I’d like to begin this post by recounting a conversation I had with some colleagues over lunch recently. The conversation began with all of us sharing our worst work travel stories. Inevitably, a female colleague eventually shared a story of feeling concerned for her safety on a tour.
She told us about the tour when, after a late night flight, she found out that the host organization had made stay arrangements for her at a shady hotel where she felt very unsafe. No electricity, low boundary walls, doors that didn’t lock very well, a singular caretaker who looked like he might be drunk. She felt unsafe to the point that she insisted on changing hotels at 2am. The story made me share what I do in situations like these – and insensitivity of corporate and government travel agents ensures that this happens every now and then. If I feel unsafe staying in a hotel and have no option to change, I latch the door from inside (because locks can always be opened from outside with the hotel master key) and I move a table or chair to block the door. It may not help much if shit happens, but it makes me feel not-uncomfortable enough to fall asleep at night.
When I said this, there were five other people at the lunch table. Four women and one man. Four hands immediately shot up in the air when I said this, and they all said – “Me Too!” We were all fairly surprised to see that what we all thought of as our own personal paranoia, was actually a fairly prevalent practice among women travelers everywhere. Of course, no one was as shocked as the singular man at the table. I will never forget the look on his face. He was so shocked that for a while he legitimately insisted that we were all bluffing. The idea that someone will feel scared enough on a work trip to blockade their hotel room door with furniture was absolutely alien to him.
That was a moment of truth for all of us – a reminder of the very different planets men and women inhabit. Not on Mars or Venus, but on this very Earth itself.
Our male colleague said he couldn’t believe this happened on all those work trips he took with us. I said I couldn’t believe he didn’t already know it did. All the other women on the table said, “Me Too.”
What is “Me Too”?
The social media trend running all over Facebook and Twitter over the last week, in case you have been living under a rock, was that of women putting up two words on their posts: “Me Too”. Posting these two words essentially marks their attendance in the list of “women who have suffered sexual harassment in their lifetimes” – which, as the campaign proved, pretty much translates into “every woman ever”.
Why is “Me Too” important?
A conversation between Seth Meyers and three female writers of ‘Late Night with Seth Meyers’ – Amber, Ally and Jenny – about the Harvey Weinstein scandal best describes my views on the Me Too campaign:
Amber: Seth, how did you feel when you heard the allegations?
Seth: I was disgusted and shocked. How did you feel?
Amber: Well, I was disgusted and not shocked.
Ally: I was disgusted and shocked that it took so long to become a story.
Jenny: I was disgusted and shocked that people were shocked.
Women, everywhere, are not shocked by the numbers of women that shared that they had been sexually harassed by men at some point in their lives. Men, everywhere, were.
And that is a problem. Most men are not aware that “women who have been at the receiving end of gender based violence and discrimination” translates to “every woman ever”.
That, to me, is the power of the “Me Too” campaign: To make men notice and realize the humongous percentage of women they know and care about, who have been at the receiving end of gendered violence or harassment. Men who care, but are simply not aware. Men who are aware, but simply don’t care. Men who are aware and care, but are in denial. Men who actively try to understate the all-pervading active misogyny that is like a bad debt burden or a genetic disorder modern day society has unfortunately inherited from its past.
It is a fact that most men, good men, well-meaning men, men who care – like my colleague in the story above – are simply unaware of the world women inhabit. They don’t know what it means to live with rape anxiety every moment of everyday. My male colleagues don’t realize that when we work late at the office, I hold my pee in because I am too afraid to walk down the dark deserted corridor that leads to the office ladies loo. But my female colleagues know it instinctively – because they do too. My father is going to read about the hotel story and positively freak the hell out, but my mother will likely not be surprised – because when she travels, she feels it too. My brother was enraged beyond words when I told him about a harassment incident that happened to me as a child, a full two decades after it happened. His girlfriend practically shrugged and said, “me too”.
These are all Good Men – the best men I know, in fact. They live and breathe with us day in and day out. How is it that we have still not been able to convey this very real part of our lives to them? How is it that the Good Men are still oblivious?
And this is why “Me Too” is important. Because of the Few Good Men.
There are some men who will never change, who cannot be convinced or converted. Goalpost Shifting, Strawman, Appeal to Authority, Ad Hominen, Ad Populum, Arguing by Example – the number of logical fallacies deployed by detractors to debunk the blatant fact that life is tougher for most women than it is for most men is unparalleled. By extension, these folks deny that this is a situation that needs to change. Many of these happen to be men. For people who wish to create a safer world for women, these are not the men we need to start conversations with – it is simply not a productive use of our limited energies. No, the Good Men are the ones to focus on.
Who are these Few Good Men?
Good Men are those who are truly touched by campaigns like “Me Too”.
Good Men are genuinely horrified by every reminder of gender-based violence faced by women around them everyday.
Good Men don’t turn a blind eye to this reality, even though it is a deeply uncomfortable one.
Good Men listen. And even though it is really hard to relate to something so alien to their everyday lives, Good Men try to empathize.
Good Men do not try to minimize the lived experience of half of humankind as “one-off instances”.
Good Men do not ask “what was she wearing” or “why was she there” or “who was she with” or “was she drinking” – they ask “what did we do as a society that gave him the audacity to do this”.
Good Men don’t see women speaking out about their experiences as “attention seeking” (yes, I saw that one too).
Some exceptionally Good Men see these posts and actually apologize on behalf of men everywhere. They pledge to do better themselves and rekindle our faith in man-kind.
Good Men don’t start with #NotAllMen, they want to do something to put an end to #YesAllWomen.
The Good Men are the ones who are going to be our partners in creating a better world for everyone.
So what should the Good Men do now?
