Anyone who has a dog, or, more specifically, a trained dog, knows how difficult it is to coach them into doing something that is against their natural instincts. I’m hoping the title to this piece, and its first sentence, have helped make necessary connections and I am not forced to spell things out more clearly. I am, however, inclined to hammering the point home, so, I’ll continue, but not before including a disclaimer to explain my use of the phrase “natural instincts.” I don’t necessarily buy the argument but since many men expect women to understand that they are built differently, and that their sexual needs are distinct from ours, I am prompted to take this flimsy argument into consideration and simultaneously adjudge the necessity of subjecting those instincts to rigorous control exercises.
I’ve used so many innuendos in these lines already, doing exactly what women before me and perhaps after me will continue to do, that is, be indirect and ladylike in my indictment of the misgivings of the opposite sex. But, to hell with propriety, here it is: Men! You misogynistic, smug and confident in the conveniences your gender presents you bunch of willy-owning men, let me say this to you loud and clear: You must learn to say no to that bulge in your pants; tell it not to think for you and demand of it the kind of obedience you expect from the vaginas of the opposite gender. For the inability to do so will lead to repercussions far longer than the act that got you there to start with.
Tarun Tejpal is not the first man accused of sexual assault in the work place, and he will not be the last. The lacerations he plans on conducting on himself over the next six months will have to be of a ferocity unknown to humanity, because I see no other way of his making up for his ‘grave misreading’ of circumstances, which is to say sexually assaulting a colleague not once but twice. I am gravely disappointed in Mr. Tejpal myself, not just for the obvious lack of respect he has displayed toward all women in all workplaces, but for the pitiful idea he has of what it will take to make up for his actions. His pathetic conception of a redressal reeks of entitlement, and an unshakable faith in the protectionism of his organization. Six months away from the job and an email most unspecific in addressing the exact nature of the ‘unfortunate incident’ are hardly adequate actions in redressing what he has subjected his colleague to. The incident also lays bare the selectiveness of our news reporting industry in what they choose to play up or play down. Tehelka, which ran multiple articles on the gang rape and murder of the 23-year-old medical student on a bus in Delhi in December 2012, thinks Tejpal, by tendering a weak apology and recusing himself from his position at the organization for six months, has adequately addressed the victim’s trauma. Will there be a searing report, a trademark Tehelka exposé, on industry-wide sexism in Indian journalism adorning the front page of its next issue? Probably not.
Sexism is a malaise in most industries, and journalism, as much as we who have been part of it would like to believe otherwise, is one of them. Sexual assault and physical misconduct may not be things that all women have experienced in the business, however, the lewd jokes, the clear-as-day favouritism and discomfiting gender references are part and parcel of the job. If you play along, laugh with the big boys over some vulgar humour, you’re looked at differently. A few may think you’re cool; most others will misconstrue your tee-heeing with them as a sign that you’re game for anything. If you don’t partake in the bonhommie, you’re typecast as the prude, the prissy one with no funny bone. And, as innocuous as these little tests may seem, they go a long way in determining the eventual lane your career is placed in: express or regular.
Unfortunately, fixing this imbalance depends tremendously on men and their penile (mis)conduct. Drunkenness and lack of judgment are inadequate excuses for sexual misbehavior, and it is time men understood it. It is time they learnt to say no their penises and stopped using natural instinct as a way to explain grossly inappropriate conduct, sexual or otherwise. The woman who spoke up against Tejpal deserves accolades for her courage; many of us would have continued to keep quiet, a tendency that only works to further strengthen the perpetrator’s sense of indemnity. And she will not be the last. Women are an intrinsic part of the Profession and their numbers will only grow in the years to come. The challenge is in accepting that both men and women are equal players and deserve the same sort of respect; but, as of now, the onus of establishing that parity is placed more squarely on one gender as far as I am concerned. It is also important for women to realize that they are not in the workplace to be subjected to patriarchal and sexist discourse. We need to recognize our own abilities and be more confident in what we have to offer. It almost feels like some intangible manifesto asks us to accept certain things in view of the larger picture. The author of that manifesto is of the other gender, and we all know what instrument he’s used to write it with.
© Ayesha Sindhu 2013