“To embark on a journey towards your dreams requires bravery. To remain on that path requires courage and the bridge that merges the two requires commitment”, says my dad as he called me to wish luck for my first day at the office.
He continues, “You have made it to a prestigious MNC at such a young age. I am so proud of you.” I was pumped with pride and confidence. After completing my post graduation from one of the finest MBA colleges in India, I felt I had all the rights to see myself as a successful professional. It was a stepping stone but I knew with my dedication and intelligence I would soon be climbing the success ladder of the corporate world. I joined a marketing agency with a dream to be in the corner office in next 10 years.
Hardly, I knew my dream would be short-lived. Soon, my dreams would be shattered by the ugly realities of the corporate world.
On the very first day, HR introduced me to my manager, for the sake of anonymity let’s call him – “KP”. I was 24 and he was about 35 when we first met. Actually, I had no idea how old he was but, had a fair understanding of how high he was in the food chain. He was a VP and had a major say in all the key decisions at the firm. He was intelligent, charming, witty, interesting, and fun. Other interns were so jealous of me as KP was known for turning his interns from coal into DIAMOND. And, I was pumped with pride as I felt destiny was aligned with my dream of getting into the corner office.
But it wasn’t easy to keep up with KP’s pace.
The more I felt exhausted, the more I felt the urge to work harder. Somewhere in my head, I wanted to be like KP – exceptionally intelligent, smart, and political savvy. I felt KP could see how hard I was trying to pick the ropes of the trade. My learning was exponential and much faster than the other new joiners. And then, I was selected to accompany KP to a very critical client trip to Hong Kong. I was filed with the confidence as I thought it was my big break to show KP and the firm how valuable I was. The other joiners shared that they felt I was given the opportunity because of KP.
But, I tried to convince them and to some extent myself that I was selected because of my hard work and intelligence.
KP and I kept talking through the flight. We discussed everything under the sun – ranging from our hobbies to our colleges, to our families, even our life aspirations. We did work on our presentations for some time. After a while I felt KP was bit drunk and to avoid getting uncomfortable, I pretended to be tired and went off to sleep.
But, then I felt something on my leg. I could feel KP hands over my thigh. And I went scuttling back into a corner. I was too scared to know how to deal with his advances. I was in a relationship and suddenly I felt that I had cheated on my boyfriend. I was intimidated by his seniority and I couldn’t think of what I could say to him. So, I got up and pretended everything was fine. I was hoping he must have got the hint that I wasn’t interested in him or maybe he was so drunk that he didn’t know what he was doing. But, somewhere deep inside, I knew I was wrong.
And, there was something much stronger and devastating waiting for me.
A few days later, I was working on another presentation with him. And then it all started – the inappropriate comments, the Whatsapp messages at odd hours, the off-color jokes, the common advances. I smiled painfully through all of these because hey, I’m an adult woman and it’s okay, right? Because this is media. Because we are all professional. We are all grown-up. And, it’s all cool. The days went on but with each passing day, my desire to get into that corner office started vanishing. I just wanted to run away where no one can see me. Where no one would have expectations of me. Where I won’t have expectations of myself.
And, then the day came. It was late evening and I knew we had to stay back to finish the presentation.
I tried to make all the excuses to avoid this late night working session as I wasn’t comfortable with being alone with him in his corner office. But there was no way KP would let me go early that day. And, then he tried to make the move on me. I got numb for 2 minutes not realizing what to do and then in reflex action, I slapped him. KP just looked at me. He was shocked. I think he did not expect a new joiner to stand up for herself and give it back to him.
I packed my stuff and drove back home. I realized that my dream to make to the corner office was over. But somehow, I felt lighter. I realized the dream to make it to the corner office was making me feel so heavy that I wasn’t able to breathe. I felt I was ready.
I was ready to face the consequences.
The next day, I went to the office. I got to know KP has been unwell and has taken a week off. And, he has ordered HR to move me to a different team as I am not able to meet his expectations. When HR said that I laughed as that was true in a way. I wasn’t able to meet his expectations. Somehow HR understood but didn’t say anything. My team was changed and life went on.
This is the problem with men in positions of power. They’re men, they’re in positions of power, and, they misuse them. The men in power band together in a fraternity irrespective of their background. They have a common religion to showcase their power by sucking dignity, integrity, and life out of people like me, who are too scared to be their own voice.
You must be looking for an answer to the question: “Why I didn’t call out KP and his unforgivable deeds?” I keep thinking about it even today. And, the closest answer that I have for you is:
It’s the fear of being judged, fear that people will not believe us, and the fear of losing our careers. While everyone talks about consent in such cases, usually when it comes to a powerful man vs a professional woman, the onus to prove something wrong somehow always falls on the victim.
In Bill Clinton’s case, could Monica Lewinsky say “No” to the most powerful person in the world? When everyone around goes into silence at the mention of such incidents and the victim is ostracised, how do we expect the truth to be told? How do we fight all alone?
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