“What are the words you do not yet have? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? Audre Lorde
How does one navigate silence in the face of tyranny?
Silence is like wearing a thick jacket as you sweat under the oppressive sun because you’re naked and vulnerable underneath. Take it off and the world will give you hell; keep it on and you will quietly suffer purgatory for sins that are not your own. How do you make a choice?
I was asked to write about sexual harassment at the workplace in the face of increasing reports of such cases across the globe. I asked if the piece was specifically supposed to be about the laws protecting women at the workplace, or an informative piece about the kinds of harassment women face at work, and I was told that the idea of the piece was more along the lines of expressing anger and bewilderment at “why does this happen in the first place?” And I was surprised. I didn’t know how I was supposed to write about that from the heart because I don’t feel bewildered; isn’t that more surprising?
John Steinbeck opened my eyes to this in The Grapes of Wrath with a thought so profound, it’s seared into my brain. When people become part of something larger than themselves, they lose control over their own autonomy. This entity – The Company – becomes a reality more real than reality itself. The Company owns—possesses—governs—controls, it “needs—wants—insists—must have—“ the most profitable solution, and nothing else matters. The Company is not the people’s, the people are The Company’s, and so human beings and their affairs become nothing more than profit-and-loss statements. This is why, when women speak up about harassment, discrimination or sexism that they experience at their workplaces, they are met with inaction, cover-ups or threats. Because The Company must protect itself and its reputation before it protects anyone else.
It’s a reason, but it’s not reasonable. Should the world be wired in such a way that I am not surprised at such a thought, and on some days, too tired to be sickened? I wish the answer made a difference, but it doesn’t. In this moment, the world is what it is.
You work at a law firm and as a woman, it’s no secret that the trajectory of your professional success often depends heavily on sexual services to your boss. Should you give into this harassment or continue to stagnate in your position? Your job is all that you have to support your family but you are being abused there; can you afford to leave, or do you have no choice but to suffer? How do you make such excruciating decisions? Is suffering the only way to get through such situations?
That’s what bewilders me, because I don’t have answers. What good is the court when social and economic pressures can perpetuate an injustice the law cannot confine? Speaking up can often put women in danger but nonetheless, a change in the culture will come only when we demand respect and action. And this is the nuance I have no answers to.
So I am reaching out, to you. Have you ever been trapped in an unacceptable situation which you spoke out against? Do you have views on the matter? How have you solved this conundrum? Your experiences will help someone who needs to make sense of a situation like this. Speak up, speak out. Start a conversation. I, for one, would like to listen, because I’m bewildered. We need your voices.
This is a plea for help.
By Sanya Sharma
Sanya is a second-year undergraduate student at Ashoka University uncertainly exploring the inseparable realms of history, politics and literature. As someone with an insatiable curiosity who is always at a crossroads, she loves the interdisciplinary in every field of life and so she indulges creating various forms of art. She writes to make sense of the world.