Enough and more has been written and spoken and debated about this topic. Unless you have been hiding under a rock (which most people do when discussing this topic) #metoo is a social media campaign to raise the awareness about sexual harassment and abuse that women (and men) face in our society.
Though the issue is ‘trending’ on social media and print media now, it has been an integral part of our society since anyone can remember. We did not speak about it then and we hesitate to speak about it now.
Why though? Is it only the fear of social stigma or social backlash? Is it about the fear of being blamed or held responsible for it? Is it the guilt of not being strong enough to resist it? Yes all of it and beyond.
Let us look at the concept of harassment first. How do I define harassment? Is it only sexual? Physical? Or does it encompass things beyond that?
Harassment is so much more than that. It is about being made to feel uncomfortable about oneself; sexually, physically, emotionally, intellectually and more.
The most spoken one is the concept of sexual harassment. Most of us have been at the receiving end of this. The stares, the degrading words, the whistles, the accidental touches, the inappropriate gestures, being groped in crowded places. Unfortunately it is just one end of the continuum. It gets progressively downgrading and harrowing. The saddest part is that we have gotten used to the first end of the continuum. We no longer look at these as harassment. It is not something you get used to but something that you accept as one of the challenges you will face.
Sexual harassment is a violation of privacy and of personal space. However there is much more to the concept of sexual harassment that we should consider.
Is ignoring a woman as a sexual being a violation of her? Time and again I have met people with the belief that sex and pleasure is a man’s thing. Women do not need sex as much. Which is completely ridiculous since physiology and nature did not discriminate between the genders. Denying a woman her sexual freedom, questioning her character if she expresses sexual desire and suppressing her need for sexuality should also be a part of harassment.
I have met extremely educated and well-read men who do not consider their partners’ sexual needs as important. I have met people who consider a woman who expresses her sexual desires as loose in character and someone who deserves to be ill-treated. A woman is first and foremost a human being with desires and needs like any other gender. Why then is it alright for someone else to decide that she does not need sexual pleasure? This too is a part of sexual harassment.
Then there is body shaming. There have been endless debates about the dressing freedom of women, let us not even get into that. I am talking about the physical aspect of body shaming. Making a woman feel uncomfortable about her body, her looks, her sensuality. Is that not harassment too? I spoke to a couple with sexual problems. The man complained that the wife had put on too much weight and was not attractive anymore. He would constantly belittle her for not taking care of herself, for not keeping herself attractive enough for him. Never mind the fact that he was guilty of the same. This continued till she lost all interest in the relationship and suffered from anxiety. She started believing that she was not a good wife and her husband was justified in rejecting her.
To make a woman question the way she looks, to make her feel unattractive or to ridicule her if she wants to dress up in a particular way, is that not a violation of her privacy. It is not just the woman in short dresses we judge. We also judge a woman who does not want to wear a short dress. We term her old fashioned, unappealing and someone who will never attract a man. We make her question her sexuality, her choices and her freedom to wear what she likes.
The most ignored aspect of harassment is the emotional part. Sexuality in humans is much more emotional than it is physical. Ridiculing a woman’s emotions, her need for intimacy, her need for comfort is a part of violation too. I have seen many woman talk about lack of emotional intimacy in their relationships. An attractive young professional with depression told me how she felt unwanted in her relationship. She felt unappreciated and eventually started losing confidence. Whenever she would express the need for comforting her partner would ridicule her for being silly. He did not consider emotions to be a need of an educated professional. She should be confident by herself and not require him to satisfy her emotional needs.
A woman is strong and independent for herself. Yes she is capable of taking care of herself and others. But by her own choice. It does not take away her need for being comforted by someone else, to be pampered or made to feel special. Ridiculing her for having these needs is unacceptable.
A woman is a combination of her body, her mind, her intellect and her soul. She has her strengths and she has her weaknesses. She has desires and expectations. Accepting and respecting a woman means accepting her as a whole. Sexual harassment is not just the violation of a woman’s body but our inability to accept her completely.
Preventing sexual harassment goes beyond protecting women from being physically violated. It involves taking care of them at various levels. It involves giving them the confidence to express their desires. It involves appreciating them for what they are and how they are. It involves making a woman believe that she has the freedom to fly and the choice to walk without being judged.
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About the author
Dr Gauri Choudhary is an MPhil in Clinical Psychology from Mumbai. She has her expertise in Adult and Child Psychotherapy and diagnostic Psychometry. She is also competent in neuropsychological assessments and retraining.