There has been a particularly disturbing WhatsApp message* doing rounds since Twitter has been on fire with the #MeTooIndia and #TimesUp. Some of the smart, intelligent women I know have been spouting highly toxic opinions on their social media pages shaming and blaming the victims. Since these reactions are triggering for many of us, we are not left with many choices when it comes to responding to the self-righteous vitriol. Of course, one option is to ignore. Then there is the angry, sarcastic retort and lastly the reactionary blocking.
I hope to engage with these women in a non-judgemental way to slowly loosen the hold of patriarchy and unseat the misogyny, which is so deep-rooted that most of these women may not even be aware of it. So, here is an honest attempt to explain why you are wrong in asking #WhyDidntSheReportIt or why didn’t she slap her harasser, or why she chose to come out after so many years.
Dear “Strong” Indian Women,
I understand why you feel that you would have slapped the perpetrator and not put up with harassment and gone to the police instead of being on social media. After all, the victims and women like me also thought exactly like that several years ago.
So here is a response to every uncomfortable question that you have raised ever since Tanushree Dutta accused Nana Patekar, and the real reason that you perhaps overlooked – while you were quick to blame her and others like her who spoke up.
Firstly, she did go to the police years ago and even now. Secondly, and most importantly, it is crucial to name and shame the person, so that more people are aware and can choose whether they want to work with such a person or not. Think of it like the creepy guy who feels up women during Holi. How many women in the building will go to the police? At some point, if they end up discussing it amongst themselves and then they may choose to rally and avoid the person by sticking to one another. Isn’t that something most of us are familiar with? But, wouldn’t it be better for our sisters, daughters, friends and relatives if that person was publicly named and shamed?
One of the recurring arguments is about how the “film” industry is a place which is “like that only”. The long list of offenders in academia (LoSHA) and other industries should come as an eye-opener to those who think this is limited to the film industry. Also, apart from the film stars, there are thousands of other people who are employed by this industry, some of whom might be working in the marketing, accounts, sales and other such “non-glamourous” departments. Even if they are part of the “glamorous world of showbiz” should we condone the perpetrators of sexual assault by saying that it’s common? Is that your argument? Ye hota raha hai toh hone do?
This is like saying what is wrong with asking for some money as dowry if the parents can afford it – well because it’s still a crime! Why should any girl or woman be groped, flashed or masturbated on? In what kind of a world do you want to live? How can you justify such behaviour? And do you really not realise that any kind of sexual harassment or assault is a grievance that must be addressed because not holding abusers accountable will only escalate their actions? This attitude is what leads to rape culture in India.
Could you truly not believe that they could have been shocked and also thought about all the things you are thinking, like why wasn’t I careful, or I should have seen this coming? And there is no denying the safety and strength in numbers. This doesn’t happen only in India, the world over we are witnessing women finding the courage to speak up after decades. Please take the trouble to read their accounts or watch this BBC documentary on Bill Cosby, which will really answer this question.
Why now and that too without naming him? I want you to stop thinking of this in theory and really for a moment picture a horrific crime like rape and a powerful perpetrator. Treat her disclosure the way you would want people to listen to you when you bared your deepest, darkest, shameful memory. Yes shameful, because thanks to women and men who continue to blame the victim, the shame continues to be theirs.
So, I have read about how she could have called the hotel staff or gone to another room. Yes, she could have done all that. Hindsight is 20-20. I am sure she thought about all that as well. But, are you trying to say that sleeping there was what caused him to assault her? Do you really believe that the men in your life would behave the same way with any woman? Then why would she expect Vikas to act like that? Forget a colleague; any decent man would not force himself on an unwilling woman. Period.
She has every right to take it to her employers. Why shouldn’t she expect to be safe with her colleagues? Don’t the doctors, IT engineers, writers, bankers, sales professionals, and women from other walks of life deserve to be heard? Are you aware of whether the Vishaka committee guidelines are being followed at your workplace or not? Like most of us who are unaware of such policies at work, this was years ago when such issues were not even being spoken about. And, no she did not blame Anurag or Phantom for the misdeed, she only pointed out that they ignored her and continued to empower this man.
Do You Have Any Other Reason To Blame Or Shame The Women?
I only ask for one thing – that you listen to these women with an open mind, because that is the only way to shake off the dust of years of misogyny. It’s misogynistic to say, ‘I would have done this or that, why didn’t she’. To say that she ‘deserved’ it because she didn’t know better. To say that she is only supposed to speak at the time when this happened or stay silent all her life. To blame a woman in any manner for a man’s actions is wrong.
And while I am candid, here are some confessions and conclusions as a result of the soul-searching on my part during the past few days:
Myth 1: Only the old, creepy “uncle” types are the real perps! Arunabh (TVF) case last year shocked me to the core, and I have seen Utsav perform recently, and I would never have thought these “woke” young men were even capable of harassing a woman.
Myth 2: The women I know are smart and sensitive and will never indulge in victim-blaming. I had a rude awakening when someone I regarded as a very progressive woman had the worst kind of misogynistic reactions, even going so far as to say that the victim should have known better. And I thought engaging in a sensible debate will help her understand how insensitive she was being. But, I was in for a rude shock.
Ladies, I hope you read every link and watch every video in this letter before you make yet another nasty comment.
Thanks for your patience and sorry to burst your bubble.
*The viral WhatsApp message reads:
“Beautiful comments from a writer Geetanjali Arora on “me too”… You do me favours; I do you favours 30 years later let’s call it “me too”… A strong woman does not wait 30, 20, 10 years to speak up, she slaps him on the first “bad touch” and knocks him out…”
“Don’t hide your weakness, the favours in returns that you enjoyed and the work you got by “I was too scared” cry now… You were scared to say NO then because it was hard to stand up for what was right and you were scared to lose your status and position in the workplace, so YOU CHOSE to accept the molestation and went back for more…”
“It’s very easy to play the abla nari card later and gain sympathy…The Shakti does not wait for a later date to speak up; she silences the evil on the spot… My thoughts on this nonsense of ‘me too’…I don’t have ‘me too’ stories, anyone who tried got a tight slap then and there and I was never afraid to walk out with my head held high – be it in a job or relationship!!!
“Strong Women don’t have ‘me too’ sob stories, they only have – I slapped him back and scared the balls out of him… a short and simple essay.”