#MeToo. The tag, over the past few days, has taken a greater meaning. Like many others, I am outraged by the offensive incidents of sexual misconduct made public recently. Nana Patekar (Bollywood actor), MJ Akbar (Former Union Minister, Author), Alok Nath (TV fame), Gautam Adhikari (Journalist), Rajat Kapoor (Actor), Vikas Bahl (Film Producer), KR Sreenivasan (TOI), Prashant Jha (Hindustan Times), Vairamuthu (Tamil lyricist) … and more. All big names reportedly accused of some form of sexual harassment.
It was not all that long ago that a President was impeached following an inappropriate relationship with a White House intern. While such types of incidents are not uncommon at a global level, it is now India’s turn to steal the limelight.
The recent rise in women holding their abusers accountable does more than just help women realise that they were violated back then. How many women were stripped of their livelihoods and reputations without due process? When more victims and survivors speak up, the nation not only listens, it also seeks answers. Unwanted advances of the bullies aren’t buried and forgotten. In other words, you may not remember her but, she remembers you.
As of now, #MeToo has done what law could not! The internet-age has better-equipped people to deal with these issues, social media democratising women’s lib, helping them to share their ordeals. This shift matters, and for some women, the world is changing.
Situations of subtle compromise are probably the most frequent abuse of power because the perpetrator can easily say he was misunderstood. It is often impossible to prove that a certain gesture was harassment. Even if she complains, she will be flagged in some negative way, and the offenders can always pretend they were surprised by the target woman’s interpretation, and walk away from the move without a scratch.
For instance, when your boss flirts with you, you try to steer the fine line between not hurting his fragile ego and ending up trespassed upon. You don’t want to risk that promotion for which you worked so hard. You discreetly express your unease. Maybe, you were clear, or not, or should have been clearer. In the end, you reluctantly convince yourself. You also know that women have to deal with such unpalatable attention all the time.
What grows from within this culture is an attitude of self-centered immunity. It may be a CEO, a high-ranking politician, a celebrity, sportsman, artist, actor, author… They have a talent for rebounding from whammies because they’re certain of their invulnerability, and their ‘superiority’ allows them to pursue their self-seeking ends.
There are also, those, who believe their victims should feel ‘privileged’ to have been ‘selected’. Even if the offenders are caught, they are certain that they’ll slip out of having to pay for their acts; punishment is for ordinary people, not them.
‘Successful’ predators plan ahead. They consider all the angles of how they might get caught and how they can explain themselves, so it’s hard to nab them red-handed. They have no inhibitions about causing damage or harm.
Keep up the momentum
New revelations of unacceptable behaviour in every industry break every day, as people come forward in response to the viral social media posts. Alas, some celebrities are tight-lipped because the offending action hadn’t happened to them or they didn’t want their career to be affected.
The momentum should focus not only on penalising the offenders, but also protect complainants from retaliation.
The #MeToo movement should not be confined primarily to (urban) elite and the white-collared, as the condition of poor, trafficked and enslaved women are even more precarious, and their economic status too often holds them captive. Often, they simply endure, because they can’t risk losing their jobs. Hiring a lawyer is out of the question, and fighting for their dignity takes a backseat.
As we are in the age of “man-is-innocent-until-proven-guilty”, social media should be effectively used as a persuasive means of carrying on the impetus.
Is this the tipping point? Can a world riddled with sexual harassment and abuse be healed by a hashtag? Or, will it be a passing fad that will cool off like any other TRP (Target Rating Point)-oriented story, when the next sensation will eclipse the current one?
This is progress
For those who did not cross the line into actual assault (but still acted inappropriately), it is important to encourage them to admit and apologise.
Considering the innumerable harassment incidents that women have been subjected to, the fact that people are finally paying attention is progress. No person deserves to live in fear. All allegations deserve adjudication.
The solidarity is critical; else, beware of the backlash. Ensure there is no expiry date for #MeToo. Show the world that you are formidable and will not be silenced.
Until then, #MeToo.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of AFTERNOON VOICE and AFTERNOON VOICE does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)