The Culture Of Toxic Masculinity
In the past one year, women have come out and blatantly called out the sexism and objectification they have faced at High spirits, a hot spot among the youth of the city. High spirits has been a sort of safe haven for teenagers and alike in this city, for almost 13 years now. Owned by Khodu Irani, the pub has been popular for hosting top stand-up comedy shows and live gigs. Irani successfully managed to create a space for all age groups to dress as they wish, and have a good time without a care for norms. Right from as young as 14 year olds, teenagers have found a place they can let themselves lose and consider themselves a part of Pune’s booming party culture. However, ever since blogger Sheena Dabholkar spoke up about the misogynistic culture at the club, women have come out in support to share their disturbing experiences, at the hand of the owner.
Key issues and complaints
Following Sheena Dabholkars tweets and blogs regarding the bullying and online harassment she faced by the members and supporters of high spirits for calling out on their sexist culture, women have come out with similar appalling stories. The owner of the establishment, Khodu Irani, has been accused of sending lewd messages, groping, slut shaming and fat shaming, and even misbehaving with his female employees. In fear of facing public ridicule, women have anonymously shared stories of being asked to send pictures of their intimate parts by Khodu, being asked to participate in a contest for best assets and being bullied and threatened for speaking up against him. It’s not just the customers who have experienced this mis-behavior, but also employees.
Divya Desa wrote an article, in which she clearly outlines not just the harassment she faced at the hands of her boss, but also the way she was silenced by his loyal network of friends and family almost to the point where she started accepting it as normal. Patrons of high spirits are also part of an inner group called “High Homies”, which almost serves as a status symbol and guarantees their inclusion in the elite party culture. Such individuals shy away from speaking out against the obvious harassment and have come out in support of Khodu Irani, shaming the victims and calling them “attention seeking liars”. The existence of such a social environment, where the truth has been hushed and covered up, has created a toxic culture within High Spirits, where women have almost grown to expect and ignore the harassment. The perpetuation of such a culture negates all the advances feminists have made world over. It is a violation of basic ethical guidelines and moral codes of conduct. No institution should be allowed to make a majority of its customers feel uncomfortable, and get away with it on the grounds of it being “plain and harmless fun”. It is vital in such situations, for the owner to come forward and take responsibility for his actions, instead of ignoring and turning a blind eye to the complaints. When an establishment occupies the kind of social standing and popularity that High Spirits does, it becomes essential for the management to set the tone and influence the manner in which other similar organizations handle such cases. Women’s safety is not a trivial matter, and is definitely not one that can be hushed up. When such establishments ignore such matters and don’t give them due importance, it allows other clubs and restaurants to follow their lead.
“In 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 5,431 complaints of sexual harassment from women. Of the 2,036 claims that listed an industry, 12.5 percent came from the hotel and food industry, more than any other category, according to the National Women’s Law Center. The Restaurant Opportunities Center United, which advocates for higher wages, found in a 2014 study that two-thirds of female restaurant workers were sexually harassed by restaurant management, 80 percent by their co-workers and 78 percent by customers. A third of women reported that unwanted touching was routine, the survey found.”
For too long, women have been silenced and prevented from speaking up. This allows the cycle of sexual misconduct to continue, because the perpetrators get away with it and the victims face the abuse and questions. I have personally come across women who have observed or experienced Khodu Irani’s misbehavior and have disregarded it saying it wasn’t such a big deal.
In the light of the feminist movement, it is essential for us to do away with this culture of toxic masculinity that is prevailing in High Spirits. The first and most essential way to do this is by allowing and respecting women who dare to speak up. It is our responsibility as aware individuals to recognize and acknowledge a call for help, instead of questioning why the complaint did not come earlier. This leads us to the second part of the solution, recognizing sexual harassment when it occurs. By getting rid of the bystander effect and coming to the rescue of the victim, one not only gets the victim out of the situation but also lets the harasser know that he/she cannot get away and there was a witness to the inappropriate behavior. When sexual misconduct occurs at the hands of employees or customers, the most obvious solution is to reach out the human resources department. But when the misconduct comes from the employer itself, the victims need a separate mechanism for reporting the behavior. There is the need for personnel websites that allow women to report harassment, as well as the practice of human resource specialists making secret visits to the establishment to assess the environment and interview the employees. It is high time for people to wake up and realize that even if a situation is not affecting them personally, it is affecting others.
We need to boycott such places and create a safe environment for women, where they feel heard and respected. There should be no valid reason for places like High Spirits to continue doing business and making money, even after such severe complaints. Several musicians and comedians have publicly boycotted the pub, and it’s now time for the customers to do the same.
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