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.