• #MeToo: A Voice That Awoke the Sleeping

    Translated by Yogesh S

    H S Anupama

    November 12, 2018

    Voices of women against oppression are silenced arguing that they are subjective experiences. Campaigns and movements like “#MeToo” aim precisely to break this notion and claim the universality of these experiences.

    Inferiority complex is the gift that women in India receive as part of their socialisation, indoctrinated at every stage. The main goal of social institutions such as marriage, family, motherhood and others is the repression of women. Not fighting this repression and embracing it as the natural state of being is the main cause of all the issues that women face in this country. Hence, a sigh of a woman speaks what even thousand pages cannot comprehend.

    ”MeToo” is a collection of many such sighs. The stories that have come out are not personal experiences of pain. Whether it is of Priya Ramani, Tanushree Dutta, Shruti Hariharan, or Kangana Ranaut; they are the stories of oppression suffered by innumerable women. “Me Too”, just like any other campaign or movement, aims at achieving equality: the oppressed should organise and fight for equality, and “Me Too” has organised certain sections of women.

    Most social organisations thrive on male domination. Cinema and media are not an exception to this. The colourful world of cinema and media, that foster patriarchy and male domination, are the prominent sites of sexual harassment.

    Sexual harassment that women face at the workplace is perceived to be an act that violates the dignity of the organisation, and thus it becomes a tool that men use to control women at the workplace. Most men believe the Freudian idea of female sexuality, according to which it is “inactive, hysterical and innately submissive”, and women are socialised into believing that they are the objects of desire and are incapable of desiring. This is the sentiment that runs through all classes of people. This, in fact, is obstructing liberation of women in its true sense.

    “Me Too” has set a stage for the voices against sexual harassment that cut through these oppressive sentiments prevalent in the worlds of cinema and media. The discussion around the violation of self-esteem and respect of female actors started in the Malayalam Film Industry, following accusation of sexual harassment against the actor Dileep in 2017 by a female actor. Prominent female actors of the industry came together to form “Women in Cinema Collective”. This rolled out the movement across the nation. The same year in October, Alyssa Milano a female actor of Hollywood accused the director Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment, giving rise to the “Me Too” campaign as “hashtag Me Too” (#Me Too).  The movement, which started in Hollywood spread like wildfire across the globe. “Prominent women” began to out the perverted behaviours of their “prominent” male counter parts. The true colours of the actors, directors and other male members of the cinema fraternity became public.  

    In September 2018, a year after the “Me Too” movement started, Tanushree Datta, a former actor in the Hindi film industry publicly accused Nana Patekar of sexual harassment. She had to pay a heavy price because of the harassment that she faced at the hands of the actor: the harassment pushed her into depression and she turned towards eastern spirituality, Buddhism, vipasana, and Christianity to recover from her depression. She left her career in the film industry and currently is settled in the United States of America.

    This gave rise to women who believe to speak up. Priya Ramani, a senior journalist accused M J Akbar, a senior journalist and a Minister, of sexual harassment. Following Ramani’s accusation, horrific stories of harassment by Akbar started to emerge. The same development took place in Karnataka and “Me Too” became the centre of all discussions. Most of the men who have been accused are trying to find ways to destroy the careers of the women who are speaking up and to try and repress their voices. They are also at the forefront of the efforts to erase all the available evidence against them.

    Against this backdrop, the women’s movement is beginning to address the condition of upper class women, and women in the cinema industry, only to realise that women across all classes are oppressed. These few women who are speaking up against sexual harassment have probably made it easy for many women.

    “Metro Feminism”?

    “Me Too” is also being criticised by a few. Some of the women who are raising their voices are being called homosexuals and thus attempting to argue that they cannot be harassed by men; amidst such ignorant theories also rests the defence for the accused by their female colleagues, claiming that they are innocent; and many women themselves are seen arguing that these women who are raising their voices are doing so to gain cheap publicity. All such criticisms makes one wonder, what is it that is making these women turn their backs towards other women who are speaking up?

