On MeToo, Rape Culture And The Media’s Complicity

When an entire article is based on a false premise, it carries more than just the seeds of dishonesty. Vaishna Roy’s ‘Negotiating the faultlines’ is guilty of using false arguments that are thrown at feminists every time we talk about #MeToo. At the beginning, let me state the obvious: anybody can be the victim of sexual assault, not just women, men, people in between or outside of the gender spectrum, even children, but since the article has concentrated on it, I will stick to the most common context of the male perpetrator and female victim.

As women, most of us know how difficult it is to have a verifiable narrative. Justice evades even the women who have all kinds of evidence.

Roy starts by saying that “When a movement is based on the premise that a woman must be believed simply because she is a woman, it carries the seeds of self-destruction.” The truth is, when someone says I have been robbed, you believe them. When someone says I was beaten up by so and so, you believe them. Then, why is it that when a woman says she has been raped, the instinct is to disbelieve? When all the time women are being told to be careful on the streets and at home, why is it so difficult to believe a woman who says she has been sexually violated?

Roy talks about the possibility of false allegations saying that some of the narratives in #MeToo were not verified. That was the whole point of #MeToo, right? As women, most of us know how difficult it is to have a verifiable narrative. Justice evades even the women who have all kinds of evidence. When Raya Sarkar—a DBA woman who was a law student at the time—brought out the list LoSHA – the List of Sexual Harassers in Academia, it helped give voice to many women harassed by these powerful men and kicked off a #MeToo cascade.

When more than one woman came forward against a man, the chances of holding them accountable became better, but it still didn’t make things easy for these women as in the MJ Akbar case. Just because a case can’t be proven doesn’t mean it is a false allegation. Feminists are not asking for ethics to be discarded. We are saying that we don’t have a level playing field. Power structures of various kinds might be at play in a particular case, not just gender. The intersections of class, caste, religion, disability are also factors that can affect the outcome.

Saying that victims should be believed only after the narrative can be verified is a dangerous way to derail the #MeToo movement. Coming to false allegations, yes, sadly, they exist, but only 2–8% rape allegations are false. This figure of 2–8% applies to false accusations in any crime but guess which is the only one people talk about? Now think about the vast number of cases where the victim doesn’t come forward fearing stigma, backlash and social ostracism.

If there is one constant in women’s lives, it is the fear of men whether it be on streets, homes or online.

The National Family Health Survey 2015-2016—covering seven lakh women—calculated trends in underreporting of crimes by comparing data on actual experiences of crime victims with that of crime recorded by the police compiled by National Crime Records Bureau. It was found that 99% of violence faced by women go unreported. If marital rape (which is not even a crime in India) and assault are excluded from the analysis, the extent of reporting is still dismal: only about 15% of sexual violence committed by others (someone other than the current husband) is reported to the police.

Roy then talks about how men lost career and reputation because of #MeToo. A sexual predator losing career, family, friends is a consequence of their own actions. On the other hand, women who came forward with their stories during #MeToo never asked to be in such a situation and have had to face backlash more often either by being labeled trouble creators or called attention seekers. A study post #MeToo even found that 19% of men said they were reluctant to hire attractive women for jobs, 21% were reluctant to hire women for jobs involving close interpersonal interactions, and 27% of men said they avoided one-on-one meeting with female colleagues (Yes, the study itself seems to bring up other issues, but that discussion we will keep for another day).

About the case Roy has been discussing, she says, “If the charges against him are false, it is impossible to dismiss him as collateral damage.” Please remember that when the accusations first came to light, the person in question had actually apologised to the woman who accused him. If the charges were false, what was he apologising for?

In the Malayalam film industry, actress Parvathy and others in the Women in Cinema Collective are not being offered films because they raised issues faced by women. The collective came into existence after an actress was sexually assaulted. The way these brave women have been ostracised is nothing surprising to feminists. It is the norm. Victims are punished for speaking up, and perpetrators are always given the benefit of the doubt. Actor Dileep who has been accused of masterminding the attack on the actress is back after a short stint in jail. His movies are regularly aired, and he hardly seems to have suffered much of a setback. So much for men losing out…

The article talks about how “too many episodes in #MeToo seemed mystifying” , and “that these women had agency and could have avoided these situations.” Not only is this victim-blaming 101, it basically trashes the whole movement. “In many cases, the men had no power over the women: often they hadn’t even met,” writes Roy. This is a very reductive way of looking at the #MeToo movement. No examples are given—just vague conjectures.

Criticism is important but critiquing a movement like #MeToo requires a basic understanding of the power structures at play.

If there is one constant in women’s lives, it is the fear of men whether it be on streets, homes or online. To say that men lack power is to ignore the whole power dynamics of gender. The women were the ones with agency, but hey, the guy were just being creepy. Nothing serious. Roy is bothered about how educated, independent women were a major part of the women who spoke up during Me Too. She says, “This might, one suspects, be an indicator of a deeper malaise or symptoms of a struggle to cope with singled and sexual liberation.” Wait, what?

Is it so difficult to understand the demographics behind #MeToo? It requires some amount of privilege to be able to come out and talk about your abuse. That is why feminists keep talking about how the #MeToo barely scratched the surface. The movement has yet to reach the poor women, Dalit women, Adivasi women, sex workers, disabled women, people in between and outside of the gender spectrum, and so many more. Unless the marginalised have a safe platform to speak from, our work is far from over.

Roy goes on “Is the free-sex concept putting a different kind of pressure upon women.” And at this point, I had to check again that this was ‘The Hindu’ which had published this opinion piece. I am aghast. When there is a brutal gang-rape and murder, people want capital punishment for the culprits. Still, when a survivor comes forward with her story, she goes through another cycle of abuse at the hands of the legal system, the society, her family and the media. 

When a movement has barely exposed the tip of the iceberg, but you have dishonest opinion pieces like these published in reputed papers, you realise that the problem is too deep-rooted. You realise that #MeToo has barely managed to make even a small dent into the prevailing rape culture. This is a kind of doublespeak of rape culture in which the media is complicit: compassion for women who are raped and murdered, but contempt for a survivor when she speaks up about her experience.

Last but not least, if your concern is for the men, then it should be because men can be rape victims too. In fact, a man is 230 times more likely to be raped than to be falsely accused of rape. The MeToo movement gave voice to the victims regardless of gender and sexual orientation. MRAs constantly trash the movement. Journalists and media need to be careful before trashing a movement summarily. No movement is perfect. Criticism is important but critiquing a movement like #MeToo requires a basic understanding of the power structures at play. Sadly, this opinion piece misses the point.

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