Men finding life tough in the wake of sexual harassment charges should read this

YasheeNov 24, 2017 | 14:54

Men finding life tough in the wake of sexual harassment charges should read this

It is disturbing that men have started thinking about their conduct only when the risk of exposure looms larger.

“I can never ask out that colleague now, don’t want a sexual harassment complaint against me.”

“It is so confusing to deal with women. When does flirting become sexual harassment?”

“Some of these #metoo hashtags are for really lame things, like that man was staring at me.”

“Women lead men on, and then shout harassment.”

She wrote #metoo? Ew, who would molest her!


As “the deep confusion of the post-Weinstein moment” is upon us, you have probably had or heard these thoughts, from people of all sexes (of course, women too make misogynistic statements).   

Ever since a lot of women spoke out against Harvey Weinstein for sexually assaulting them, skeletons have not stopped tumbling out of high and mighty cupboards. Women have also spoken out about the everyday sexual harassment they battle, with #metoo experiences flooding social media.   

Among the many men whose views I have heard, in the wide world and on the world wide web, a lot have chosen to go the #notallmen way. However, many good men have taken the path less travelled, offering empathy, sympathy and support.  

Among many “woke” men, I find apparently genuine confusion on what constitutes sexual harassment. A male colleague told me the recent events would “poison” professional relationships, and men would be scared to go on work-related lunches, meetings, or trips with women.

Vaguely uneasy, I browsed the internet and came across this depressing The New York Times piece, which says that as more women speak out against sexual harassment, “in Silicon Valley, some male investors have declined one-on-one meetings with women, or rescheduled them from restaurants to conference rooms. On Wall Street, certain senior men have tried to avoid closed-door meetings with junior women".


Another article talks of a firm director wanting to cancel office parties “until it has been figured out how men and women should interact”.

Closer home, an article differentiates between harassers who had easy access to sex and those who did not, and makes the point that “advances are inappropriate only when they fail. A successful misconduct is called office romance.”

Many men, I am told, are wondering if they have been "inappropriate" with women in the past, without realising they were violating boundaries. Yet more have been aghast by the number of #metoo stories on their walls, saying they never realised the problem was this widespread and acute.

'I had no idea you guys had it so bad'

This, obviously, is among the more heartening responses to the #metoo campaign. However, I am resentful about this comfortable collective blindness, realities men have chosen to ignore because they can afford to. The only reason you didn’t know how bad the problem was is because you did not have to face it.


Most men must have heard friends, wives, girlfriends, sisters, colleagues and mothers recount incidents of being groped, catcalled and leered at. Many men ask women they care about to not dress “provocatively”, drop women home if it gets “late”, ask women to avoid taking cabs alone, etc. Which means you do know a threat exists, don't you?

Women are not being attacked in a vacuum, "some" men are doing it to us. And they feel entitled because the "good" men either can’t see, or choose to look away.

Also, one reason the women close to you are not talking to you about experiences of assault is because you will make the incident about your honour, and possibly try to restrict the woman’s movements. A friend of mine was recently groped at a Delhi Metro station. She did not confront the pervert because her boyfriend was with her, who would pick up a fight and possibly get injured.

An attack on a woman is an attack on a woman. It has nothing to do with your honour. In such situations, try to support the woman, not prove your masculinity.

Harmless flirting and sexual harassment

Most of us went to schools where mixing with the opposite sex was not among the things we were taught. Our guiding light, Bollywood, with its persistent messaging of “ladki ki naa ke peeche haan chhupi hoti hai”, and the idea that the man should make the first move, did not help.

“Hitting on” a colleague is potential sexual harassment.   

However, the acid test for such situations is really quite simple: if the woman is enjoying your attentions, go ahead, and may God be with you (though the company HR might not). If she is asking you to stop, stop, turn around, walk away.

Asking a woman out is not inappropriate, sulking publicly if she refuses, snubbing her at official meetings, badgering her with phone calls and texts, is. It is not wrong to develop a romantic interest in a colleague. Assuming her friendly behaviour to be reciprocation is.

We normally know when our behaviour is welcome to others and when it is annoying. However, if you feel you are getting “mixed signals”, ask. Once the woman has answered, accept. Do not proceed to punish her for giving the “wrong answer”.

Noticing that a colleague is attractive is natural. Complimenting her once is acceptable. Staring at her, persisting with compliments though you know they make her uncomfortable, is creepy.

If you have trouble interpreting a woman’s reaction, you still know your mind.

Thinking that a colleague is attractive is one thing, mentally undressing her while she discusses work is another. You know which is wrong. 


To every injured, outraged, offended man out there, yes, of course, not all men. But this argument is like being shown a devastating fire and saying, “but I didn’t throw a matchstick”. The point is not that all men are sexual offenders, it is that all women feel threatened, and many are attacked. And for creating such a situation, the society at large, both men and women, are responsible.

If you have heard a woman asking a group of men to stay away from her in a crowded train, and wondered why she didn’t get into the ladies compartment, #yesyoutoo.

If you have heard a woman being catcalled, and blamed her dress for it, #yesyoutoo.

If you have heard of a colleague accused of improper behaviour, and defended him by saying the woman was drunk, flirtatious, slutty, too ugly, #yesyoutoo.

If you have seen a woman out late at night and thought she was inviting trouble, #yesyoutoo.

Men attack women because they feel entitled to their bodies, know they will get away with it, or believe women to be inferior beings with fewer rights. By not confronting such men, by questioning the victim, by putting the onus of attack prevention on the women, you are enabling the attackers.

Men are attacked too

Of course they are, and mostly by other men. Campaigns such as #metoo are about preventing and surviving sexual abuse, not about the sex of the victim. There is a reason there is no campaign called #shetoo.

Survivors share their stories in the hope that others know they are not alone, and can ask for help to deal with their trauma. Sexual assault is a terrible crime, no matter what the sex of the victim. And the burden of silence is very heavy on a male survivor. The effort is to create an atmosphere where more men are able to speak out about attacks on them, seek help, and demand justice.

'Women are making this sh*t up'

If you are that big a misogynist, you have probably not bothered to read this far. However, if you believe yourself to be a good man and are worried about false cases spoiling men’s lives, then no, campaigns like #metoo are not coming-out parties, they are not a war against men.

No woman who complains about sexual assault is left unscathed, she is put through humiliating questions, her “reputation” is forever destroyed.

Also, the possibility of false cases does not destroy the legitimacy of the problem. People are wrongly framed for murder, but we, as a society, have largely accepted murder to be wrong, right?

By silencing or shaming the victim, you are emboldening the perpetrators.    

It is disturbing that men have started thinking about their conduct only when the risk of exposure looms large. If women speaking out against sexual abuse has made you afraid to interact with them, maybe you should stay away from them.

However, if the #metoo campaign has sparked even this degree of introspection, all those who believe in equal rights for every gender have something to celebrate.  

Last updated: October 03, 2018 | 13:41
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