For Every Voice That Says #MeToo
If you have not been living under a rock you have probably seen the #MeToo hashtag on your social media accounts. Millions of men and women have come forward and shared stories of the sexual assault and harassment.
Actress Alyssa Milano who started the campaign as a response to the Harvey Weinstein scandal wanted people to understand the magnitude of the problem. Since then millions of people have shared their and experiences of sexual assault and harassments on social media.
The hashtag more than anything else has re-affirmed the universality of the problem of sexual harassment or assault. The definition of it, however, still remains a tricky one to be understood.
So what qualifies as a harassment?
It is harassment if I feel harassed. That’s it. It is really that simple.
You think its unfair to men? Well not that they are going to face a consequence for it. You ask why? Because our society and upbringing have taught us that when a man assaults you or harrases you, it is your fault. You are the one who must have provoked the pious soul and made him touch you in inappropriate ways, pass lewd comments on you or just stare at you like you are some artefact in a museum.
What Makes A Man An Assaulter?
The first case of harassment, for most girls, occur when they do not even have the understanding of the term. In my case, it was the same. It was a late afternoon and I had come down to get something from the grocery store. On my way back, there was a group of guys who had opinions on the length of my skirt and my budding body at the threshold of adolescence. They were hardly adolescents themselves, but that did not stop them from the sense of entitlement that convinces them that they can have an opinion on a woman’s body.
It is difficult to fathom that how the boys who grow up in the same environment as ours, often go to the same school as ours and has more or less the same upbringing, grows up to become men who derive pleasure out of demeaning women. Every time I try to ascertain what makes a man into an assaulter or the perpetrator of harassment, I am left with no other option than the sense of entitlement. Growing up, I have seen men having opinions on what their mothers can and most importantly cannot wear. It starts from small things like colours and slowly works its way up to the point when they have the authority to tell their mothers and sisters what length their sleeves should be.
To be honest, it is not that I didn’t have opinions on how my mother should look, but those opinions were never paid heed to. But the opinions of the young men were actually taken into consideration lest they feel uncomfortable.
It is these small instances convinces a man that he can have opinions about the appearance of a woman, and outrage her modesty when she does not conform to his understanding of modesty.
The Power Of Hierarchy: The #MeToo Scenario Starts There
In fact, the power hierarchy in most Indian families often stokes the fire. In most families, men grow up understanding that the father or the man of the family is the one who has right to decide things. Some divine intervention guarantees that his opinions and idea are the right ones that need to be followed. I have often seen young guys brushing off their mother’s words but adhere to same words when spoken by the father. As a result, most men grow up believing that women either don’t have opinions or the ones that they have are not important. As a result, opinionated woman is something men of certain category don’t like.
And, one of the best ways to make a woman shut up about her opinion is to assault and harass her into silence.
Yes, Men Gets Harassed Too
Not that men, who are generally perceived to be the perpetrator of assaults cannot be the victims themselves. Gay men getting raped and assaulted is no secret and there are several instances of straight men getting assaulted and harassed as well.
The lack of respect for homosexuality is one of the prime reasons behind gay men getting assaulted. In the case of straight men, one has to understand that sexual assault or harassment has very little to do with sexual pleasure. It is mostly about power and domination and it is important to accept that this power politics can come into play the other way round as well. A woman trying to establish her dominance over a man who does not have the power over her can often resort to sexual harassments, assaults or even rape.
The fact that men often can’t even share their stories of assault due to false notions of masculinity is a bigger struggle that needs immediate attention.
Men joining the #MeToo campaign is a welcoming move that further goes to show the magnitude and the universal nature of the problem.
Looking Beyond The #MeToo Campaign – A Vision Of A Better Tomorrow
The laws are in place. There are special teams for handling the cases of sexual harassment and assaults, but yet in India every minute somebody gets raped. Where does the problem lie?
In my understanding, the problems lie in the definition of it. We have come to normalize the daily instances of harassment. Regular and continuous exposure to small instances does not evoke the reaction from us that it should. Instances such as a guy singing a song when you walk on the road, zooming past in a bike almost brushing against you, offering you a ride, gawking at you or ‘other parts of your body’, grinding against you in the bus, nudging you with an elbow or bestowing an unsolicited compliment on the road or on social media have happened to all of us for so long and so many times that we have forgotten to react to them. We have learned to ignore them. And if we are being really honest at times have even laughed at them.
I know the ‘Other Messages‘ on Facebook Inbox is a source of comedy for me. It is a direct reflection of how creepy, desperate and often offensive men can get on social media. But, the way ahead to pull a rein on the cases of assaults and harassment, is the need to stop with the ‘chalta hai’ attitude. It is not funny, it is not trivial, ever.
Every small incident has the potential to escalate to something big. Thus one needs to react and react now.