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How I realised I’m not ‘being such a girl’ after I was held in a headlock by a colleague

Not welcome at the boys' clubs
Not welcome at the boys' clubs

Let me start by saying that putting my thoughts on paper today is not meant as much as a myth buster or a wake up call to anyone around me, but primarily (and rather ironically) it is meant to be a reminder for myself: a reminder that being aware of how I don’t want to be man-handled does not mean I am fussy, or hormonal, or (my favourite) “being such a girl”.

First for a little background: I am a lawyer by profession, with seven years of experience and I work in a reputed firm.

Basically, on paper, I am commonly referred to as being successful.

For the next part I feel compelled to set the scene, to burst the myth of how women get exploited anywhere but America.

It is Thursday night, the meatpacking district in NYC, at drinks with people I have been working with for three years, including a member of the work force I would have probably trusted to drop me home after a particular drunk evening, as this was turning out to be.

I am being held ‘playfully’ in a headlock by that man, in front of my team, being told, ‘kiss me, kiss me’.

In that moment, coupled with the shame associated with drinking openly (a feeling that comes very naturally to me), the easiest thing was to push the man away and walk over to the other side of the room. And there I stayed for the rest of the evening.

it was the behaviour of my other colleagues which bothered me more

To be honest, given the (un)natural shame associated with allowing myself to be treated like a chew toy, I would have just filed this incident as another drunken disorderly behaviour that I have witnessed time and again, except, it was the behaviour of my other colleagues which bothered me more.

First off, although this was a busy Thursday night in a fairly crowded bar, no one batted an eyelid at the man’s behaviour. Second, when I did express my displeasure at being reduced to a plaything, I was told that I was drunk, I was overreacting and that I should “give the man a break”. 

Taking a step back, the man in question did not trouble me for the rest of the night (I was told the next day that he had misbehaved with several other women at the bar and was told by the bouncers to mind his manners), I did not stop drinking or end my night early because of his behaviour.

But the question that bothered me is: does the lack of physical violence mean that I should not find his behaviour a concern? Does the fact that he did not try anything more mean that I should absolve him of his behaviour? Well, these are rhetorical questions because the popular opinion is, yes, I should let it go.

And that is what is frustrating, this is what has me so riled up that I lay awake at night planning my escape at future events where this man is expected to show up.

Why should I be forced to make excuses for a man who could not hold his alcohol?

Why should I be told that I was drinking too much when the man in front of me could not keep his hands to himself?

When did it become all my fault?

Rinse, repeat

This is not the first time this has happened of course.

I remember when a senior partner of the Indian law firm I was working with earlier, was behaving inappropriately with a colleague (who was referred to as “one of those girls who smokes openly”), and I was told that we should not file a complaint and ruin the man’s career.

There was little or no concern shown for my friend who was constantly made to feel uncomfortable by the man’s lewd behaviour. I mean, if she could smoke in public then she just needed to ‘man-up’ to being harassed!

Clearly men ... take their role of putting women in their place very seriously

I have lost count of multiple occasions where remarks such as - “she keeps teetering in her Louboutins” – are used rather dismissively by male colleagues in reference to a strong female counterpart to undermine her role on an assignment.

Or how being part of the “boys’ club” at work is great team bonding and something to boast about, but a girl's night out with female work colleagues is trivial and a waste of time.

Clearly men, whether professional or not, take their role of putting women in their place very seriously.

I don’t have a background in feminist studies and neither can I pride myself for ever having actively done anything fruitful or useful in this area but I am a lawyer by choice and somewhat painfully aware of my rights.

being dismissed outright because of my gender is just not going to fly anymore

I do realise that there is a fine line between being an ass in general and acting a jerk because of the feeling of male entitlement, and my intention is not to attack anyone and everyone who raises a question or cracks a joke about a female colleague.

But being dismissed outright because of my gender is just not going to fly anymore.

I work with and have worked with some of the best legal brain's in the country: people who have won several accolades; ‘respectable’ men with wife / daughters / sisters.

I don’t know why I thought things like this don’t happen to people like me (i.e., lawyers).

And yet, when they misbehave, I (with a ‘woman-brain’ and no accolades to speak of), am expected to rise above their behaviour because hey: “Wasn’t it my fault that I was drinking openly in the first place / was in a public place where men were drinking / for stepping out of my apartment that day?”

This is probably the first time since the second year of law school (when we studied subjects like sociology and law and poverty) that I have felt so helpless, angry and just plain shocked at the way things have turned out.

I don’t know why I thought becoming a regular member of the work force would reduce the mistreatment.

I don’t know why I thought education would mature people.

And I don’t know why I thought things like this don’t happen to people like me (i.e., lawyers).    

I am not in cahoots with Emma Watson (I wish though) or about to launch a special campaign, but I am no longer going to second guess myself anytime I am made to feel uncomfortable by a man just for being a woman.

I was once asked  to describe myself in one word and my immediate response was: I am a lawyer.

In that spirit and as a lawyer, by definition, is someone who practices law, I am going to embody the profession I proudly identify with and start by reminding myself that from this day onwards, the annoyance I feel on being objectified / dismissed because of my gender, is well within my legal rights.

I mean, how can I, in good conscience, protect the rights of others when I treat my own rights with such blatant disregard?

This is not a literary piece or a well-researched article, this is just plain and simple, a note to myself, published in a public forum, to remind me that I am first and foremost accountable to myself and I will not be shamed into giving anyone a “break” just because the person on the other side is a man.

The author is an Indian lawyer currently working in a New York firm.

Photo by Arroser

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