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#MeToo – Where Do We Go From Here?

  • 23 Jan 2019

It was in 2017 that two simple words took the virtual world by storm – Me Too.

Overnight, they stopped being just two simple words and ended up being a movement. Under the ambit of this movement, hundreds, nay, thousands of women took to social media to speak up about their harrowing accounts of sexual assault.

The #MeToo movement, which gained popularity over the last year and a half, was originally started over a decade ago, in 2006 by Tarana Burke. She launched the movement in an attempt to reach out to underprivileged women of colour who had been sexually abused. Inspired at a Youth Camp while listening to young girls who were assaulted, Burke wanted to do something for communities where rape crisis centres and sexual assault workers were not present. Thus, was born the #MeToo campaign. Soon, Spanish-speakers were tweeting #YoTambien, Italians said #QuellaVoltaChe (The Time That), and French Women, #BalanceTonPorc (Expose Your Pig).

But, #MeToo was not the first of its kind. Before #MeToo, there was 2014's #YesAllWomen, which motivated women to go public with their experiences with misogyny. It was also, that year, that the Canadian initiative #BeenRapedNeverReported encouraged women to speak up against allegations of sexual assault. In other words, we've been "raising awareness" this way since at least 2014.

Today, women from the world over have joined in, to just put it out there with a simple hashtag that at some point, they were harassed/assaulted. One hashtag, two words were enough to enforce the dark reality, that harassment is common, and it’s high time that we address it.

So, where do we go from here? Do we let movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp die just like all the other movements did before it? Do we owe the survivors and the victims more than the movement? Does the movement really stand for something or is it just hollow sloganeering?

To call it nothing but hollow sloganeering would be an injustice, mostly because the movement has achieved more than others of its kind. The movement garnered more success than its predecessors. How, though, do we judge the success of a movement that was entirely virtual?

MeToo created safe spaces for women.

For once, women were being able to speak up and weren't put down, hushed, or blamed for everything they faced. Instead, they were given support, and their harassers called out. For the first time ever, what women faced was more important than what men had to say about it.

But this movement also did something unprecedented. It was the beginning of the creation of an agency for men who were assaulted, too.

For once, it was okay for men to speak up about the assault they faced. Being assaulted/harassed didn't make them any less of a man. Or being a man, didn't take away from their experience of being assaulted. Men didn’t go report these incidents for a fear of not being believed or being made fun of. But it’s become easier for them to come out now, with their stories, albeit anonymously, in most cases because they realise it’s no longer an isolated incident, and that they aren’t alone.

Gender abuse statistics may be flawedfor the very reason that men don’t wish to talkabout their assault. No one believes them. Yes, it’s true that more women are assaulted than men. But that doesn’t mean that men aren’t violated too. #MeToo, a women’s movement, has become a movement against assault, all forms of it and also a movement against the patriarchal structure of society. It is a movement that gives us agency to talk about an assault and abuse freely and not be hushed when we do.

Talking about the trauma is a long and exhausting process. There is a host of emotions a survivor will go through. Having to relive that trauma cannot be easy. The experience of coming out about it is one that makes the survivor feel emotions of rage, sadness and guilt (sometimes). At times, there are feelings of doubt that come naturally when talking about it to others. But once they do come out, it gives a sense of empowerment, especially when speaking up is responded with wide support. There is no statute of limitations on assault. It still remains an assault whether it's spoken about the very day that it happens, or if it’s spoken about 20 years later. Speaking up about assaults provide a sense of satisfaction, that if the victim could not do something at that moment, they did something about it nonetheless, something that made a difference.

The effects of #MeToo was not limited to just the West. Not since the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in New Delhi at the end of 2012, had India witnessed such surge in mainstream concerns with sexual violence, rape culture, and patriarchy. Towards the end of 2017, when globally the #MeToo movement was at its peak, Indian Academia was responding to Raya Sarkar's list. The List mentioned 60 or so sexual predators in the Indian Academia. This List, albeit, the first of its kind, was met with criticism. It expressed deep discomfort with the act of anonymously naming men as sexual aggressors "with no context or explanation," and even argued that this could "delegitimize the long struggle against sexual harassment, and make our tasks as feminists more difficult" (Menon 2017).

