Editor’s Note: This month, that is January 2021, FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth is Work and The Workplace, where we invite various articles to highlight the profound changes that our workplaces may or may not have undergone and the effect that these changes have had on our personal and professional lives and ways of living in the time of the pandemic. If you’d like to share your article, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Power, Sexuality and Gender Dynamics at Work is a brilliant amalgamation of research and literature published by SAGE Publications in December 2020. Written by Roop Sen and Uma Chatterjee, it is a book that demands attention. It asks the right questions and offers solutions to some of the most complex gender dynamics in workspaces. It is a book carefully divided into 15 chapters, where every section tells a story and leaves the reader pondering. It is a text that must be made mandatory in institutions that groom the future generations.
The book questions the intentions of organisations like POSH and ICC that might secure the offices but do nothing to actively prevent sexual harassment. It leaves you uncomfortable and rocks the existing social stereotypes. It reminds its reader how lewd comments and unwelcome physical contact is not an innocent transgression and must be argued against. It demands from the reader the courage to sit up, think and act against any form of sexual harassment or oppressive display of power hierarchy.
Power, Sexuality and Gender Dynamics at Work opens with a foreword, “In the world of cricket, it is often said that wicket keepers are noticed only when they drop a catch or miss a stumping opportunity. The same can be said about sexuality in workspaces – it is noticed only when there is a mishap.” The book promises to prepare its readers to not drop a catch, and be prepared for the consequent actions. Reading it was like taking a course in the world of work spaces and power dynamics.
It not only states the obvious but questions the normalised forms of oppression. It asks how the official dynamics are defined in a structure where people from a specific gender owns most of the authoritarian positions. It questions if gender is dragged to the confined office spaces, how will the office ensure a safe work environment? It asks if the employees even understand what is meant by prevention of sexual harassment.
The post #MeToo world encountered many such questions but the dialogue faded off. This book revives the dialogue and includes the reader. The language is never accusing a single party, it only encourages an ethic where the margins of power dynamics could have a say in the decision-making process. The bait of promotions, the fear of rejection and the normalisation of harassment are the major areas that the book tries to unveil. Every story is a lived experience in a practical milieu that teaches its readers how harassment at workplaces operates.
The authors claim that gender is a baggage that forms the relationship hierarchy in workplaces. In many examples, the harassment would begin when the woman has been promoted to an equal or a higher position than the male colleague. The decision-making abilities of women are questioned and they are more often than not chaperoned to out-of-station meetings.
The boss having an affair with his secretary becomes so common that their stories fill the background of narration. The uncritical acceptance of gender roles is embedded so deep in the conscience that no one ever even questions the power hierarchy. In one of the narratives, the boss had unconsented pictures of his secretary on his work desk and when brought into question the company rewarded him with a promotion as no act of harassment was acknowledged.
The language and the placement of words are so precise that the intention of the writer is very obvious. They have begun an uncomfortable conversation, but one that needs to be had. The well-researched office scenarios unveil hypocrisies in the corporate “friend” culture of colleagues. While they all may attend parties together post office, they would never take a stand for their colleague. In the vulnerable corporate setting filled with young and ambitious adults, relationships are bound to form. They are not protected by any prevention law or corporate rule that secures them against any chance of power exploitation. In such environments, gender stereotypes pervade deeper in the conscience. Women are expected to maintain a dignified distance and men are forgiven for being a little too friendly.
The case histories accumulated in this book are meant to be read and discussed in groups. It is a book that will challenge your perceptions on power dynamics at the workplace and leave you more sensitive towards the arrogant breach of boundaries. It is a book meant to be savoured and discussed about. A must-have in every feminist’s collection. It is evident of how much research and gender sensitivity must have contributed in the becoming of this book. At some places the solutions offered by the authors may seem too perfect and not practical, but they nonetheless would evoke a sense of normalisation of dissent.
This book offers voice to a section that is afraid to speak for the fear of losing independence and equips them with the understanding of their rights. If you want to understand the bifurcation of gender in workspaces, this book is a must-read!