Move Beyond Hashtags

The #MeToo movement is not about ‘fixing the creep who groped me’, but restoring basic civility

 

1/16/2019 2:47:46 AM
written By : Shobhaa De Print

“At least I didn’t rape her, yaar!” Heard that one? I have. Not once, but several times. It is said with utmost exasperation and a sense of fatigue. Women are supposed to feel relieved, even grateful that they got away cheaply that one time. The man is saying something of enormous consequence when he states he could have raped a woman, but didn’t. The reasons for not raping her even though the opportunity presented itself, may vary. But the argument stays the same.

So now we are dealing with seven degrees of molestation. Every woman who has ever been in the presence of a predatory man has to recognise what those are. The man who was kind enough to spare her is as guilty as the one who goes ahead with the assault. The humiliation and pain remain identical — with or without penetration. Is that so tough to understand?

Think of life before social media. Before screen shots and emails and sexting and skyping. Yes, there was no ‘proof’ to produce in a court of law that would establish a woman’s case in a watertight way. So what? Before any of this, women possessed a far more powerful tool — memory. Today, it is this memory that is being desecrated and devalued. “What utter rubbish! How can she remember what happened 20 years ago? She must be making it all up.” This is a fairly common response — not just from men, mind you. Why should a woman’s memory be judged, doubted and dismissed? Why should anybody assume a woman ‘forgets’ or obliterates an incident that has gutted her and left her feeling violated. Who else but the woman herself can decide the intensity of that memory?

Women who have spoken up about their traumatic experiences in the workplace are being subjected to the nastiest probes that question their integrity, morality and just about every other aspect of their lives. That idiotic question — “Why now?” — is thrown at her, as if memory itself comes with a time limit. All sorts of insinuations and motives are being attributed to some of the more prominent women who have named the perpetrators and boldly described exactly what they had to endure till they found the courage to step forward and shame their tormentors. Are the tormenters feeling any shame? Doesn’t look like it! What we know is that they are feeling enraged. Enraged, not ashamed. Enraged at being exposed. Enraged that the world now knows just how low and awful they are. That’s all. Some of those forced apologies sound so hollow, one wonders whether top PR professionals have been engaged to construct a damage control campaign.

Reading the graphic accounts of the assaults penned by responsible women, it is obvious they are hurting so many years later. Those superficial apologies mean nothing to them. But it is still a little comforting to know it’s finally out there and they no longer have to live with the dark, twisted secret they have been too ashamed to acknowledge over so many years.

One important realisation has finally been tabled: women need to be listened to with more respect and sensitivity going forward. That is the only way. Had this realisation dawned earlier, so many anguished cries for help would not have been callously ignored. Listening is an obligation, not an option. When a woman complains about sexual harassment — pay attention! Do not treat her like an attention-seeking, hyper-touchy so and so. If she says she has been molested, do something about it immediately. Don’t be dismissive and tell her to sleep over it. Don’t tell her she is over-reacting and “he didn’t mean it that way.” Oh yes, he did! There are no alibis, no excuses. “I was sloshed... didn’t know what I was doing,” has got to be the most pathetic excuse ever. Power goes to the head in any case — why blame alcohol?

Before MeToo fatigue sets in, and we all move on, we should start by examining our home environment with the same level of scrutiny as the work environment. How healthy is it? Do the girls feel safe and confident within the family? Are they treated equally? Do they see their mothers and other female family members being discriminated against in ways subtle or obvious? Are the men in the family allowed to get away with blatant bullying because they are men? If that is so, chances are the girls will expect the same loathsome traditions to continue at the workplace. And they may meekly submit if caught in a nasty situation, just as they do at home. For MeToo to sustain itself and be converted into a permanent attitudinal shift in real terms, we need to move beyond hashtags and tokenism. This is not about the politics of vendetta and ‘fixing the creep who groped me’. It is about restoring basic civility and propriety both at home and in the office. It’s time to give men a chance to rethink the meaning and misuse of power. If they still don’t get it, well then ... it’s war

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