Now, the movement against sexual harassment and assault has exploded in India's entertainment and news industries. The government is being targeted for making men like MJ Akbar ministers, despite allegations which have led to his ultimate stepping down. The highest form of the judiciary in the country has also been passing some landmark judgements including the removal of an entry ban on women of menstruating age in a revered Hindu shrine. Also, a landmark verdict in the 1997 Katwaria Sarai Rape Case was read out by an all women-bench that sentenced the offending men to 10 years of imprisonment. The verdict ruled that even if a woman is labelled to be of "easy virtue", she is not open to a violation and cannot be raped and that "no means no"!

The movement is slowly going from being just a social media trial, to actually influencing differences in law enforcement. Law enforcement processes can take up to years to bring justice and can be exhausting to say the least, therefore, people prefer social media. While it isn't a just platform, in terms of bringing a constitutional difference, it is through this platform that we can let others know about a predator in our midst. Victims, collectively, get the courage to speak up against their abuser, even if only one person speaks up about them. And once it is that public, the ability to silence it is also reduced.

In order for the #MeToo to not be just a short-lived moment, but rather continue with the ripple effect it has created, what the society can do is not blame the victim, and not try to take away from the victim what they felt. Or make the victims feel like what they feel about the incident is not valid at all. Men can also start being more vigilant, and should try to stop toxic behaviours among their friends, whereas women can continue to support each other. Collectively, we can create safer spaces for our friends and colleagues to come out and speak about their experiences without acknowledging the validity of their emotions. But, most importantly, we can try and give the victims and survivors our unconditional support.

What we owe to the next generation is a society that is free from sexual harassment. We can bring up our children with mindsets like ‘no means no’, and teach them the difference between ‘good touch and bad touch’, instead of telling them that pulling pigtails in the backyard is equal to a harmless crush. More than anything, we can create safe spaces within the family for kids to be able to talk about sensitive issues, without feeling like they will be blamed or ridiculed for it.

While this is a watershed movement, and one step in the right direction of removing patriarchy from our society, what the movement failed to do was to define the "me" in the #MeToo. The "me" doesn't have to be limited to the middle-class cosmopolitans. It needs to reach out to the remotest corners of every country, so we can address issues like domestic abuse - address issues in the house alongside addressing the issues on the streets.

If we don't want this movement to just be hollow sloganeering, we as a society need to accept the fact that harassment is more common than we would all like to believe. We don't need to dismiss claims of assault by just saying "But he's a good person", or "That he doesn't seem like the type". There is no quality character trait type of an abuser or assaulter, it could be anyone - from Fathers and Uncles at home, to our closest friends outside the home, to absolute strangers. There isn't a checklist of how they look or the words they say, it's in the behaviour.

And if someone tells you, believe them. Believe the survivor, instead of finding reasons to blame it on their clothes, character or habits. If we want this movement to be more than just hollow sloganeering, we need to create safe spaces offline, in our homes and our friend circles.

What we need to remember is that #MeToo isn't a movement for one gender or a certain class, it's a movement against harassment, abuse and assault. It's a movement to create a safe space and empower the victims. And if the fear of being mentioned in a #MeToo post scares someone to not even "harmlessly flirt" then maybe that flirting isn't harmless.

To conclude, patriarchy is so deeply entrenched in our roots, that we have blamed women and their clothes, or their alcohol and laughed at men, and called them names. For years now, patriarchy has dominated what we bring to public spaces, and it's time now that movements like #MeToo reclaim those spaces.

This movement is just a beginning and such beginnings tend to go a long way in bringing about the changes we wish to see - in this case, a society free of all forms of assault and abuse.

Anisha is an aspiring journalist, and currently pursuing her Masters in International Affairs.
Curious at heart, she likes to explore new places and ideas.

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