Sexually harassed at work? Meet the predators
If I had a magic wand, I would wave it over all Pakistani women so they could walk the earth with the same confidence and safety as that of a Pakistani man.
Delve into Dr. Fauzia Saeed’s telling research and you will learn that the average Pakistani woman is almost always going to face sexual harassment at the workplace.
Let us assess the types of harassers that prowl our professional landscape.
For this article, harassment means receiving unwarranted sexual attention from a person of the opposite sex who is, quite often but not always, in a position of power.
The Zero EQ Guy
If you weren’t raised in a jungle (and possibly even if you were), it is natural to know that a frown, a tightening of the lips, crossing of arms or adding deliberate distance from an individual are all signals of aversion.
Sadly, the zero EQ guy does not register any signals at all. Aside from unending advances, in some extreme cases, the zero EQ guy will start lecturing women on what makes him the perfect suitor. This man audaciously yawns when you talk about a crisis, and gives you the ‘sexy’ look when you’re in the middle of a business analysis.
Everything about his emotional radar is off. Couple that with a great sense of self-assurance and entitlement and you have all the makings of a dangerous harasser.
The Good Statistician
This man knows that the ‘law of average’ will eventually work for him.
He flirts with all women, knowing that at least a few colleagues (more commonly, underlings) will respond out of fear and/or a sense of obligation. He usually has a passable level of education, but possesses an ugly external reflection of his designs – something he is utterly oblivious of.
You would think that the Statistician would focus on a shotgun strategy rather than a machine gun, but he fire rounds of sickening propositions like he is God’s gift to this country’s work ecosystem.
The Old Man
Let’s face it. Just like the Statistician, this guy has numbers working in his favour too. With one foot in the grave, this person will unashamedly flirt because frankly, there is nothing left to lose. He also has this age-related thing called 'respect' going for him.
He has earned his way up the board and is often widely sought after, and therefore, he can easily hide a personal agenda under the garb of 'grandfatherliness' towards younger women, and especially those who need the support of the organisational apparatus behind him.
What makes it doubly difficult for women to come forward against this man is the fact that his libido is invisible to the world. There’s a fair chance that the woman will be criticised for making tall claims.
The Young Subordinate
It’s a myth to think that all harassment comes from the men above. Many women I know have been asked to have a ‘good time’ by young men who report to them.
Presenting a pickle, this is a situation where the guy has never been taught to respect a woman in authority.
Here’s the problem; this kind of harassment is possibly the worst because it is coming from somebody who is young and potentially obsessive, volatile and explosive. Fire him and you have a stalker, keep him after a mild admonition and you have a chronic problem on your hands.
Despite research pointing towards the fact no one likes strangers to touch them, with the exception of a handshake – the toucher is not ashamed to physically breach a woman’s comfort zone; almost always without permission or warning. He relies heavily on his talent to create shock and awe by pushing the envelope too far.
Ultimately this is not just creepy, it is absolutely wrong. No woman wants to be threatened this way.
The Smooth Talker
Pretending almost always to be a 'feminist' sweetheart, this guy turns into a snake the moment you let your guard down.
As soon as he has you comfortable and talking, he attempts leaps and bounds into private, and increasingly intimate subjects. You'll be left wondering, Wait, what? Weren’t we just talking about business reports? Never assume he is your friend.
Harassers are generally quite aware of women’s vulnerabilities. They are aware of the fact that women face challenges when trying to find their way in uncharted territory, working hard to progress, especially in our patriarchal society.
This power excites them, and for the truly dangerous, this is the very same feeling of power that excites rapists.
Also read: Eye-witness account – The ugly truth of workplace harassment
However, there are many men in Pakistan who never cross the line. They respect women, champion their causes, support and protect them. I have been blessed to know several.
For the sake of those men, these bad eggs need to be called out.
I am positive that one day, in the near future, women will have more than just an ombudsman or a forgotten committee for sexual harassment.
Above all, they will have a culture that does not shame them for coming forward and reporting harassment.
Till then, the least we can do is castigate men who create hurdles for women everywhere. So raise your voices.
The author is a public speaker, author, women’s rights activist and the co-founder of the NGO Women’s Advancement Hub. Her writings have appeared in Dawn, The Express Tribune, the BBC, The Guardian and NPR, and she has two published books on feminism. She lives in Islamabad and tweets @AishaFsarwari.