It was Monday afternoon here in India, when something very empowering started trending on social media. These were stories of women coming forward, accepting and sharing the sexual assault and harassment they have faced in their lifetime and are constantly facing each passing day. By Monday night, my news feed was filled with such shares. The response to the campaign was empowering but not very surprising to me.
It wasn’t surprising because I have known a lot of women and men who have been sexually assaulted as children, sharing their stories and experiences. As a woman myself, I have been surviving sexual harassment everytime I step outside my safe zone. But what was empowering amidst these heartbreaking stories of sexual assault and harassment was the courage with which women came forward and spoke of their experiences, their experiences as a child, as a teenager, as a grown-up adult, as a mother, as a girlfriend in an abusive relationship, etc. It was both heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time to see women stand up and speak up for themselves, their stories loud and clear, breaking the shackles of shame and victimisation.
But what was empowering amidst these heartbreaking stories of sexual assault and harassment was the courage with which women came forward and spoke of their experiences as a child, as a teenager, as a grown-up adult, as a mother, as a girlfriend in an abusive relationship, etc. It was both heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time to see women stand up and speak up for themselves, their stories loud and clear, breaking the shackles of shame and victimisation.
Being brought up in a small town, sex education was never a part of our school curriculum. Although the school was one of the best in the town and the state, its highly acclaimed convent education never taught us the difference between a good touch and a bad touch. But we learnt it, although the hard way as we grew up, through men who were ready to teach us what a bad touch was in a crowded fair in a small town; on a public bus in a capital city, in a metro compartment, in a auto-filled with five girls on a busy lane in the national capital, while travelling in a train, while dozing off on a flight, while stepping outside the home even in broad daylight.
The bigger problem here is not unawareness, but the ignorance of the society at large to sexual harassment. We as girls and women are taught and conditioned from the very beginning to accept and endure sexual violence silently. The culture of silence is taught to us while we are taught to read and write, this silence brings the culture of shame and self-victimisation along with it. From the very beginning we are made to believe that it is our fault if we are harassed and also that speaking about it will bring shame to the family, hence, the best way to deal with it is to be silent about it.
This culture of silence multiplies if the survivor is a male. Boys in our society are neither considered potential victims by the society, nor are they given the space to share their stories of survival of sexual violence. Because being a survivor of sexual violence would make them less masculine and therefore bring shame to our patriarchal families, so, silence is the way!
What I could see happening through this campaign is men too speaking up and sharing their stories, if not on social media then at least with people they trust. In the past one day, I have had a few men sharing their stories with me, stories they haven’t shared with anyone else before, and that is empowering.
What gives them the courage to do this now? To all men, women and other genders to come forward and share their stories with people they know and with people they don’t. It is the common suffering and pain which they have been through almost alone till now, but, through the campaign, they have found the strength within themselves to talk about it, to speak up loud and clear and call out for themselves and all other survivors.
The campaign not only shows the magnitude of the problem but it has now also become a tool of strength and empowerment for people, a tool to accept and overcome their suffering knowing that we are all together in this fight and we will fight and survive this together. #MeToo