of mass discussion and observation. There are women who publicly call out women for not dressing conservatively even so far as to harass them in public.

 A friend of mine once said that she was dressed in Kurta and pants and was getting accusatory stares from men who were implying her dress was a social taboo. However, a man wearing shorts passing around is not "indecent" nor breaking any social norms.

 He can prop himself on a motobike, next to his friend, with legs all bared and no one will even go up to him and say he is doing the unthinkable and should correct himself. Somehow, with female denizens we seem to think we can say anything that breaks our sense of "right" and "wrong" or anyone we don't consider a man.

Harassment is bad. To say it is not that bad as sexual assault is to say women's spaces, work and bodies can be violated in other ways. After all, if a man got slapped by a colleague or his work stolen we are not going to tell to him that his colleague hasn't been physically indecent to him so he should just keep shut and act like everything is fine.  That it was not that bad.

                                                                                                             The writer is a Copy Editor of The Asian Age

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