The Hashtag #MeToo is not trending for the first time. Last time when it was trending, women were just using it to make people realize how common harassment is in their lives. This time, MeToo is coming up with testimonies of the survivors of abuse. Many cases have surfaced and many shocking cases are still about to come. Many famous actors, journalists, academicians, politicians, etc. have been accused of harassment and the movement is growing wider day by day.
The question that arises during criticism of MeToo is why so many women are speaking up now? Some of the survivors are speaking up after many years of abuse. What is actually the relevance of MeToo and why it was much needed during the third wave of feminism.
The most common questions raised by critics are:
There are several factors that prevent a woman from reporting an incident of harassment (these can be considered for survivors of abuse other than women too but in a patriarchy, they face this the most). These include –
1. Victim Blaming – Survivors get blamed for their assault. The society which trains women on how not to get raped or avoid rape starts bashing the abused rather than punishing the abuser. The most common questions asked are – what was she wearing? why was she out so late ? why was she drunk, etc.
2. Intimidation – More often, the intimidation by the abuser begins just after the abuse. It could range from tarnishing image, killing or harming the survivor or their family members, more harassment, etc.
3. Backlash and slut-shaming – Backlash, slut-shaming, social boycott of the victim or their family is another reason for not speaking up. Many survivors are not believed when they speak up.
4. Not getting justice – The loopholes in the due process are a huge reason for not speaking up.
The first question which is often coming up and is –
The answer is simple and complex at the same time. The survivors go through a lot when they get harassed. Many of them never come up or talk about their harassment even on their death bed. There can be several reasons for coming up right now, including –
Feeling that they might get justice – Some of them are also going to courts and trying to seek justice. They are feeling they are not alone in this which might have not been the case long ago.
If the abuser is now in a powerful position and can harm others – For example, in the U.S, Dr Basley Ford came up with her testimony after many years when Brett Kavanaugh was running for a Supreme Court post because she realized it’s not about her anymore, it was about protecting more women who might go to court to get justice and a harasser will be making judgments. There are plenty of women who choose to remain silent for the sake of their safety but quietly inform people around the abuser for their safety. Many women come up when they realize that their abusers will have the power to abuse many more, in fact, hundreds of women if they choose to remain silent now.
Because they had had enough with the abuse – Many of the victims are coming up after bearing abuse and the aftermath of it for years. They are feeling that people will listen to them, believe them.
Because the aftermath of abuse made them push themselves back – The aftermath of harassment can range from PTSD, depression, anxiety, inability to trust people, if it is done by an intimate partner then it affects future relationships of the victim, and could cause isolation, under performance for years.
The abuser is unknown/ known – The abuser might be a family friend, family member, partner/husband/ boyfriend/girlfriend/wife, a boss, which made them accept it and stay silent for the sake of not ruining relations/ties. Sometimes the abuser is unknown, they assault and leave. If you got harassed at a party, on the street, workplace, etc. and don’t know who the abuser was then they think they cannot even report it.
The second question is of public shaming-
Some victims don’t believe in the due legal process – It is notable that somewhere this disbelief in due process is a failure of a larger movement. They are sure about not getting justice and constantly going through their trauma in the court while being unsure if they will be believed, is a major reason. The entire process might take a couple of years, they might not have the financial resource to pursue a case in the court of law. They want to avoid the constant character assassination.
They feel unsafe – This is one of the most common factors why many victims are public shaming their abusers and many of them haven’t even shared their testimonies. They don’t feel safe. The intimidation by their abusers, followers of their abusers, etc. will be scary enough for them.
Their abusers are powerful – Here comes the class, caste factor. If they know that their abuser is powerful in terms of resources or is of higher class/caste the victims refuse to file cases knowing that filing a case will only lead to more backlash. Be it urban parts or rural ones, women don’t want to make themselves and their family suffer because of speaking up. It is the same thing in villages; for decades, upper caste men have been harassing lower caste women to assert their domination over the entire caste group, and women tend to stay silent as speaking up will only lead to more humiliation. In urban settings, this could be the case in the context of class and reputation that a man has. Many victims like Tanushree Dutta, Dr. Ford are getting trolled, abused daily for speaking up against their abusers. There are plenty of examples from the daily lives of women at the workplace and universities where victims were morally policed and they gave up the complaint.
If we start noticing, there is an anti-MeToo narrative running parallel to this movement mainly in right wing circuits. The most common people against me too are Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs), right-wingers, conservatives, capitalists because #MeToo harms their power structure. Movements like these put them under the scanner. They are more likely to moral-police women and LGBTQIA+ community as such movements damage their attitude towards everyone. It teaches mostly men to be accountable for their actions which is deterrent to patriarchal structure. The narrative of attention-seeking, fake cases to earn fame are narratives of these groups to push the survivor back, it’s nothing but another way to put ‘women back in their places’. Harassment over the years is also used to punish women and other people who do not fit into patriarchal ideals. It has been a tool of social structure which came up with zero responsibilities as women refused to speak up or are told to shut up by victim blaming. Again, the parallel narrative is trying to put women back in their places by victim blaming, slut shaming, character assassination and spreading the word that sexual assault allegations ruin careers and reputations of men. The narrative of “reputation of our sons, brothers, fathers” are at stake as any woman can claim harassment under #MeToo; it is a toxic pressure building up to shut survivors by showing men as vulnerable to false cases while labeling all testimonies as fake.
The left wing, however, is in solidarity with the movement while asking survivors to go for due legal process as it’s high time women stay silent about their experiences.
This is a commonly asked question during debates around #MeToo. Why is it that we need to doubt survivors of abuse? The answers that are often given are that false cases are rising. If you go by legal and government records, false cases are a smaller part while there is a huge list of reported and under-reported cases of harassment. I am not saying we deny false accusations but doubting women coming up and many waiting to come up is not a justified response. It’s 2018, we need to stop prioritizing men over women. We can give these victims a benefit of doubt. There are enough women who got abused and spoke up; we should believe all women instead of scrutinizing and thinking whether they are lying or not.
By the way, what do women get by talking about harassment? A life full of personal attacks and trolling.
#MeToo is now not limited to women, many men and queer people are also sharing their experiences. Our response to #MeToo will only decide whether more survivors want to speak up or not.