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#MeToo

#MeToo

By Anusha Nagavarapu  

In Law, we have the Constitution, setting in force “fundamental rights” entitled to every citizen of India, and then we have a subset of those laws, like Acts, Policies, Rules, etc, that address specific issues that are in play. The Dowry Prohibition Act and the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, being self explanatory, are some examples. The system works this way, because one mega- text of fundamental rights alone cannot possibly cater to the issues of every minute problem that exists in our country.


The Me Too Movement can be viewed in the same light. “Feminism” is the umbrella movement that fights for women’s rights, and with the advent of the Fourth Wave of Feminism, emerged #Metoo which seeks to address the specific issues of sexual harassment and sexual assault. It began when Tarana Burke, a social activist started using the phrase way back in 2006 aiming at women of colour and those within the strata of underprivileged communities who faced sexual abuse. “Empowerment through empathy” was how she described the movement. A documentary is being created by her, the inspiration for which stems from an incident wherein she was unable to provide an a appropriate response to a 13-year-old girl regarding the sexual assault she underwent. Burke said that she simply wishes she said, “Me too.”[1]

 

The movement was however popularised by actress Alyssa Milano in 2017. It became a widespread issue following sexual abuse allegations against Harvey Weinstein, a former American film producer.[2]

 

The movement, in a gist was an attempt to create awareness of the magnitude of the issue, but had sparked several criticisms regarding its inclusiveness, and primarily the negative reactions from those of men.[3] It systematically brought down men in positions of power, who were perpetrating any of the above mentioned offences. “A fear of how the #MeToo movement has negatively impacted their lives instilled in them a sense of fear and possibly shunned them to a point where they must be constantly cautious of what they say or do around a woman.”- These are some of the prevalent notions surrounding the movement. M.J Akbar, Veteran editor and politician is one of the most influential men in India to have been affected by the movement. Initially, he called the accusations “wild and baseless[4]” and sought to take legal recourse against the women who accused him. But the sheer number of women who later went on to accuse him eventually added up to a number of 20, as of October 17th 2018. He later resigned from his post, after the overwhelming number of women signed a petition to the court, demanding to be heard in the defamation case filed by Akbar. He stated. “I deem it appropriate to step down from office and challenge false accusations levied against me.[5]” Other examples include the case of Nana Patekar, who was accused of sexual harassment by the Bollywood actress, Tanushree Datta, while on the set of a movie they were shooting together. She mentioned how her efforts way back in 2008 when she tried to throw light on the issue, were in vain. Now that the issue has gained momentum and people have taken notice, she’s decided to pursue a case against Patekar, who denied the allegations. On the sets, she claims, there were thugs who provoked her while she was leaving the sets of the movie they were working on. She blamed Patekar for the same, and there exists video footage[6] as proof of it. She then quit Bollywood as a result being forced to pursue a life elsewhere, and moved to the U.S.

 

Chetan Bhagat, the famous Indian author was accused of sexual harassment by a woman, who went on to post screenshots of conversations. Bhagat then went on to make a public statement of apology to her on Facebook.

 

The famous and beloved Indian singer Raghu Dixit, had similar allegations levied against him. He went on to state that while the account of the anonymous woman was “accurate”, he ought not to be viewed as a predator, stating that the situation was “completely misread”.
As a result of the sheer magnitude of the movement, the famous  Journalist Prashant Jha stepped down as chief of bureau and political editor of the media house, in lieu of allegations levied against him.

 
In a nutshell, the Metoo movement globally, as well as in India can be viewed as an unending cycle of allegations, and denial/acceptance or in the case of Raghu Dixit, a combination of both that entails a misreading of the situation by the victim herself, funnily enough.


If one were to really understand the phrase “Me too”, it can be said that it’s a mutual agreement or understanding, of sorts. Confiding in someone, whilst the other acknowledging the fact they know and understand what the former are going through and have been through. The movement is a lot more than a hashtag. It is the most normal thing to say when someone relates, and empathizes. Yet, somehow, like every other movement that fights for the rights of women, this one’s received just as much criticism; mostly from men.

 

In a world where men feel they need to be threatened by a platform that allows victims of sexual assault to speak up, owing to the fact that it requires them to be more careful of what they say or do around a woman, one can only call it sad.  It is so, because if this movement is what it takes to teach  men to watch what they do around the opposite sex, then something is fundamentally wrong.. A movement intended to help those that require it, those who aren’t as fortunate to have a podium to stand up and speak against the injustice done to them, shouldn’t be what threatens men. A study[7] found that there has been an increase of 35% of sexual harassment cases from 2013 to 2014- the number having increased from 249 to 336.[8] A study then conducted by the Indian Bar Association in 2017 found that 70% of cases go unreported because of the fear of consequences of the same. A close look at these numbers can only bring us to the conclusion that these numbers are appalling, and instil in us a fear, that despite agency, law enforcement and media, there still exists 70% of the population that fail to come forward. So naturally these numbers, according to these men, must be ignored, and speaking out against systematic harassment against these women be suppressed, owing to their fear of being called out. If there’s anything to be learnt from this all, it’s that this behaviour needs to be called out. A shift in focus is what is required. It isn’t about the insecurities men face, it’s about the injustice a woman does; A mindset that’s yet to be inculcated in this day and age, from the looks of it.

