When to draw a line?

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Disclaimer: The incidents in this blog are based on my experiences, what I hear from my friends and read in articles and newspapers. All these have been combined into the characters mentioned here. Since I am a Software Engineer and most of my friends are also working in corporate setups, I’ve written about what I hear and see. It is also completely from a girl’s point of view.

As a girl the answer to the question as to when to draw a line with a man is something that I haven’t been able to figure out! I would not want to nail down someone as “bad” or “creepy” based on pre-conceived notions.

Prakriti:

She was new in the company; young and bold, she did not hesitate to talk to new people. She was one of the very few girls in the office. Unfortunately, the atmosphere there was very different from that of her friends’ companies. Only a few of her colleagues were well mannered and treated her with dignity. She was disturbed and shaken when some people in office judged her for her free and bold nature. There were people who made her feel edgy. When she discussed this with a colleague, she was told not to worry. He told her “These things keep happening. You should be careful around men. As you are young and free it is natural for men to go overboard”. It was as if something like this was bound to happen to her and she had to accept it. What shocked Prakriti was that it was the married and older men that bothered her more than the younger ones.

Had she been aware of the ethical rules/regulations of the company she wouldn’t have been afraid to report it.  And had the regulations been stricter, the men in the company would have thought 100 times before intimidating/making a pass at an employee. Prakriti discussed  it with a couple of her female friends in office who were also as helpless, unaware and victimized as much as her.

Making women aware of their rights in a corporate setup is very important. An outgoing woman is not welcoming advances by men. If she is consuming alcohol doesn’t mean she is willing to go around with any man who expresses interest in her.

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There are times when you get uneasy the very first time you meet someone. How fair is it to penalize a man just based on your instincts? If you aren’t interested, generally you would make sure of his intentions and then repudiate politely.

Divya:

She was new to the corporate world. Unsure of how things worked. People here were much older to her. In the office, they mostly had work related talks or casual tea time conversations with other colleagues.

Divya received a message on her office chat from a fellow colleague saying she looked beautiful that day. She found it weird that he had not told that to her directly. A few minutes ago, he had been at her desk having a casual conversation with the other colleagues and her.  Many (male and female) had complimented her that day as she was dressed in ethnic wear for a change. However, the difference was that they told her directly. It was not his compliment that spooked her but his way of conveying it.She brushed it off not wanting to overthink.

However  as days passed, this particular guy sent a number of messages on WhatsApp complimenting her looks; whenever she changed her Display Pictures. She thanked him the first couple of times and did not push it further.  She submerged her suspicion as he was married and was always very normal to her at work. At one point she decided to give a hard stop to this as she wasn’t comfortable with him complimenting her appearance. There were two reasons for her discomfort. One was that he had crossed a certain line in his last message and the other was that this kind of interaction happened only on social media (WhatsApp). Her other male friends/colleagues always told her things face to face and never over did it. He apologized and stopped it immediately on being told by Divya. But after this, she felt awkward around him at work. She didn’t know what made the guy do what he did. Either he was too shy to compliment her directly, or he was afraid of being misunderstood. He was not aware that there are some things you don’t say to a girl. Even the closest of Divya’s male friends wouldn’t tell her what he told. This might have been as a result of never having a normal conversation with other women. Or he thought she was going to be okay if he flirted around a little in spite of knowing that he was married. To be safe he probably chose to text her.

Hideous talks are never going to get any man close to a girl.

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Smitha:

Smitha had this colleague constantly pinging her in the office asking silly questions about her day to day activities. She knew he was hitting on her but she could not sternly tell him to stop doing it. He was friends with her teammates and she saw him every day. Initially, she gave uninterested monosyllable replies, but that didn’t deter him (Look at the dedication!!!) Smitha tried explaining to him politely that she was not interested. After a couple of encounters, she stopped replying to him as he didn’t seem to get it. That didn’t stop him either. He never  had the nerve to talk to her face-to-face. His only way of communication was through social media. He completely ignored Smitha in office. This man presumed that Smitha too was attracted to him. He said so confidently. It got annoying to the point that Smitha could not concentrate at work. She felt conscious in the office all the time.

Smitha lost her cool due to this repeated nagging. She decided to send a direct, clear and stern message to stop pestering her ; for which he sent an abusive and insulting response. Now this person was outraged that Smitha had not complied with his wishes. He had probably planned his entire life with her without even considering that she had never expressed any interest in him. He blamed her for leading him on. Apparently, she had tried to entice him with her actions. Breathing normally in his presence and maybe even keeping her eyes open or smiling when he was around were supposed to be acts of seduction!!!.Smitha dreaded going to office now, afraid what this man would do to her. She had no proof to report him. All this while he bothered her only on social media. So was that good enough to report a colleague for harassment? She did not know. As an aftermath, Smitha ended up drawing a boundary around her in order to be cautious with office men.

When such things happen to girls more than once, the sociable friendly girl may turn into an anti-social ,non-smiling unfriendly girl.

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Several families in India discourage their children from getting acquainted with the opposite sex. In most of the schools and colleges, girls and boys are made to sit separately. Institutions make sure that even the kind of games they play are different. All this segregation lead to men/ women being awkward with the opposite sex. There are men who have never hung out with women apart from their mothers/sisters/wives. During their younger days, these men too would have wished to be friends with girls but could not due to societal pressure. Also, the girls around them wouldn’t have been allowed to talk to men or allowed to be independent. They grow up believing that a good homely (meaning ideal Indian daughter in law)woman does not have male friends. She walks in the path paved by her father or husband. May be this is why they assume that the strong opinionated independent woman in the office is easygoing and available.

Many people grow up believing that men are superior; that women are meant to stay at home and cook for the family; that a man alone can help a woman realize her dreams and hence she has to take orders from him. Indian movies portray stalkers and eve-teasers as heroes. They show as though forcing and menacing are the only ways to win girls over. These factors may sow seeds in young boys to make things difficult for the women they come across in future. I’m not saying that everybody turns out that way. Some people on seeing the world and mingling with others, change their views on things.

I know men who are mature enough to understand and move on when the girl isn’t interested. Exactly the reason why I always thought declining graciously as the best way of sorting out when not interested. But things don’t always ensue like we expect. Having read numerous articles and news items about men throwing acid, raping and stalking women for rejecting them ; I think a girl has to calculate her response adeptly to come out of the situation unscathed.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of men out there who do not get a “No”. There are men who abuse women for turning them down. Polite replies and friendly smiles are misunderstood for interest by some men. In such situations to steer away from trouble, some girls lie to their stalkers about having a boyfriend. I once heard a guy say “I don’t understand why she doesn’t want to go out with me. She is single.” It is sad that there are men who acknowledge a mans’ right over a woman but not her own. Such men believe a girl is not free to have an opinion or a choice of her own.

Incidents such as above make me feel like being nice may backfire on you. Is it best to ignore, when men you don’t know very well try talking to you on social media?

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