On the 16th of October 2017, Alyssa Milano, an actress, tweeted — “If all women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me Too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” This tweet was in relation to Hollywood’s worst kept secret — the scandal of the casting couch of Harry Weinstein. Within 24 hours half a million people were talking about this tweet and it took the social media platforms by storm. While some wrote about their stories anonymously, many were very vocal about their experiences, and some just shared a ‘#MeToo’ on their wall. What started as a simple experiment to get people to understand the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault in society and the magnitude of it has now become a full-fledged revolution.
Women world over have in their own way shown participation in this movement. The #MeToo hashtag has been used more than a million times in the US, Europe, the Middle East and beyond. The French used #balancetonporc, the Spanish #YoTambien, and in Arab countries the hashtags وأنا_كمان# and وانا_ايضا# were predominant. This movement has accentuated the awareness of how sexual harassment is not more or less in certain parts of the world but prevalent everywhere in some form or another. As Ellen DeGeneres correctly puts it — “This is not a male thing or a female thing. It is not a Hollywood thing or a political thing. This is a human thing. And it happens in the workplace, it happens in families, it happens all over the world, and we are all the same. We all want the same thing — we want respect and love and kindness.”
This sheds light on yet another problem. All the victims have raised their hands and told their stories, but what about the offenders? The #MeToo movement put the Weinstein scandal in the spotlight, and to imagine this man only saw any implications for all of his actions after so many years. The #MeToo movement lists the victims and the profundity of the issue, but will these victims have to bleed themselves dry again? The consequences that have to be faced by these offenders, how impactful are they going to be for their crimes and how effective are they going to be in preventing such incidents in the future?
In India, women are designated second-class citizens and I do not know even know where to begin on transgenders. This is a country where it’s looked down upon if women eat dinner before their husbands! If you are born a girl, they teach you everything you need to know to score the best husband or in-law family; when you are born a boy, you just have to exist and that will make people happy and proud of you. No amount of degrees, accomplishments or job position would ever make a girl’s parents as proud as finding a good husband of the same or better social and economical background, no matter his job status or accomplishments. Because of this mentality and dominance of a very patriarchal society, women are taught to be quiet; they are taught to not have an opinion. In a country where marital rape is not yet a criminal offence and where domestic violence exists in 55% homes, women are taught to be quiet. Dowry is illegal here since 1961, but still the parents of every girl are expected to give a specific amount of funds, in cash or kind, when she gets married, but everyone watches quietly. In India, what does a free and independent woman mean? An unmarried woman who has a respectable job, earns enough to manage her expenses and live comfortably, would she ever be termed empowered in the full sense? While, she might be making path-altering decisions for an MNC, her clothing choices would have to depend on the men surrounding her, be it the watchmen of her building or a sleazy neighbor or co-worker. She would have to think a hundred times before doing something as normal as just leaving the house after dark or returning home late alone. Can any woman truly be free and empowered in the true sense?
There’s a monumental amount of work to be done in provoking a climate of male dominance in this society — one in which women are belittled and undermined and abused and sometimes pushed out of their industries altogether. But uncovering the colossal scale of the problem is revolutionary in its own right. With this being said, it is extremely important to raise your voice and ask an even more pressing question — Did you? Did you as a man harass, intimidate, sexually or verbally abuse, belittle, not give a promotion to, pay less, discredit, cat call a woman? Did you as a woman watch another man do any of these and not interfere or even encourage your sons or husbands to be a part of this? Did you mistrust or dismiss a survivor who confided in you or told them to “be quiet”? Did you raise your daughter and son unequally?
We would like to, and should take the necessary action and take #Movember and turn it into #NO-vember. We would like to encourage woman from all walks of life to speak up and stand up to everything that they disagree with — whether an opinion affecting their life, or verbal, sexual or physical abuse, whether they are unmarried independent women or a sex worker or a housewife. They need to be made aware that only they have a say when it comes to their life and body — not their husband, parents or relatives. The crux of the society and mentality needs to change in order to truly be progressive. We learn in school that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of a cell, or the life-cycle of a frog, but is there a curriculum teaching students to respect and be decent towards the opposite sex or be more open toward understanding people of different sexual orientations and people of different sexualities? Do we learn how to tackle assault, rape and eve teasing? Are we made aware about mental-health issues of an abused child or about PTSD after being assaulted? Together, let’s advocate this open, accepting behavior of kindness and respect within the society, and empower the weak and work on making them realize the true meaning of the word ‘no’.
Lastly, #Me too. Not just for all the times I’ve shaken it off as inevitable, but all the times I’ve censored my clothes, movements, words and reactions in order to feel safe.
Parishi Shah Jogani is a volunteer with ConnectFor, and a strong advocate for Women’s empowerment, and equal rights.