Are you encouraging the rape culture at your workplace by being a silent bystander? For the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, from 25 November to 10 December, and under the umbrella of the Generation Equality campaign, UN Secretary-General’s UNiTE by 2030 to End Violence against Women campaign is calling upon people from all walks of life, across generations, to take our boldest stand yet against rape.
Since language is deeply embedded in culture, we may forget that the words and phrases we use each day shape our reality. Rape-affirming beliefs are embedded in our language: “She was dressed like a slut. She was asking for it.”
It is part of popular song lyrics: “I know you want it.”
It is normalized by objectifying women and calling them names in pop culture and media. Too many of us fail to name or challenge the rape culture that surrounds us.
Through words, actions and inactions; discriminatory laws or leniency towards perpetrators; through the media we consume, jokes we laugh at, and attitudes we do not question, we become part of a culture that allows rape to continue.
Take the account of a female employee of the Mumbai office of the agency 22Feet Tribal Worldwide, which provides digital and mobile branding and marketing solutions for various brands in India and internationally. She opened up about her experience last year when #metoo took centrestage in India.
The former employee wrote on Medium:
Harassment, gaslighting, bullying and inappropriate sexual innuendo were a regular sight and experience in my time at this organisation in Mumbai. With a well connected dude-bro circle, supported and encouraged by the managing director at the time, Brijesh Jacob, 22Feet’s office was a breeding ground for comments about women’s clothing, what made them look sexy and what didn’t, what shapes of their body looked appealing and in which clothing, and of course, rampant bullying in the name of ‘good humour’.
There was a trend of sexualising women at 22Feet. It was the perceived norm to tell us that we looked “sexy” on the day we wore form fitting clothing or that clients would give in to something because ‘so and so is cute’.
I know of women who were asked if they were wearing tight clothing because they had a client meeting. Comments were passed on the ability to have a boyfriend and what can be done on dates to lure potential partners, on who can be a potential partner in the office.
There was an abundance of uncomfortable sexual innuendo in the name of teasing that you had to participate in or get out of immediately so you don’t get cornered by the dude-bro squad.
One of the members of the tech crew would create snake-like gestures to signify his penis, and the whole crew would laugh. Brij included. He’d call out to someone and say ‘Muh mein le’, and the entire stretch would echo with laughter. Brij included. ‘Speak up for yourself. Give it back!’, he’d say.
How is the onus of rectifying harassment placed on the one being harassed? How is it okay for a man to make gestures about his privates in a professional setting? How is it okay for a boss to encourage this and fail to realise that he is propagating harassment?
Men with accusations of assault hold positions of power in this company. They’ve suffered no consequences, they continue to prosper and progress. Men who have misbehaved, groped, stalked and harassed us during the routine offsite have gotten away because ‘they were too drunk and these things happen’.
It took me a while after I quit to realise how desensitised I had become to the rape culture in this company. I was much younger then, and I thought that this was the flamboyance of advertising.
It’s important to identify inappropriate acts in a professional setting. Awareness is imperative.
This article is part of our series on the international 16 Days of Activism campaign with the theme “Orange the World”.