I took the liberty of making a list of some of the things I could think of that the Good Men can do to help getting out of the house a less unpleasant experience for the women around them.
These things go beyond the physical safety stuff that goes without saying. Keep doing those things anyway. Drop a lady home if it gets late in the night. Or at least make sure she gets a cab and gets home safe. If you are two people vying for the same public transport in the evening, let the lady take it – she might never reach home if she misses this one. When you see a man’s hand roving around a lady in a bus, put yourself between the man and the lady. When you spot a man lechering at a woman, tell him off. When a woman rebukes a man harassing her in public and the man answers back trying to legitimize his behaviour, don’t just stand by and enjoy the tamasha unfolding, speak up. Basically, always be the buffer between women and the creeps around them.
Since you are the Good Man – you already do all of the above. And we thank you for that.
I am writing this to bring up the subtle things that even the best of men sometimes miss out on. Things that you can do in our everyday life to help create a safer world.
Admittedly, we could use more women doing the following as well. But this post is just for the men, because it is a sad reality of our social conditioning that everything is taken more seriously when heard in the lower register of a male voice.
So here goes:
Forward with care
When you get a WhatsApp forward with a gender-based joke that paints women with stereotypes likes nagging wives, gold diggers, bitchy, catty, bossy, friend-zoners, mother-in-law haters, daughter-in-law haters, haters of all fellow women, husband dominators, irrational, over-emotional – do not forward these jokes, we beg of you. Do not award them with smileys and thumbs ups. If the sender is someone you can be frank with, tell them how the stereotype perpetuated by this jokes are used as justifications by sexual harassers. Men who rape, kill, and mutilate women feel justified in doing so because women, to their mind, are one or all of the above. At the very least, every seemingly harmless joke fuels this perception of women in our collective societal mindset. And at the very worst, it makes a man who was rejected by a woman feel justified in throwing acid at her face.
Be aware of Double Standards
Watch out for changes in your perception of the same quality when seen in men and women. E.g. is a man keeping his foot down for something he believes in being “assertive”, and a woman doing the same being “bossy”? Is a man lashing out at someone without reason “having a bad day today” and a woman doing the same “being really bitchy today”? Be mindful of these perceptions in your own head. Watch out for them in your everyday language. Speak out when you see it in other men and women. These subtle things add up and systematically encourage misogyny around us.
Don’t fund the misogyny industry
Don’t pay to watch movies that feature men harassing women in the name of love, passion, or comedy. Don’t buy tickets to movies that use the objectification of women as a selling point. Discourage others around you to drive business to such movies, and help Bollywood accelerate its long overdue process of growing the hell up.
Don’t buy products that advertise themselves by painting women as mere objects of male desire. Trust me on this – no woman out there is going to fall in love with you over your perfume or your shaving cream. And products that perpetuate this notion are adding to men’s misplaced frustration and rage against us women who happen to live outside hair gel ads.
Don’t raise rapists
Resist the urge to keep a compulsive hawk eye over all movements of the women in your family, to the point of suffocating them. We know that “hope you will not get raped” is every family member’s wish for us. But if the boys were watched instead and “hope you will not rape” became the new Indian family motto, rape would magically vanish overnight.
Teach the Children
Notice subtle cues that we give our children that train them in gender stereotypes. Don’t just gift cars and Operation sets to boys, and princesses and kitchen sets to girls on their birthdays. Take equal responsibility along with your wife for your household chores. Do traditionally female tasks like cooking, cleaning, managing the maid, changing the diapers. Do them publicly and with pride. Remember – children don’t learn to do what you say, they learn to do what you do. And everything you do is absorbed like a sponge.
Notice what happens at Every. Office. Meeting. Ever.
Your female colleagues at work are constantly struggling to get their ideas noticed, put their point of view across, and do simple things you take for granted like being heard at work meetings. Notice when this happens. Next time a woman in your team makes a point at a work meeting, notice how often it gets drowned out because someone talks over her, or a man repeats her idea and gets credit for it, or everyone simply ignores that she spoke at all. This happened at Obama’s White House, so be open to the idea that it might be happening around you as well. And when you do spot it, stop it. Make an extra effort to draw the attention of the meeting to the point made by a woman, even if you do it by expressing a disagreement. We don’t need your endorsement for all our ideas. But your help in getting them heard would mean a lot, and it would encourage a lot more women to find their voice.
Help make workplaces safer
When you see men objectifying women co-workers – whether it is a compliment for ‘the beautiful saari she wore yesterday’, or horror at ‘that bright red lipstick’ that endangered samaaj ke sanskaars, point out how male dress code is never a point of conversation in the gang. We come to work to do our jobs – help us be treated with basic respect and professionalism. In a world where even the British Prime Minister is not safe from objectification at the workplace, imagine the plight of us common women.
Help us not be reduced to objects of male entertainment, curiosity or virtuosity. Help your male colleagues keep their opinions about our attire to themselves – over time it will encourage many more women to join the workforce and discover the power of financial independence.
Most importantly, when you watch a woman stand up against any of the above, support her. Understand that it takes a disproportionately large amount of courage for a woman to speak for herself and her rights in a male-dominated room. It means that she has either gone through intensive internal turmoil to find her voice. Or that she has undergone some traumatic external experience that taught her to speak up. Or, in most cases, a combination of both. Don’t wait until later to tell such a woman how she was very brave, in private. Don’t think it to yourself. Don’t just rave about it with your wife later that night when you are telling her about your day.
Speak up then and there. Be vocal and loud and public with your support for a woman who showed the guts to speak out. Repeat and endorse what she just said in your lower voice register – sadly, it will make others take notice of the merits of her point.
And finally, if you are a company travel agent or hosting a work trip from a partner organization, please please please book us on better hotels.
Can I get a “Me Too”, ladies?