A pretty disturbing Bloomberg story, of the level at which the #MeToo movement has spooked men on Wall Street, has gone viral. Some companies have suggested an end to dinners with female colleagues and no more one-on-one meetings between the sexes. It’s not entirely unexpected, the bizarre strategies being suggested and adopted by senior executives, to avoid any question of sexual harrassment. Women are anyway completely outnumbered in the workplace in India. This reaction to the velocity of #MeToo in the West is a fair indication that women’s lives everywhere, are about to get that much harder.
The way this piece is being shared it feels like the world is indulging in a righteous I told you so: see, this is what happens for speaking up. An (indirect) but deeply offensive assertion that we’d have been better off suffering in silence because #MeToo is going to end up hurting women’s progress — companies will simply avoid hiring them. Ironically, just a week ago, a UN report documenting homicides said women face the greatest chance of violent death in their own homes, from men they know intimately. Right alongside comes the laughably ridiculous news that a growing number of men report being uncomfortable if they have to work alone with a woman. What one may surmise from this is that men are concerned that they are at risk of being falsely accused of sexual impropriety, or two, they don’t trust themselves not to misbehave.
It’s really come to this, that the solution to the battle between the sexes is complete gender segregation. The only thing worse than an office with a couple of creepy men has got to be an office with absolutely no women. I’m pretty sure most men would agree. To state the obvious but clearly it’s not obvious enough, the vast majority of men shouldn’t have to worry about women misinterpreting their behaviour. All they have to do is not be jerks. How hard is that? This appears to be a tall order everywhere in the world. Especially in India, where we are contending with thousands of years of misguided parenting that has created multi generations plagued by the raja beta syndrome. Doting moms and grandparents so starry eyed by their sons, they raise them to believe that’s a crowning achievement in itself, being a son. Indian men have not been taught how to interact with women in anything other than a romantic or familial context and therein lies the most infuriating conundrum. How to shake off their conditioning and get it into their thick skulls that women in offices are co-workers, colleagues, friends — and unless they clearly specify otherwise — nothing more?
This alarming narrative doing the rounds and gaining traction, of scheming, wily, women out to jam every man in the workplace to get ahead is simply not backed up by facts. Survey after survey has shown less than 10 per cent of sexual harassment claims have turned out to be fake. According to an article published in The Indian Express on October 24, 2018, a poll conducted by social networking site Local Circle suggested that in India, 78 per cent of those sexually harassed in the workplace did not report it. Considering the data, we should be incensed by the notion that it’s common for women to say they’ve been harassed when they haven’t. This inexplicable concern for male victimhood is misplaced because there are far more women facing sexual assault, than there are men being unfairly targeted.
Of course, it is important to ensure due process for all individuals and in an ideal world, no one should ever have to be tainted by false allegations. There are people languishing in jails for murders they didn’t commit and lynch mobs roaming free after killing a policeman in broad daylight. The occasional miscarriage of justice is a reality of the human situation, however, it is not representative of the larger issue. These are challenging times and it’s tragic that once again, we have to appeal to men to err on the right side and reject knee-jerk and misogynistic responses to the #MeToo movement.