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Why #MeToo Ignores The Real Nature of Male Violence

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Whether they went to Yale, Sciences Po, NYU, McGill, spanning geographies, a tendency endemic to educational and non-educational backgrounds emerges, whether they are students, professors, doctors or lawyers: middle-class heterosexual masculinity is appropriative of gender issues. Even invasive, as regards the minimal space that sexual minorities and other vulnerable groups have struggled to forge for themselves. Groups structurally and systemically vulnerable to gender violence.

Meanwhile, the cis-hetero-male thinks it’s all about him.

This started with a conversation I had with a friend in Bombay who is part of the glamour world, as appalled at the men in our respective friends’ lists jumping on the #MeToo bandwagon.

They managed to make it completely about themselves, forging claims such as ‘our violation is buried in even more shame’. While I won’t contest that it is buried in shame, I don’t think it is any more than it is for women and other genders. The difference – and key point – is that patriarchy is a system, and within the system women and people performing alternate sexualities, and other genders, are minorities – structural oppression is experienced by them, which is a much different thing.

The hetero-cis males making this about themselves, with scores of people validating the practice is rather unsettling.

This is typical: a host of cis-males screaming, “what about men!?”, and if not that then #NotAllMen, (which is another kind of problematic altogether), as if they’ve been excluded from the feminist discourse, or spaces of dissent, which is (and never has been) expressly not the case.

Sexual harassment is an expression of power relations, a power that can demand subservience from anyone vulnerable, arbitrarily. Since patriarchy thrives on men making bucks and women making babies, women’s violation of these codes, their forays into traditionally masculine social spaces, make them especially vulnerable to violence.

Feminists have been saying for over a decade #YesAllWomen, yet an empty liberal Americanism has to be an event in the heart of the empire to gain momentum. Especially for middle-class Indian millennials.

Where were your voices when Kangana Ranaut snubbed Karan Johar for his misogynistic, and grossly classist comments towards her? Would he dare behave like that with an offspring from the Kapoor or Khan family? Remember Mahima Chaudhry’s (“Pardes”) case? She accused Subhash Ghai of harassment, and he single-handedly destroyed her career. Shahrukh Khan came out better than unscathed, crowned the King of Bollywood. Think of Diya Mirza who came out with having to sleep with four film producers. Where were the hashtags in solidarity with her, or with Tabu when she accused Jackie Shroff of sexual assault?

What happens to women who don’t come from star-studded families in Bollywood who speak up against male violence? It’s not just the film fraternity. The point being driven home is this: How many males, in comparison to women, have had to perform non-consensual sex acts in order to live, eat, feed their children, and have a respectable career? How many males have been denied jobs and opportunities because they refused? While it happens, the number tips unfairly on the side of women, and other minorities. This is crucial to consider.

My personal network of women, (and the grapevine) have revealed how a lot of these cis men have made inappropriate advances towards them, whether online (plausible deniability) or otherwise, drunk or not. The #MeToo bros have indulged in crudely manipulative, misogynistic behaviour, and have often taken a steaming dump on the feminist movement in conversation, indulged in rape jokes and referred to things as ‘gay’. Most appalling–asked women to ‘pick up their shirt(s)’, only ‘jokingly’ when they put forth a request for a job.

A friend once said, “Survivors don’t have to out themselves for their story to matter.” The focus needs to be on the perpetrators, not survivors. This is the principle constantly defended in courts, case after case. A shift in perspective is needed.

Has even one perpetrator been shamed or called out so far? My apprehension is that they might even derive voyeuristic pleasure out of these confessions. #MeToo makes you complicit in commodifying your own suffering, it desubjectivises your trauma and leaves it on display for consumption.

A famed and respectable writer told me to ‘refrain’ from speaking out, because I was ‘preachy’, and drew a false moral equivalence between social media trends and standing at the barricades. They do not compare. Social media trends do not put one at physical risk, standing at the barricades does. The latter is wedded with the history of feminist protests. One is no Emmeline Pankhurst by showing solidarity with survivors in your home (although full props to you for doing so, credit where credit is due.)

The website iDiva posted an article, to the effect of how #Metoo doesn’t respect the personal apprehensions of abuse survivors, which is true to an extent, but the problem isn’t that. The problem is actually that it doesn’t enter into the political, doesn’t want to deal with the mainstream politics of gender violence and how embedded it is in our patriarchal institutions, whether it’s the parliament, the courts, or police stations. For there to be any kind of structural impact, one must consider this.

The third claim is its relatability. A false claim– it’s not for all genders. Men don’t discuss bodies in public spaces, codes of masculinity do not permit it. The issues of trans women are way more different given their insertion in the mainstream workforce is still in the process of making headway. #MeToo is specifically meant for ‘biologically female’ women. It’s not only about harassment at one’s workplace. It raises numerous questions: how much of your time can your employer demand besides working hours (as an intimidation tactic)? What about one’s inability to exercise consent freely? What of the vulnerabilities created in the mainstream discourse caused by our small acts of forgiveness? Someone pointed out, “the unifying factor in this, is not the victim’s gender, but the perpetrator’s gender.” Let’s focus on perpetrators, not survivors.

Likely survivors will log off and continue with their lives. Will it spur the state towards building trauma centres?  India is a particularly horrible place, where we have had instances of women and children being abused inside them, or at police stations attempting to file a complaint, or by lawyers in court, and so on. Does it lessen the rampant misogyny within the police force, does it deter men in power from abusing women further?

Perhaps not, but we’ve been on our way a while. One must do this responsibly– if you look at the history of feminist struggle, its triumphs are earned by demanding justice, being physically there, every day, speaking truth to power, going beyond the personal. One only hopes that this a step towards it, and doesn’t end at the ‘log out’ button.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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