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Men are crying foul at the #MeToo movement, slut shaming the women who speak up, or even lamenting, “How do we approach women now?” Maybe being scared and careful is good.
‘Why didn’t she speak up earlier?’
‘What were you wearing/doing/saying in the first place for him to think you’re easy?’
‘You must have done something, or else what gave him that liberty?’
‘A bad relationship, however abusive, is not abuse.’
‘Oh c’mon, stop with the crying and get over it already. You’re not the only one, so take it in your stride and be strong. Set an example for how women should behave.’
‘You’re ruining the life of an innocent man.’
‘Decent women don’t go out at night, or respond to men’s flirtations and lead them, only to later cry “Wolf”.’
These aren’t just questions and statements; they are outright accusations that raise doubts on the integrity of others – those who’ve already suffered enough trauma and abuse. And this despite most women in our country being a victim of sexual harassment at some point and form or the other. It’s a different thing that none of these statements hold much logic and sense. Each of the above examples reeks of patriarchy and a misplaced sense of righteousness.
Those questioning and ridiculing the #MeToo Movement, making women look like cheap opportunists who cry ‘sexual harassment!’ at the slightest pretext, are only exposing their arrogant ignorance and lack of compassion towards these survivors. Mocking every sexual harassment allegation as opportunistic, fake, or even implying it such is extremely damaging to the movement, and even more to the victims.
There are other consequences of the movement, too, apparently. HR departments across the country would now, apparently, be wary of hiring women. (It’s ironic that HR won’t be scared to hire such disreputable men.) Men would now be scared to even talk to women. (Really?! Is there hope that conversations laden with innuendos would actually stop?)
These jokes, threats, warnings, are all in poor taste, and, in fact, all blatant efforts to shut down the revolution, tamp down women’s voices and make sure that women know their place in society. Personally, to me, it seems that, because, at this time, brute force and threats aren’t working, so now the best tactic is to incite fear among women with regards to their employability and social standing.
‘See, this is why women shouldn’t be allowed to speak, because then these slaves start demanding respect, dignity, go berserk with their womanly negative energy, and what not!’ Right? Right, then.
There’s a powerful dialogue in my favourite English TV show-The Newsroom-which basically sums up both sides of the debate. The scene is a conversation between two people – a young female college student who was raped and a ‘wiser, experienced male’ TV reporter who goes to interview her. Their conversation is about ‘kinds’ of rape, false accusations based on revenge, misuse of the tools available to report sexual assault and the biggest argument that most disbelievers resort to –‘How do we know who to believe?’
While the obvious flaws in that scene (mansplaining and it’s treatment of the actual crime) are another discussion, the part where the woman calls the reporter out on his flawed logic, and how she does it, is meaningful in this context.
His perspective including his disbelief of her claims brings to the fore some important questions about sexual harassment.
Who to believe?
What impact will it have on the accused?
Won’t there be a possibility of false accusations?
His own discomfort at having to conduct an interview in her room is evident as he is scared of being falsely accused of rape, and hence wants to do the interview someplace else. That’s not just insulting on its own but also mocking the victim. She says, ‘(You didn’t want to do the interview here in my room) because you were scared I’d cry rape. I am scared of getting raped. I am scared all the time. ALL THE TIME.’
And that, my friends, is the reality of the majority of women in this country. (Do watch the scene. It’s a powerful one and has all the right answers to the big questions above.)
All those so-called threats of the negative impact-women being rendered unemployable, men being scared to crack a joke, and false accusations-that the movement is causing are all irrelevant. The only thing that #MeToo has changed is that now, everyone is scared.
I think, it’s okay for us to be scared, especially for the men who have never known that fear till now. Sure, we shouldn’t have to be scared-not of being raped, nor of being falsely accused of rape. But this period of transition, before we go into the light, is going to have to experience some anarchy, confusion, allegations before the dust settles down. So, for now, the fear is good.
This sense of insecurity that’s building up, this mockery that some are indulging in, this victim-threatening that others are resorting to, all of it stems from the sense of entitlement that men have enjoyed all along.
Power dynamics are changing. The status quo is being questioned. The men are finally beginning to realize that women are as powerful as they once were, and that they, the men, are as weak and vulnerable as the women always have been. The world of entitled men are finally beginning to see that their self-imagined or society-awarded position of superiority is no longer existent. Their reactions are not justified, but instead, understandable. For it is nothing more than tantrums-a direct fall-out of snatching away their favourite toy.
Let them be scared. Let them react the way they are-accusing, cribbing, mocking, whining and moaning, like petulant children.
It’s good for them to get an inkling of how most women spend their entire lives; to get a taste of how it feels to be constantly on your guard, to experience what most women have to endure on a daily basis. Because, if they don’t know the difference between harmless flirtation and sexual abuse, then they should be scared.
There are a few arguments from the other side too. ‘Innocent until proven guilty’, ‘follow the due process’, ‘you can’t paint all men with the same accusatory brush’ are some of the things being said.
If one were to really believe in the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ argument, then why had the entire country gone up in arms against the accused in the Munirka, Kathua, and Unnao rape cases? Because ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is something that we use only when we want to put up weak defences to stand in support of the people we favour, even in the face of there being enough accusations against them.
Several of the accused like the ‘respectable’ Chetan Bhagat, Suhel Seth, and others have such defenders and ‘unofficial’ advocates crying hoarse about the ‘need’ for due process. (That the due process fails when it comes to most genuine cases and is enforced when it comes to protecting powerful men speaks volumes about how flawed and biased it is.)
The fact remains that people judge and give verdicts, often coloured based on their own moral ideologies and personal relationships with the accused. The difference is in which side they choose to pick – whether they point fingers at the victim or whether they judge the accused.
(Of course, there are false accusations being levied against innocent men too. There would always be someone or the other misusing the law, that’s the basic definition of exploitation. This is not to say it’s justified when women exploit but that as sensitive, thoughtful individuals, we can’t become cynical and question every sexual abuse victim. We can’t, and shouldn’t, negate or question such allegations. It’s important to give the benefit of the doubt.)
Despite the fall-out, we need to start giving more weightage to the women’s voices.
There are a few men who know the difference, are not scared, are embracing this movement, and showing their support and solidarity in tweets, personal messages, and, more importantly, by reflecting upon their own behaviour. Kudos to these men, for making the effort to understand the problem, and also to being part of the change.
Since the past few days, I’ve been observing a lot of these changes- subtle but there, nevertheless. In the metro, I noticed how men are now making an effort to keep their legs together instead of manspreading or trying to brush their hands or legs against your thigh. While walking on the road, they have begun to keep their arms to themselves, and even avert their gaze instead of brazenly gawking at women.
This change, however big the repercussions and the backlash, is much welcome. Let the sieve separate the wheat from the chaff. The wheat, the real cases of sexual harassment, that is, is what should be our concern. To give the space to the real victims, it’s okay to bear the brunt of the false ones.
Meanwhile, stop distracting from the real issue, stop crying and whining, and please, PLEASE, let the women speak, and let them feel safe, too.
It is indeed high time that women were allowed to.
Image source: a still from the movie Qarib Qarib Singlle
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Piyusha is a sometime sane reader, part-time crazy writer and full-time wacky alien.
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