This article is written by Rahul Bajaj, a law student at Nagpur University who has been interning at iPleaders at the time. I felt that we need to really get down to understanding what is sexual harassment all about at a psychological level to effectively counter it, as we work on http://blog.ipleaders.in/the-psychology-of-sexual-harassment, he wrote this very succinct and insightful article. Over to Rahul.
The last 3 decades have witnessed a new and sudden influx of scores of women in the labour force. More and more women are now opting for traditionally male-dominated professions. Even though the aforementioned developments have gone a long way in improving the status of women in the society, they have also brought a large array of problems pertaining to the safety of women in the workplace into the limelight.
As this article rightly points out, the entry of women into the labour force led to 2 major developments.
On one hand, many men loathed female employees and perceived them as a serious threat in traditionally male-dominated workplaces. As a result, the women had to face overt discrimination, that is, they received less important job assignments, lower pay and did not get promoted and had to face sexual harassment.
The second reaction was to exploit the presence of women and make sexual favours and submission to sexual behaviours the sine qua non of employment. Succinctly put, women were asked to perform sexual favours to keep from being fired, demoted, or otherwise adversely affected at work.
As this NYTimes article rightly points out, sexual harassment at the workplace has less to do with sex than with power. Men deliberately engage in sexual harassment and call attention to a woman’s sexuality in order to devalue her role in the workplace. As a matter of fact, men consider sexual harassment to be an effective way to keep women in what such men believe is their rightful place.
In India, sexual harassment is most frequently used as a tool of patriarchy to frighten and devalue women in occupations and workplaces where women are new and are, therefore, in the minority.
Various studies have shown that women who hold jobs traditionally held by men are far more likely to be harassed than women who do “women’s work.”
For instance, a 1989 study of 100 women working in a factory found that those who were working as machinists, a traditionally male-dominated job, said that they were harassed far more than those women who were working on the assembly line, where generally more women are employed. It is pertinent to note that women in both groups approximately encountered the same number of men at work.
The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that many men view sexual harassment as a mostly harmless form of interaction.
This can largely be attributed to the fact that many men entered the workplace at a time when innuendo and sexual teasing were extremely common, so they genuinely feel that there’s nothing wrong with it.
Another major problem is that many Indian men find it hard to view women outside the realm of wives, daughters and mothers. As a result, they simply cannot view women as equal and competent members of society who should be treated with courtesy and respect.
In her book ‘Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women’, Susan Faludi suggests that male hostility toward women in the workplace is closely related to male attitudes about the “proper” position of a man in society. In her opinion, men often believe that it is their responsibility to provide for the family and they, therefore, use sexual harassment as an equalizer against women in power. They try to reassert control over women whom they view as their economic competitors.
In some cases, the situation is equally bad for women who opt for professions that are dominated by women.
Women working as secretaries, nurses, etc are often called demeaning names. Moreover, they are also made to believe that some amount of male domination and sexism is, in fact, normal.
The result of all these malpractices is that women are often subjected to pressure, degradation and humiliation and, therefore, find it hard to compete on a footing of equality with men in the workplace. Sexual harassment informally promotes what formal laws prohibit: discrimination on the basis of sex.
Want to fight sexual harassment? GO to this link, take a pledge and learn about your right and duties, and help others: http://endsexualharassment.ipleaders.in/