    In the history of human civilisation, the first ones to be enslaved were women.  As Frederick Engels said, woman has been a slave of a slave of a slave. The mindset responsible for this is still thriving even in 2018.  Even though none of the scriptures ban the entry of the menstruating women into Sabarimala temple, and the Supreme Court passed a verdict permitting the entry of women, we see women themselves protesting against the verdict and insisting that no woman should enter the temple. Similarly, there are democratically elected female representatives who insist that their male relatives accompany them to their office meetings. These women criticise the women who are speaking up in the “Me Too” movement. This is only because women are presented with submissive and enslaved ideals to look up to. All these instances show the influence of wrong models and ideals that make women submissive and enslaved.

    This is also the main reason why women find it difficult to talk about the harassment that they face. The voices of women against oppression are silenced arguing that they are subjective experiences. Campaigns and movements like “Me Too” aim precisely to break this notion and claim the universality of these experiences. Those women who are speaking up are saying that their problem is not theirs alone. Sexual harassment should be discussed openly just as caste-class-religion based violence is discussed and the solution should be sought publicly.

    Some women have criticised the “#MeToo” campaign as “Metro Feminism” and “Corporate Feminism”. This criticism comes in the light of the attention that the narratives of sexual harassment of the upper class and famous women are getting by the same media that ignores the plight working class women. 

    Yes, it is true that these women are upper class and famous women. Who made these women famous? It is the privatization that has generated a market for the private lives of these women and in turn making them famous. The society and media have both forgotten that these famous women are just like any other human being and they are only interested in prying into their private lives. Let us not forget, fame is a responsibility. Historically it has been the responsibility of women to guard the honour, name and fame of a certain community and/or class. This responsibility in turn has forced women into being silent their entire lives. It is hurtful to see these women who took a step forward towards a change being criticised for all the wrong reasons. This campaign, no doubt, should not be limited only to the famous and upper class women but should also reach out to the working class and lower caste women; but the question is, whose responsibility is it to make this possible?

    Such criticisms also assume that the working class and lower castes lack the ability to think. These assumptions in themselves are a reflection of feudal values. There exist working class women who are empowered to make all the decisions in their lives and those who have become prey for the desire for money. There are women behind the walls of places, who are lazy and have given into the oppressive social orders and there are women who cry due to the oppression.  In Karnataka, when a female Ramakatha singer (an upper caste woman who went to court) was sexually harassed by a ‘God man’, the community of the singer had claimed, that if she was from a lower caste then it would have become international news, but as she is an upper caste woman, no one is interested in listening to her. On the other hand, such groups also exist which say, that when Dalit women in Khairlanji-Vijayapura-Malur are raped and killed, it doesn’t move anybody, but a Nirbhaya would drag the whole nation out on the streets.

    What is true?

    Violence is the only reality. Mathura was a tribal girl; Aruna Shanubaug was a nurse; Nirbhaya was from Delhi; Soujanya was from a poor family near Dharmasthala, Karnataka; young girls of Vijaypur and Kashmir were Dalit and Muslim – true. But irrespective of their caste, religion, class, nationality, organisation or party affiliation, when someone says they were hurt, it should shake one’s conscience. This is the only truth. It is the responsibility of each one of us, to be there for those who confide about the harassment and to ensure it does not happen with anybody again in future. It is inevitable for the women’s movement today, to break the boundaries of community, class and sexuality.

    Standing with all those who are oppressed is feminism. It stands for the liberation of all oppressed human beings, both women and men. If campaigns like “#MeToo”, “Happy to Bleed”, “Kiss of Love” and the temple entry movement aim at shaking at least one stone in the foundation of the casteist patriarchal Indian society, then it is our duty to support them. They should be supported by every woman.


     

    H S Anupama is a doctor by profession. She finished her medical degree at Bellary Medical College. She has been running Jalaja General And Maternity Clinic at a small village in coastal Karnataka since 24 years. She works in collaboration with many women's, dalit and democratic organisations. She runs a publishing house called “Kavi Prakashana” and is an ex-member of Kuvempu Bhasha Bharathi Pradhikara.

    Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the writer's own, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Indian Writers' Forum.

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