Just like the old boys’ network, there is an all-girls club too. In the first, money and power are traded by well-connected men through incestuous business relationships. The only currency the girls’ group deals in is information—on the letches of the world. Some of the data comes from older sisters and aunts and their friends; most of the knowledge is the girls’ own, acquired little by little, and often painfully.
Because, females, of all ages, come with a built-in radar which tells them which men to avoid and which not to. By the time they’re 13, girls know which ‘uncles’ not to get caught alone in a room or—as it turns out—a lift, with. They know whom not to ride alone with in a car or sit next to in the dark hall while out for a movie with the extended family.
Once they grow up and go to work, they quickly learn which co-workers to avoid at all cost, when alone. They learn that a drop home by certain colleagues comes with a price attached. They discover that a brilliant boss is not necessarily a decent one. They understand that rejecting the dinner invitation of a senior male colleague—twice in a row—can be detrimental to their career. They learn to quickly check their neckline when a certain officer makes it a point to come and stand behind their chair.
Everybody knows what’s happening. But no one speaks up. Why?
● Because most women are not factors in their own lives. They grow up learning to be ‘accommodating’; to be the perfect daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend to the men in their lives. They work so hard to make life comfortable for the people around them that they forget how to take offence when someone makes life uncomfortable for them. Even when they’ve been mocked or assaulted, their first instinct is to protect their loved ones from that knowledge. A young girl who’s been pawed by a ‘family friend’ does not tell her parents because she thinks they will be ‘shattered’. An employee whose boss makes sexual advances keeps the fact from her husband because he’ll just ask her to quit the job and she knows they need the money.
● Because no woman wants to be called a spoilsport. So they laugh at the sexist jokes cracked in the canteen, and pretend to chuckle at the TVC which makes fun of women. They go out for a drink with the boys even if they’re tired and pretend to enjoy themselves when all they want to do is go home.
● Because women don’t want to be labelled “over-emotional”. There is no easier way to undermine or discredit a woman than by accusing her of being unstable or overwrought. One hint or the suspicion of volatility can eradicate years of good work by a woman. The very fear of the label works like a gag.
But silence is not always golden. Drawing the line when necessary is vital to the health—both physical and emotional—of women and their environment. One young girl in Delhi showed us the way last December; another one in Goa has just taught us a lesson in courage. Around the country, young girls are standing up to their male detractors. It’s time all of us followed them on the road to valour.
(The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)