 

The backlash received by the movement can be traced back to a lack of empathy. “Empathy” is defined as “the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.”[9] A major reason for disdain towards #Metoo is because such people simply lack the ability to place themselves in the shoes of a victim. To be in a vulnerable position of absolute helplessness not only while the offence is being ensued, but even after when it’s done and dusted with. If one were to even do something about what’s happened to them, how could they? Where would they even start? This line of thinking, and the ability to look beyond themselves is what is needed, which one could easily point to and say, “Well, they don’t have that.” One needn’t have faced sexual assault or harassment personally, and to be able to dissociate yourself with the act is what constitutes empathy: to be able to think, “What it must be like to be in her shoes” as opposed to “Her shoes don’t exist because I haven’t been in them.”

 

With the advent of the movement, several men have come out with their stories of the movement, as well. These include Terry Crews, Michael Gaston, and Alex Winter. The movement may not have initially intended to address the experiences faced by men, but any victim at the end, is still a victim. At the end, a movement seeking to protect human rights will do just that, and grow dynamically towards that direction. As remains the fact with Feminism. In its first wave in America, it began as a war against men but will end as far from that. Yet, the men who stand against the movement seem to have little to no knowledge, care or concern for this fact- because who can be empathetic when they’re too busy being afraid? A fear of consequence only raises suspicion in the advocates of the rights of people, and that is all that can be said to those worrying of the same. Having to worry that your actions around a woman may reflect, in one way or another, poorly on your character may only beg the question: Why? Why must it, if you’re truly devoid of all blame, and not a perpetrator? This doesn’t necessarily mean that all men opposing the movement are to be blamed. What it means is that there’s a definite, if not equal cause for concern. What does it say when a significant portion of the male race seek to defy the empowerment of women and refuse to empathize with a cause that at this point is a human rights issue? A statement that says, “I don’t know how to talk to women anymore.” points a red signal in two directions: One, that this man believes women are stupid, and out to get them and are looking for ways to bring him down for no reason and two, that he’s the stupid one who doesn’t know the difference between inappropriate behaviour and simply being a decent human being; and a possible but unfortunate third situation: that they don’t realize the impending effects their actions have on those of women. It’s convenient if anything, for men to have empathy for a situation that involves trouble for them and for no one else; and that is exactly what statements mentioned earlier, entail.

 

The solution to a wide scale issue such as sexual harassment and assault stems from the lack of knowledge on the subject of consent. With the reserved and conservative Indian upbringing which all children are subject to, it goes without saying that children aren’t taught about the value of consent in their homes, and neither is the same taught in schools. This is owing to the heavy opposition that exists against sex-ed in schools. It was seen in October 2018, that the number of Me Too tweets in India exceeded the US monthly high amounting to roughly 9,78,000 tweets.[10] If the numbers and statistics fail to appal the government, nothing possibly can.  A change can be brought about only from a grass-root level, with continuous implementation via schools, colleges and universities. A taboo on the general notion of sex, and the mindset that discourages free discourse is what leads to a large scale epidemic in this regard. The only way to curb it would be by adopting a progressive approach in this direction. Companies and government policies need to be up-to-date owing to the changing scenario and the need for it. Awareness campaigns aiming to change the victim-shaming and ignorant mindset that exists in our country could prove to be a revolutionary tool.

From a legal perspective, the several lacunae that exist in the Sexual Harassment of Women of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 needs to be revisited. This Act was enacted following the Nirbhaya gang rape case of December 2012. The Act requires an establishment of 10 or more employees to have an Internal Complaints Committee. A 2015 study[11] found that 36% of Indian companies and 25% of MNCs in India have not complied with this provision. The lack of emphasis on “prevention”, the absence of an appellate authority for a woman to approach in the case where she is dissatisfied with the ICC’s report, and the composition of the Internal Complaints Committee as a whole, are some that require serious reconsideration, especially in view of #Metoo.
And most of all, men need to understand that a movement aiming at liberation of female victims ought not to threaten their race, but inspire them to question their privilege and  challenge systems of oppression that seek to destroy human rights. The Me too movement has sparked awareness, and that will forever go down in history as a mark of change, but what  is required is progress towards implementation,  rather than just awareness. Now that the movement has established gravity in terms of numbers, a revolutionist mindset is what is needed, above all.  

 


[1] Ohlheiser, Abby (October 19, 2017).  The Washington PostArchived from the original on October 19, 2017. Retrieved October 20, 2017.

[2] Chuck, Elizabeth (October 16, 2017). "#MeToo: Alyssa Milano promotes hashtag that becomes anti-harassment rallying cry"NBC News.

[3] Not all Men: Why does #MeToo movement make some men angry?, Global News: https://globalnews.ca/news/4177138/metoo-men-angry/

[4] Reuters (2018-10-14). "Indian Minister at Center of #MeToo Case Calls Abuse Accusations 'Wild and Baseless'"The New York Times.

[5] https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2018/10/16/656864272/-metoo-movement-gathers-force-in-india

[6] https://youtu.be/Sr9SLYnwF9U

[7] #metoo movement: An awareness campaign, Rituparna Bhattacharya, 2018

[8] ibid, 2018, p.6

[9] Bellet, Paul S.; Michael J. Maloney (1991). "The importance of empathy as an interviewing skill in medicine"JAMA226 (13): 1831–1832. doi:10.1001/jama.1991.03470130111039.

[10] Telling Numbers — 9,78,000 #MeToo tweets in India in October exceed US monthly high; https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/978000-metoo-tweets-in-india-in-october-exceed-us-monthly-high-5418905/

[11] Fostering Safe Workplaces, Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, 2015


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