It’s a shame-shifter, this #MeToo movement. In one raging gush of unbottled female fury, it has ripped away the tenacious foundations of patriarchy that allowed sexual predators at the workplace a free rein. So far.
The nature of this trial by social-media is such that it has left molesters vulnerable and exposed to the very same censure that – all these generations – had hounded their victims. Where complicit social sanction had helped them get away with sexual harassment and gender violence earlier, the new globalised and politically correct world order is holding them accountable and responsible for their actions.
When US-based Indian student Raya Sarkar came out last year with her list of sexual predators in Indian academia, hashtagged #LoSHA for List of Sexual Harassment Accused, she was criticized by some Indian feminists for not following ‘due process’. But, well, we all know that due process doesn’t ensure justice in India, and even the US, if Ford-Kavanaugh is anything to go by.
Back then, I’d written about why venting out on social media was perhaps the only way for victims of sexual violence and abuse to get back at their molesters and at the system that had failed them. I supported them then, and I support them now.
And yet nothing in life is black and white, and #MeToo 2.0 has taught us that under every upturned rock of sexual harassment lies not just the predator but an entire web of predatory systems besides a clutch of innocents who depend on him. No man is an island, and no harasser can operate freely unless the system allows him to do so. Systems are made up of people, and that includes women.
#MeTooIndia has taught us that we are all complicit. And we are all changed forever.
Here are five things to keep in mind moving forward.
Nip harassment in the bud.
We need to call out sexist jokes (including ‘wife jokes’) and references to women’s bodies and looks that are passed around casually at office meetings, over WhatsApp groups and around the coffee machine. Let us not turn a blind eye when we see a senior colleague put his arm intrusively around an uncomfortable junior, or stalks her, or sends her explicit messages or photos. Women often laugh along with the men because they don’t want to be called a ‘prude’ or a ‘party pooper’ or someone ‘without a sense of humour’ whenever a crass joke does the rounds. But we need to speak up. We are accountable to other women and to ourselves.
Don’t do unto others as you wouldn’t want done to you.
It is a simple theory: if you’re a man and you don’t like jokes made about your wife’s or some other family member’s body parts, do not make jokes about other women’s. If you don’t want to be forced upon without your consent, don’t force yourself on other people. Treat people exactly the way you want to be treated – with respect for their private space, their bodies and minds.
Stop judging the victims.
Despite the optics, it still takes immense courage to stand up and accuse a powerful man of sexual harassment – one has to risk their life, career and reputation, not to mention incessant hate-filled trolling on social media. No woman will put her neck on the line ‘for fun’ or simply to settle an old score. If these women are speaking up, it’s because their anger and sense of violation had reached its boiling point and just needed a valve to break through. Read their stories carefully. They are shocking not because this has happened, but because one can believe this has happened.
There’s a pervasive atmosphere of fear that has governed women’s lives since time immemorial – everything we say, do or wear is carefully orchestrated to avoid offending or being offended by someone. #MeToo has transferred the fear to the men. They’re now afraid of their words being misconstrued, or vengeful women cooking up stories and ruining their reputation.
But both sides must be fearless, now more than ever. Women must stand up fearlessly for themselves in the face of sexual harassment or abuse. And men must face the music after centuries of privilege. If you’ve wronged someone, do your penance and atone for your sins, as the gurus would say. And if you haven’t wronged anyone, there’s nothing to be afraid of.
All challenges in life are opportunities for personal growth. This is a wakeup call to be a better person, more respectful of others and more mindful of those in need. Everyone is fighting their personal battles – the victims go through years and decades of psychological and even physical trauma. The harassers live in their own personal hells, cut off from their humanity, creating a cycle of bad karma that will follow them. The families of the accused molesters are caught between a rock and a hard place: they fight on behalf of their husbands / sons / fathers because they must. Instead of pulling them down, let us be compassionate. There, but for the grace of God, go us.