Posted by Sharanya Venkataraghavan
Feminism has been the F-word that’s been on our lips for years now, but somehow, we don’t seem to understand it at all. To put simply, feminism refers to the advocacy of womxn’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes. But somehow, it has been construed to be a bunch of angry, men-hating women who want to overthrow men and this image has caused feminism to face ugly reactions from sexist men and women.
While feminism has an undeniable number of haters, it also has a large number of followers just as any other popular “trend”. It has also given rise to a new breed of feminists, those who understand the core of feminism but not the different manifestations of sexism and misogyny. They’d be the first in line to support women’s rights but identifying the sexism in claiming “boys will be boys”? Maybe not so much. But this doesn’t stop them from claiming loud and proud that they are in fact feminists. There’s a reason that half-knowledge has always been considered dangerous.
And that’s the problem that the LawSikho webinar titled, “How can busy professionals have a dating life (for men only)” exposed. Just as Indian society was wrapping their minds around the events of the “Bois Locker Room”, LawSikho conducted the unfortunate webinar that Founder, Mr. Ramanauj Mukherjee thought would solve the problem that Bois Locker Room posed to society by teaching men “the art of seduction”. Recently, an Instagram group called “Bois Locker Room” exposed the frightening reality of how sexism defies age and class, sending shock waves through Indian society.
The LawSikho Webinar on Dating
While the world went down on lockdown, the online came alive with a sea of Legal Webinars hosted by lawyers, learning platforms, firms and educational institutes. Over the past two months of lockdown, my LinkedIn was flooded with webinars on every legal skill known and just like anyone else, I was slowly growing tired of this trend. LawSikho seemed to have sensed this when they decided to host the webinar.
LawSikho is an online legal education company that offers courses for Law students and professionals, business, CA and CS professionals who also happen to be leading the wave of webinars in the past few months. The webinar was hosted by Ramanauj Mukherjee, the Founder of LawSikho and Kshitij Sehrawat who a quick Google search will tell you “teaches guys how to get better with women and lead a fulfilling lifestyle, by helping them overcome their fears, increasing confidence and sharing proven methods that are guaranteed to get results.“
Thoroughly confused by what this could possibly be about, I solicited the opinion of a few friends. We came to the conclusion that it was possibly about balancing your personal and professional life, exclusively for men since both panelists were men. Call me an optimist but a manel for men isn’t unheard of, right?
What Happened on the Webinar?
I thought that, that was the last time I would have to think about the webinar, but I was wrong. On May 16th, my feed was full of with videos and text-posts of the webinar’s sexist content. Within the first few minutes, my happy little bubble of the webinar’s male-only clause was burst with Mr. Mukherjee clarifying that women had a different problem, “a problem of plenty”. Mr. Sehrawat, the other host of the LawSikho webinar seemed to have fashioned himself into popular on-screen womanizer Barney Stinson from the popular American TV sit-com, How I Met Your Mother who was known for his successful but questionable strategies to get women to sleep with him.
He claimed that straight women are the worst to ask for advice regarding women, setting an expiry on attraction much like that of bread (creatively named the Bread Analogy) and other problematic comments. He advised all the “busy male professionals” in the audience to focus less on grades and more on sports since “women love jocks” is still a valid stereotype. All in all, this had nothing to do with the attendees being busy professionals, but more about men who wanted to fashion themselves into Mr. Sehrawat’s womanizer persona.
He used the age-old sexist play of “nice guys finish last”, saying he has tried being the “nice guy” but his “field experience” says his current techniques available at the low starting price of INR 15,000 will definitely help you secure that “woman of beauty”. However, unfortunately Mr. Sehrawat’s “love-guru” persona is the brand he maintains as a quick glance on social media would reveal what he offers but somehow none of this raised a red-flag to Mr. Mukherjee, the Founder of a learning platform with a responsibility towards young students and professionals that look up to him.
The real shock came from Mr. Ramanauj Mukherjee shouting, for the lack of a better word at a woman who dared to call out the blatant sexism in the one-hour long webinar. It was surprising to see Mr. Sehrawat be the one to request Mr. Mukherjee to “let her complete” to which he retorted that he would “take care of it”, taking full control over the situation. Interrupting her constantly only to claim that it was how conversations work, the “conversation” quickly got uglier. Mr. Mukherjee blatantly rubbished her claims of sexism as it was his duty to “factually correct” her, accused her of lecturing the two hosts and was definitely “not angry”.
Mr. Mukherjee’s reaction was unmistakably aggressive, trying to shut the woman down and embarrass her, definitely not aimed at listening because he already knew what his answer was, “This webinar is in no way sexist”. It doesn’t take even as brilliant a lawyer as Mr. Mukherjee to understand the Principle of Natural Justice: “audi alteram partem”, but obviously a webinar on a learning platform called LawSikho is no place for this.
