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How can we ensure that the #MeToo movement leads to lasting change and not just short-lived outrage? Here are some thoughts on truly making a sustainable mindset change.
Right now, as the #metoo movement gains pace in India, even some US media is reporting daily: ‘The #MeToo movement is blowing up in India’. Often, with an added byline: ‘at last’. As a champion of this cause, waiting to see it ‘blow up’ – which in my view paraphrases as ‘becomes a champion cause for action and dialogue’ – in India for a long time, I can’t help feeling happy. The overwhelming response this time, at least from my vantage point from here, has been something I had hoped and prayed for a long time my country would awaken to.
But it also, as it did in the US, seems to be creating a divide. Men vs. Women. Believe vs. Don’t. A sensation, instead of an internalisation.
Where do men go then from here? How can one be ‘too careful’? Is everything now something then? Should everyone be hanged for everything? Why are all men painted with the same brush when these things come up? What happens if these aren’t true? What about the women who exploit – or maybe just misunderstand – ruining a man’s reputation in the process?
When I had first moved to the US, I used to have an inherent intolerance towards these kinds of dissent on this matter. Sensitised possibly by my own experience, and misguided possibly by what I thought was only my patriarchal motherland’s problem. But strangely, exposure to a narrative that cuts through national boundaries in a foreign land has increased my understanding of some sad facts: misogyny is not just Indian (although it’s definitely more common in some societies than other). And not everything is misogyny. And outrage, in place of dialogue, is the worst thing that can happen for a cause.
The Brett Kavanaugh fiasco unfolding here in the US is a prime example of how even very prominent, educated members of my own sex expressed public doubts on the statements of the victim, even before an investigation is initiated. Even more interestingly, how women, more than men, said things on the national public radio here like: even if the accusations were true, a man’s entire life shouldn’t be judged by his occasional actions.
And this is why – I think it’s important to recognize the #MeToo movement for what it is and what it should not become.
The #MeToo movement is not about women. Or about women vs. men. Nor is it meant for making a legal judgment on what reprimand is appropriate for what action, or if rehabilitation and reinstatement is deserved by those who have erred. The #MeToo movement is also, not in any way, a one colour paint all brush – although it might seem so at times as we drown in the high pitched outrage on everything from rape to jokes or sulk in silence for the voices that are shunned.
The hashtag doesn’t negate the need for due process and investigation of any accusation. No one is guilty until proven so. Nor is anyone innocent just by denying it. And lastly, Dear Men – ‘This MeToo climate’ shouldn’t preclude you from doing anything that you would have otherwise done. Such actions are limited by moral and legal obligations, not a ‘climate’. And that is what the dialogue, not outrage, should be about – that we have drifted so far from understanding how and why our actions (even public, highly visible ones) are so obviously inappropriate. No matter who we are.
I am not against outrage. Nor, like the most of us, can I often help it. Nirbhaya is worthy of outrage. #MeToo is too. But outrage is often short-lived. Intention lives longer. And the bigger problem with blanket outrage is that it shuns the very ones we need to join us, alienating them completely – leaving us to preach to the choir and wait for tomorrows that’d be just like today, once all is forgotten.
So let me dare say this: no, I don’t want every man who is making an inappropriate joke and every guy who has been grossly inappropriate on social media shamed. I want them to understand why what they did is wrong. We haven’t taken the time to foster gender equality when raising the boys and girls of this nation. Nor have we taken the time to make sex and its appropriate appropriations transparent. We have not taught our boys why it’s not OK to subjugate or humiliate. Nor have we discussed consent. We have marital rape as legal for God’s sake!
So we can name and shame the products of our actions as much as we want, if we don’t give them a chance to debate – letting their own voice reverberate on their conscience and ours and then slowly, painstakingly change their minds on what not to do and why – we will not change anything. We will have a few big name fallouts (like we have had in the past with a few of our revered Godmen) and then revert back to being a nation of Rediff comments on boobs and Twitter responses of rape threats.
If we remain the nation that publicly calls dissenting female voices ‘Presstitutes’, can we really have a safer tomorrow for our girls? Until we make sure we understand why this is different from making consensual sexual jokes with friends, men or women, we will remain right here – getting outraged – again and again.
What MeToo really is, and should be cultivated as, is a shift. It is a solidarity movement which made it OK to speak up today, providing an umbrella of comfort that no one is alone as a victim. But more importantly, it’s also a hope that it’s going to be ok to speak up from now on, even if one is alone. Internationally, it has provided a premise that no one’s story can be shoved under the carpet and that it acts as a protection against intimidation, societal or otherwise.
It has shown that no matter how big a name, it can be and should be named. A likeness I often think of is of joining a line on a rainy day. Others like me, all around me. Surrounding me. Giving me confidence and giving the line validity. Where no one will come and ask me why I joined the line late…Or what is the point of joining?
Tomorrow, if the line thins, it will remain ok too, only if we use this opportunity to cultivate awareness for ourselves and our children on what is appropriate and what’s not. The lesson we need to take is that is not only OK but is extremely necessary to speak up as a victim. That the victims might take time to come forward. That sexual misconduct is a serious and commonplace problem, and it’s also a complex one.
We – both men and women – have let this become so commonplace and complex. We now have no choice but to accept the fact that we have created a place where there are folks who genuinely don’t understand what is OK, and what’s not. And why not. The queue is not for storming the shop or rioting. We need to press for due process to ensure the accused are investigated and prosecuted. We also need to be courageous and tolerant of the dissenting voices. We need to be careful about what we role model, and what we allow to be role modeled around us. We need to internalise ‘harmless’ jokes we make or laugh at and initiate dialogues when it crosses a line.
Swift justice is OK, and probably rightfully sensational, but is never long standing. So digressing on that path no matter how strongly we feel or how deep the cuts are that we at last feel are being let to bleed, will be a disservice to the true potential of this movement.
Image via Pixabay
Manages supply chain teams in Intel Corp. Blogger, writer and poet. Founder and Director Her
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