Month: August 2015

On sexists who don’t know they’re sexists: say something!

My company’s bank representative was misbehaving with me, and I had had it. After multiple inappropriate phone calls, I wanted to complain about him to his branch manager to get him to stop. My colleague was on his way to the bank to fill out some paperwork, so I asked him to find out the manager’s name and contact number so that I could complain about him (it wasn’t online).

To my surprise, when he returned he told me that he’d solved the problem for me: instead of ‘causing a problem’ he’d requested to change the representative dealing with my account at the bank. ‘I didn’t want to get him in trouble with his boss, so I just asked them to change your representative’, completely missing the point: that I wanted him to get in trouble with his boss, and that, as the person who had to deal with his unprofessional behavior, it was my right to complain about him. I was kind of stunned in the moment, and it took me a few minutes to articulate to myself what I was mad about: that this guy completely undermined my decision, that he decided to ‘take care’ of things for me as if he were my father and I were a child, and most frustrating, that he didn’t even realize it was problematic. More important even, his ‘decision’ was a band-aid solution: leaving this creep’s behavior unchecked left him more opportunities to harass other women.

I never said anything to him about it because I didn’t know how to approach the subject and I didn’t want to seem dramatic. I know I would act differently now, but it’s obviously a little late for that. Instead, I would strongly advise anyone in a similar situation to find a way to say what’s wrong. Say it! Some jerks, like the bank representative, know they are being disgusting pigs, and they should be called out. But the trickier situation is with men who mean well and have no idea their behavior is actually disrespectful. So don’t stay quiet if something is wrong. If you think it is, say it is.

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I did not back off from my objective, and neither should you

Entering the professional world for a woman is certainly not easy, especially in Pakistan. When I started my own business about three years back, I faced a lot of criticism from people around me. I used to visit a photographer for getting clothes for my online boutique photographed and once he found out I ran my own business, he felt very comfortable in flirting with me. It seemed like all men like him believed that a business woman in Pakistan is open to flirting because she interacts with men. This is just one tiny aspect of the many problems I faced. I am married now and still working, in a different field now, but the situation hasn’t changed much now. Many of my in-laws are not supportive as well and do not see me with respect. Working in this country, particularly in the business field is not an easy task. Unhealthy criticism, taunts, annoying eyes of men with the X-ray capacity follow you everywhere, but it is your determination and passion alone that will get you somewhere. I did not back off from my objective and neither should you. I have a simple question for all those who think women should not work is: ‘If we don’t work, will you support our families financially?’ If your answer is no, then please keep your filthy and unwanted opinions tightly packed in your mouth. Thank you.

-Sharoon Yasir

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Men Explaining My Struggles to Me

“Men explain things to me, still. And no man has ever apologized for explaining, wrongly, things that I know and they don’t.” A lot of women must be able to relate to what Rebecca Solnit said. It is true for both the personal and the professional space in Pakistan. It’s a widely, albeit falsely held belief, that men know more and are therefore allowed to adopt a patronizing tone to explain everything to their less-knowing female peers. Even things, as Solnit says, which they know less of than us. It has happened frequently at the workplace; and is sometimes annoying, other times infuriating, and once or twice outright offensive. Like a colleague explaining to you how minorities survive in Pakistan. A colleague, who is Sunni, Punjabi, and a man, explaining to me, a Shia, Urdu speaking, woman, what it is minorities do exactly, to survive in Pakistan.

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How friendly am I supposed to be?

I was working in a predominantly male office with older conservative men who had never had to work with a woman during the course of their careers. I realized within my first few days at work that I was encroaching upon an exclusive boys club whose patrons now suddenly felt compelled to mind their Ps and Qs. And though they always referred to me with the respectful moniker of “Madam” and were jovial and friendly (albeit in a somewhat patronizing way – more on this later), my intrusion into their historically male work place was something they were clearly unsettled by. In deference to this, and also because my work involved having direct communication with the boss of the unit, our interactions were limited to when we were specifically assigned to work together. I also sensed that a more open demeanor would breed contempt, calling into question just how “modern” of a girl I was. My impressions were more or less validated when my other female colleague recounted how her team members had crudely commented on her “fondness” for pink lipstick during one of their meetings.

One day I went to their office to say good morning as I did every day before I went into my own cubicle when one of the senior managers jokingly complained that I didn’t say salaam to him yesterday. I laughingly apologized and said that he hadn’t been in the office when I had come in, but to please be forgiving because I say hello to everyone, every morning. To this he startlingly replied, “Haha, oh, the way you say salaam! You throw it in our face like this!”, flinging his notepad across the room close to where I was standing. I felt it whiz pass my face, and I remember looking down at my chair where it landed, pasting a smile on, laughing and then leaving their offices. It was only when I sat down at my desk that I realized how utterly inappropriate, not to mention threatening, his behavior was. His irritation at my what he viewed as a perfunctory hello was at odds at what I had considered a mostly cordial but impersonal work relationship that we had established over the past few years. I guess he thought I wasn’t friendly enough, but just how friendly was I supposed to be with a 43 year old man with a wife and three kids?

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