Justifications and Apologies issued by LawSikho and Mr. Mukherjee
For two days after the webinar, he maintained his stance against all claims of sexism and misogyny, where he posted twice on Facebook stating that he is ‘not convinced’ that the webinar was a bad idea or that it was toxic or sexist. It wasn’t until his two posts on his Facebook on 16th, one which was later reposted on LinkedIn on 18th May that he had accepted any sort of fault. The first post was a point-blank acceptance that they were wrong to host such a problematic webinar. The second that I found when reposted on LinkedIn was more personal and about his own actions.
He claimed that he used his platform to further feminist causes with initiatives such as, “…free legal helpline for victims of sexual blackmail, writing how-to blogposts for women who need legal help in a host of issues that are read by thousands of people every day, and supporting feminist causes wherever I could”. Following this, he wrote about how he believed he was beyond misogyny and sexism. In addition, he commented on his own post stating clearly how his views of the event changed over the past few days. He even opened up LawSikho’s next webinar topics to the public to suggest topics in the area of Gender Studies.
On 19th May, LawSikho sent a mail linking all the apologies and posts of Mr. Mukherjee signed by Mr. Suman Chatterjee, e-mail Chief at team LawSikho. The mail seemed to try to pin the blame on Mr. Sehrawat, saying they had distanced themselves from him “especially given that many of his past videos have surfaced and we realized that we made a grave mistake by giving him air time” but spoke of Mr. Mukherjee as an unfortunate victim of the events, never directly addressing his actions. The mail solicited the opinion of the LawSikho family on what would be the right steps ahead but a certain sentence irked me. When asking for people to participate in the discussion on what to do, the mail said, “Some people are clamoring for Ramanuj to step down from LawSikho. Do you think that makes sense?”.
The combination of the word “clamoring” and the phrase, “Do you think that makes sense?” makes me suspect that again, they know exactly what their right answer is. The mail repeatedly tried to dilute the blame on Mr. Mukherjee by making him part of the Team LawSikho group. The ones who were shocked, possibly tricked by this wolf in sheep’s clothing, Mr. Sehrawat was the whole team, including the unsuspecting Mr. Mukherjee. It is to be noted that while Mr. Sehrawat seems to have disappeared with his website down, it is Mr. Mukherjee who has taken the initiative to start some sort of dialogue. But is that enough, considering Mr. Mukherjee runs one of the biggest learning platforms for law and Mr. Sehrawat is a “love-guru”?
I remain confused.
The Larger Truth of Sexism
The most disheartening part of the event was the comment section of Mr. Mukherjee’s LinkedIn post where law students, professionals and professors, especially male, tried to make a victim of Mr. Mukherjee, stating they say nothing sexist and that he had no reason to apologize. Considering LinkedIn is a professional platform unlike Facebook or Instagram, maybe the comments shocked me a little more. Even when Mr. Mukherjee was offering an apology that tried to help them better understand where he was wrong and trying to be an example of sorts, people continued to call it a feminist publicity stunt, justifying what happened, idolizing him and even stating that there was nothing wrong to begin with.
Personally, I think there could be two reasons for people justifying the webinar. One, they truly believe that there was nothing wrong. Two, Mr. Mukherjee is a public figure in the area of Law with connection and contacts and they hope that taking his side could possibly prove beneficial. Either way, these men were essentially undoing what the post was doing and are or will be as much a part of the Law field as Mr. Mukherjee was when he conducted the webinar. Even with the number of circulated articles written by lawyers, students and even the speaker himself, these men continue to understand sexism narrowly and feminism as a sort of evil.
From a legal stand-point, what can be done about someone making a sexist statement? The Indian Penal Code under Section 354A states that making “sexually coloured remarks” or demand or request sexual favours to a woman shall have committed the offence of sexual harassment. Section 354 deals with direct and sexual remarks, not sexist or misogynistic remarks which are not “sexual” or directed at the woman. India’s Prevention of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Act also follows the same definition for verbal sexual harassment.
An offensive statement can be considered defamation under Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code but it is essential that the fake comment is directed at the person and is heard or read by multiple others which has affected your reputation. In the absence of any legal framework that delves into sexist and misogynistic comments, there is no real “motivation” to develop one’s thinking. In the absence of any framework to demotivate people from indulging in such offensive behaviour, one presumes one’s liberty to make such comments. Those who do break these cycles do not have any reason to except by personal motivation.
Also read: Fatness, Womanhood And The Bois Locker Rooms
The whole sequence of events around the LawSikho webinar was a rude awakening that sexism continues to plague every section and every level of society, that none of us are beyond misogyny and that we haven’t reached our goal as feminists. Feminism continues to be the F-word that we can’t accept, we continue to be the man-hating, publicity-loving stereotype we were. But it was definitely a learning experience for all of us that the number of degrees and no mark of success makes us immune and that it is up to us to constantly learn, grow and empower.
Sharanya is currently pursuing a degree in Law. She aspires to make Law more accessible and integral to daily conversations. You can find her on Instagram.
Featured Image Source: YouTube