#Metoo has taken the world by storm. And about time. In recent times, social media was under much bashing with fake news, election interference and lack of privacy. As a social media junkie, I do find it difficult to navigate the true and the false. However, it’s also thanks to this platform that people’s voices have a larger platform.
#Metoo began as a reaction to Harvey Weinstein and his abuse of women in Hollywood over his long and ‘illustrious’ career.
But it is gaining momentum as women are expressing solidarity with women around the world who have been victims or known victims of abuse. The number of #metoo updates is astounding.
News media in the US is all over the Weinstein scandal, first brought to attention by Ronan Farrow’s article in The New Yorker. Ironic he happens to be the son of Woody Allen and Mia Farrow. Allen himself has faced these accusations. What started out with allegations by thirteen women has now got a daily dose of women coming out of the woodwork with stories. What’s amazing is how many celebrities have added their voice to the clamour. Even they did not have the courage to say anything earlier. The buzz was always there but hushed up. Many actresses did not want their career to be curtailed. The modus operandi appear similar where women were called to the hotel room and he opened the door in his bathrobe.
Apparently, Weinstein was so powerful at one time a story such as this would have been unthinkable. His declining power is what makes people feel they can finally speak out.
Given his shenanigans, even the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, unceremoniously threw him out. He ruled the roost during the Academy Awards so it’s quite a downfall for him. However, what the final outcome will be is still to be seen considering Bill Cosby got away with a mistrial after similar assertions made against him. Seven men and five women could not unanimously agree to his guilt. A hung jury left Cosby not guilty. Forensic evidence is crucial and given the long time lapse, Cosby could not be charged.
In the meantime, Weinstein is off to sex addiction rehab in Europe. Where is the recrimination?
The #metoo campaign is a testament to humiliation and sexual assault suffered by women since time immemorial. Weinstein, Cosby, Tiger Woods, even Bill Clinton are some of the more popular personalities who face global recrimination and disgust. However, each small town, each district, every street corner harbours these perpetrators. Cat whistles as we walk down a street. Lewd remarks by passersby. Groping on crowded trains and buses. Dirty old uncles seducing innocent relatives. Stories abound in every household. In fact, one of my friend’s also posted #metoo with regards to a male friend of hers who was abused.
Let’s not forget, sexual abuse is unacceptable regardless whether you are man, woman, trans or undecided.
And while the Weinstein affair is making headlines in US, a similar story is making waves in Pune. High Spirits has been accused of being at the centre of this alleged sexual escapade with a brave young woman telling her story via a twitter campaign. Since she broke her silence, more women have shared their stories. Initially, I was shocked. I know Khodu and would never imagine him capable of such behavior. I said so on social media too, throwing my support behind him. Since then, I have been reading many alternate versions that have me questioning my initial reaction. Living far away and not interacting with victims or supporters, I don’t want to make a judgement call on his alleged guilt.
However, what bothers me is how victims are being labelled and abused. Sexual abuse is sexual abuse. The one who goes through it has felt a certain way. You don’t even need to be touched to feel abuse; comments are enough.
Keeping quiet is not an option.
People I have spoken to have said why did the girl return if she felt violated. To me that’s unacceptable. I’m glad one girl had the courage to speak up so the others could follow suit. People who laughed off his comments and made excuses for him enabled his alleged conduct to continue unchecked. But wait, it gets murkier. Last I heard, the woman who highlighted this appalling situation, plans to sell tee-shirts and ask for a speaking fee. If that’s true it’s pathetic. Even mired in muck, capitalism profits.
Like Weinstein and his ilk, India has many such stories. Another one that immediately comes to mind is that of Tarun Tejpal of Tehelka fame. People who keep quiet add fuel to the fire and allow sex offenders to continue unscathed. The few courageous ones are to be commended. It empowers others. The herd mentality sets in leading to a #metoo syndrome. It’s regrettable in this day and age women have to continue fighting for respect; that men still treat women as sexual objects to enjoy and discard. As a mother of sons, it has been my aim to ensure I inculcate respect for the female gender in my boys.
As women, it is imperative we raise sons who know how to treat a woman well. And let’s not forget fathers. Boys notice how their fathers treat their mums.
I know a not for profit organization in Pune, Equal Community Foundation, working with men in slums. Their mantra is simple and effective; “not all men are part of the problem, but all men are a part of the solution.’ ECF trains young boys to stop abuse in their homes. These young lads grow up to become responsible men who do not harm their sisters, mothers, wives or daughters either sexually or through other forms of physical violence. I read somewhere Brad Pitt, Colin Firth were aware of Weinstein’s actions. Pitt confronted him but then backed down. Firth did not take it up with Weinstein but gave emotional support to his co-star. Men need to take a stand. Sexual abuse or physical violence towards women is not just a women’s issue. It’s a man’s issue too.
Social media does a fair bit towards promoting a worthwhile cause. A friend posted an evocative image on Facebook. Krishna sitting on a tree surrounded by garments of gopis bathing in the river and #metoo scattered through the picture. What’s right and what’s not? What do we laugh off and what do we stand up for? The #metoo campaign is a kickstarter but how long will it survive? Until the next popular cause? These issues surface time and again. Everyone must take on the mandate to bring social change. Only then will this sort of protest even mean anything. We can no longer afford to be complacent and sit back. We need to have the courage of our convictions and take a stand. Losing face. Losing friends. Losing favours should not come in the way of losing humanity.
Stop the abuse because if you don’t, you are equally to blame. Only if we all band together to stop the violence, only if we apply this across genders, only if this does not remain as just the flavour of the month, only if all my misgivings are met, only then will I take pride in saying #METOO.
#All views expressed in this column are the authors and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to them.