Workplace Sexism Futiyapa*

*F for Feminism

TVF is an online channel that produces alternative Hindi television. They focus on the urban middle class youth of the Indian metros, and usually overtly try to keep their tone feminist (at least towards urban middle class women).

Arunabh Kumar, the CEO of TVF was recently accused by several women (first anonymously, then more openly) of sexually harrassing them in the workplace. He and most of the TVF team blatantly denied accusations and threatened to “leave no stone unturned to find the author of the article and bring them to severe justice for making such false allegations.”, although they later changed their tone and launched an internal query as more women came forward, even though Kumar continued to deny all allegations against himself.

Consider my surprise when, I see Nidhi Bisht (actor and influential female voice at TVF) in an episode about workplace discrimination and harassment that urban middle class women face everyday. She portrays realistically, the condescension and discredit that have become a part of the working life for the average woman in the office. She even found herself working under an MFP boss (a Male Feminist Pig, who pretends to be feminist while making his women employees uncomfortable)- a splitting image of Arunabh Kumar as boss, to be honest.

Nidhi’s character says all the right things to her boss, which is laughable given how she reacted in real life to accusations of sexual assault against her colleague (and possible friend)

TVF

2 FIRs were lodged against Kumar, but may now be withdrawn as no women have come forward to testify. No arrests have been made so far.

This is probably one of the most heartbreaking parts of the TVF story. Women face harassment at work, school, and academic activities like debating every day. It is already very difficult to speak out due to the stigma attached to sexual assault, especially in India. Arunabh allegedly threatened and demeaned his female employees, until they decided to move out of that workspace. And when they finally found the courage to speak out, other women, with louder voices silenced and shunned them.

It is so easy to talk theoretically about feminism, consent and rape culture, but the reaction of women who have a voice to someone powerful coming forward really matters. So many vulnerable women look for support in the women with power who say all the right words before they are tested. The victims are then victim blamed or have their realities questioned by the people who broke glass ceilings before them- the people who they thought would understand.

So many women leave so many activities and jobs that they are good and enjoy, simply due to the unbelievable amount of hostility and harassment that is thrown their way. While it is important to try to prevent this from happening as much as possible (by stricter laws and enforcement, not shaming women into changing their behavior), it is also absolutely crucial that women in power listen to their juniors, even if they do not want to believe them about the actions of their friends. One of the test of our feminism must be to stand by it even when it hurts us. Don’t just talk about protecting and supporting victims of assault- listen to them and don’t disbelieve them off-hand (and definitely don’t call them a hater!)

Somewhere in the Rainbow

I have long been an open and avid supporter of the LGBTQIA+  community. I believe that straight people can only be allies if they understand the community, and see themselves as a part of it, by accepting that gender and sexualty are fluid, and some can be more fluid than others. This is a humble attempt to explain that the rainbow community isn’t unnatural, and most people are more similar than them than is widely perceived.

Think of the rainbow as a gender spectrum. On the violet (blue) extreme is the manliest man you can describe. He doesn’t have to be someone you know, but has all the qualities of the ideal/perfect/macho man. He’s probably a hunk and doesn’t cry, ever. He probably chills on beer and football on weekends and gets all the girls. He presses a lot of weight at the local gym, he is confident and strong. All his characteristics can fit the stereotype of a perfect man.

On the red end of the rainbow, therefore, is the ideal woman. She is smart and pretty, she’s docile and loving and cooks all kinds of amazing food. One could really keep describing her endlessly, and never finish. She is the stereotype of the perfect woman.

Most of us don’t fit the bills of ideal man or woman. We all lie somewhere between the two extremes. While we describe what epitomes of both the genders should be like, we usually don’t embody the list ourselves, nor do most people we know. We all have, in varying degrees, some characteristics of the so-called, “opposite gender”. That’s why some women are “tomboys” and some men more “effeminate” than others.

And if that is true, why have genders at all? But maybe as a step before, why judge those who fall on a different colour on the rainbow than us? If we all started out on the extreme ends, by being born with “male” or “female” parts, and all of us moved from that end, why judge those who are more mobile than us? If we are all mobile, and the definitions of acceptable masculinity and femininity are blurry, why judge those who fall outside our arbitrarily drawn definitions of gender?

All of us, even those towards the extreme of the gender spectrum, belong in the spectrum, and we keep moving within it. We can be more or less extreme in different phases of our life, and thus our “gender”, so to say, keeps shifting. So gender in general is fluid, because ours is, Because think about it honestly, most of us wish that the acceptable way for someone to react in most situations wasn’t linked to their gender, that we could express our joys/sorrows/anger/fashion/food/lifestyle choices based on our instinct, rather than what was socially acceptable for our gender. Because most of us aren’t the stereotype, and most of us can’t even agree on what the stereotype for a perfect man/woman is.

And if we agree that gender is fluid, so must be sexuality. If we feel more or less masculine/feminine for periods of time, we must be able to be attracted to people who are more or less masculine/feminine at different stages of our lives, for varying lengths of time. So if we can belong anywhere on the rainbow, our partners must be able to as well. If our gender is fluid, the gender we are attracted to can be too. And if we aren’t sexually attracted to anyone for some years of our lives, there can and must be people who aren’t attracted to anyone sexually at all.

And that is why, as a feminine-born/feminine-presenting person in a long term, monogamous relationship with a masculine-born/masculine-presenting person, I can claim to empathise with the LGBTQIA+ community. I am privileged because my gender and sexual choices ae more acceptable than some others. I am lucky, and although I can’t claim to know and understand completely the struggles that a lot of humanity goes through, I can see that they are not all that different from me, or any of us. I belong in the rainbow, and always will, and so will all of us. It’s time to keep arbitrary prejudice aside, and embrace those who have been targeted for so many years for being only slightly different than us.

Aspiring Feminist

Feminism may sound simple as a concept. Google search defines it as “advocacy of equal rights for women on the grounds of equality of both sexes”. Not only is this definition narrow, but it fails to capture the enormity of the concept, the role it plays in everyday life, and the struggles of those who ally with the movement to do justice to it.

As a product of the society that is extremely patriarchal, I struggle to keep my sexist thoughts and ideas in check everyday. I struggle to let go of simple prejudices that go unchecked because no one advocated against them when I was growing up. I struggle to do a lot of things without hesitation because they aren’t gender appropriate. Most of all, I struggle to explain privilege and patriarchy to those less informed than me because my understanding of them is far from complete.

And therefore, even though I ally with the feminist movement, and devote my time and energy propagating and strengthening it, of late, I hesitate to call myself a feminist. My battle with my socially constructed misogyny and socially normalised patriarchy will only let me be an Aspiring Feminist. This space is a means to be a better ally, and to spread the movement I believe in.