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2 FIRs were lodged against Kumar, but may now be withdrawn as no women have come forward to testify.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!)