Deepening #MeToo

A year after an actor inspired women to speak up against harassment, it’s critical to assess the gains and challenges

July 11, 2019 12:05 am | Updated 09:03 am IST

Representational image.

Representational image.

In the mid and late-1800s, social movements in Europe for equal rights for women threw up the word ‘feminism’, which traces its origins to French. The suffrage movement in Britain in the early part of the 20th century was another component of women’s fight for equality across the world.

Over the years, this fight has gained momentum, often with varying goals depending on the cultural traditions and the degree of prevalence of patriarchy in different societies. Various instances have inspired women to collectively get together and assert their rights — to create a combined voice that strongly advocates the impending need to view them as equal to men.

In the current world, there are strong stances that women are taking to support causes, such as the #MeToo movement that started in the U.S. and took down power-players like Harvey Weinstein and Roy Price and is now a force to reckon with in India.

Why it is needed

The abuse of power by men in high offices has been an open secret. Many women across industries have been subject to lewd remarks, suggestive behaviour and assault — and have often been penalised for rejecting such advances.

Tanushree Dutta’s decision , in September 2018, to speak out against her alleged exploiters from a decade ago gave courage to many women to be able to openly speak up against bullies who coerce them into compromising situations.

Many other women have been empowered by the #MeToo platform to be able to take on powerful bullies. A big boon for feminism, #MeToo has also given women a tool against oppressors in influential positions. As sexual harassment is considered a serious offence when proven beyond reasonable doubt, the men stand to lose their sources of income as well as public reputation. Social media has, thus, been a huge platform in helping women to be able to express their ordeal as well as find solidarity and support.

A corollary to the same is the apparent misuse of these tools by some for personal agendas.

Many women are choosing to lash out at ex-lovers and blame them for harassment. Consent is imperative in every relationship; however, a mutual relationship (irrespective of the state of it) cannot be comparable to exploitation of women employees at workplaces by men in senior positions.

Settling personal scores

Former Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court, Sujata Manohar (who was part of the bench that penned the Vishakha guidelines against sexual harassment at workplaces), observed that many women were misusing the #MeToo movement to shame men on social media and to settle personal scores. Adding allegations of a personal nature dilutes the essence of a very powerful and necessary movement.

Further, a lot of women anonymously share stories about their harassers but refuse to take further legal or police action. This raises questions on the ingenuity of their claims. In a recent example, an aspiring actor filed a complaint against a noted director, but then withdrew it.

Such actions not only allow the men in question to go scot-free, but also cast a shadow on the veracity of the victims’ claims. If an untoward incident did occur, the sufferer must be willing to follow the proper channel to lodge a complaint and seek support for the same. It takes immense courage for a survivor to come out in public and relive her ordeal, and she must be believed and supported.

In such an atmosphere, false claims by a few women cast a net of suspicion on all allegations. Using social media to name and shame an alleged perpetrator just to settle a personal score under the garb of #MeToo is a disservice to women who genuinely need the aid of the movement.

To achieve a balance, it is important fairly assess each situation while taking a neutral approach in dealing with both the parties involved — the man and women.

This article does not attempt to undermine the need for women to assert themselves. Neither does it aim to question the legitimacy of all the complainants rallying behind the #MeToo movement. It only aims to argue that as we propose to create a more equal society, we must not let the oppressed assume the role of the oppressors. While there are great tools at our disposal, they also come with great responsibility.

For #MeToo to retain its moral clarity, it is important that we now look at ways to strengthen the processes at workplaces and the legal framework in general, so that cases of sexual harassment are speedily settled, and not left to a ‘she-said-he-said’ aftermath that extends the trauma of the innocent women and, sometimes, the men concerned.

Damini Chopra is an actor

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