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How Calcutta Women Used Humour To Handle Sexual Harassment Before #MeToo

"But, we are tired of having to use our wits and humor to handle the harassment.”

How Calcutta Women Used Humour To Handle Sexual Harassment Before #MeToo
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“Thank God I’ve not been nailed in the ‘Hashtag MeToo movement yet,” said a male journalist of a Calcutta daily. “That’s because you are not powerful enough” shot back a female colleague to general guffaws in the newsroom. She added that had his name come up in the context of the recent allegations of sexual harassment which is inundating social media like a global tsunami it would have given him that undeserved fifteen minutes of fame by default. “After all, any publicity, even if negative publicity, is good publicity,” she said.

The #MeToo movement is a serious social rebellion against the way that those in positions of power like Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and his counterparts in India in different professions have for years abused their power to sexually harass those over whom they could exercise their authority. But it has also brought out an underbelly of satiric humor with which women – and men –  have in the past dealt with a menace that they had grown so accustomed to accepting before #MeToo exploded on the face of an enemy which they thought they could never take on.

In fact, this enemy was the proverbial “frenemy” , that is friend-cum-enemy, because the harassed would have to continue to work with the harasser and even share a cordial, working relationship with him if they wanted to keep working and were not frightened out of their wits enough to want to eschew it all – job, career – and become a hermit.

And so, according to several female professionals from different fields, they devised ways of handling the harassment through sarcasm.

A couple of random pre #MeToo caustic conversations culled from people in different professions:

- A female journalist penned down an “epitaph” for a male colleague with a reputation for sexual harassment and handed it to him. It read: “Let this in your memory be etched/Here lies a guy who lived, loved and letched.”

- An actress auditioning for a Bengali movie told her male director who expressed the desire to have a “physical relationship” with her:

“Let’s have a mental relationship first and if you pass, we will think about the next level.”

 The actress said, “He was daunted by my wit and I didn’t get the part of course.”

In the case of the Calcutta journalist who expressed relief that he wasn’t “yet” named in #MeToo, though his remarks were made in half-jest the female colleague who recounted the incident said, “He obviously never realised the inappropriateness of his behavior until all these other men were being called out for it.” She said his female colleagues usually treated him “as an innocuous pest” whose hand would be swatted away like a fly if it landed on one of their laps, for instance.

But “We are tired of having to use our wits and humor to handle the harassment.”

“#MeToo,”said her colleague. 

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