Among the names of professors on the #MeToo list in India released in 2017 was the name of a professor of a liberal journalism college where I went two years later. The college brushed off its responsibility by saying that the alleged sexual harassment incident between the accused professor and the student took place outside of the campus. The professor, on the other hand, voluntarily withdrew from teaching for the next academic year. He continued being a columnist for a renowned paper that year. The year after that, he wanted to slowly integrate himself back to college through the elective course he used to take.
It was a rotten attempt to slowly start sending students of that course for a few sessions outside of the campus and at the cultural space that the professor used to run. Coincidently, this was also the space where the alleged harassment had taken place. The teacher for the elective course suggested her students, most of whom happened to be women, that they could benefit from a few classes with that professors and wanted them to consider the option.
As the news travelled to the rest of the college, students started taking sides on Twitter and sticking debates in the college garden. Since it was supposed to be a liberal college, most women students were disgusted by the suggestion and vehemently refused to allow the college to integrate the accused professor back to college that year. Since it was supposed to be a liberal college, most male students, a minority in number, supported the women students. Since it was supposed to be a liberal college, none of the faculty members (except one) tried to address this obviously-heated topic that week in college.
Amid this, there was a popular male student who thought that accused or not, that professor was a renowned practitioner and students must not miss out on this learning. He voiced out his opinion on Twitter, which was followed by more enraging comments and indignant screenshots by fellow students. His female friends from that elective course stopped hanging out with him and he’d sit alone between classes for the next few days.
It only seemed fair.
How else do we engage with people who, despite being in a liberal college, use the same-old forgiving, patriarchal excuses for the meritorious who have been accused? It irks and tires women to listen to these narratives from everyone around us. We do not want to enrage ourselves further by interacting with their opinions.
But I feel there is supposed to be a better response to these opinions than non-engagement. I think hostility brings more divide and doesn’t allow men to become allies to the feminist movement. The discourse that helps women realise the feminist cause and the time it takes to bring awareness to them is different from the discourse and time needed to help men understand the feminist cause. The cause is faster to find support among women who live with the debilitating effect of patriarchy. For many men, this support comes by explaining others’ debilitation.
I went to that guy, a friend, when I got to know about his Twitter battle and talked to him for three hours. I discussed with him the threat that women feel around most men, especially men with history. I told him how his women friends are looking for support from him in not inviting the accused professor for a class. We talked about journalists who were called out as part of the MeToo movement and how one of them was probably a false accusation. We discussed how it one false case is not enough to dismiss the rest of the accusations. He agreed with how difficult it is to even prove or disprove these accusations.
The next day, we talked again. He thanked me for sitting with him to discuss these issues instead of throwing aggressive opinions at him over social media. I don’t know how supportive he became of the cause after that. I don’t know for how long his support lasted. Did he start calling himself a feminist or even an ally after that? Did he go and talk to him friends about this? I don’t know.
It never takes one conversation to make people shift their opinions. But all it takes is one conversation to initiate that shift.
And that is how I stood up against patriarchy.