One year ago, on October 5th, 2017, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, who are reporters at The New York Times, published their groundbreaking story revealing decades of sexual misconduct endured by tens of women at the hands of Harvey Weinstein, the man behind Miramax, as well as the Weinstein Company- two of the biggest and most important production houses in Hollywood. What followed was a cascade of revelations on twitter (and elsewhere) of countless women, tagged with the #MeToo.
MeToo existed long before the Weinstein saga. In 2007, Ms Tarana Burke, an activist, created Just Be Inc., a nonprofit to help victims of sexual harassment, and committed herself to uniting them and making their stories heard. She then gave this movement a name: Me Too. The flame was well kindled in 2017 when Alyssa Milano, an American actress and activist, tweeted with the hashtag encouraging women to share their personal accounts in the wake of the Weinstein scandal. Soon, the hashtag gained global traction.
In India, it all began last year when Tanushree Dutta accused Nana Patekar of sexually harassing her on a film set in 2008. Eventually, more men in both Bollywood and South Indian industries (especially Malayalam) have been accused. This has made MeToo a topic of national discussion. However, these discussions have been limited to a tiny demographic of English-speaking, urban-dwelling and internet enabled Indians. It is relatively bleak outside these brackets.
The massive outreach of communication in this age, coupled with the ease and anonymity that the internet provides, and the equal footing it gives to literally everyone who has access to it, served to make this simple two-worded term what it is today. Suddenly, there was no shame in sharing stories that women tend to keep to themselves. Suddenly, people were sharing deeply personal incidents within 280 characters.
But women have always known this to be a daily reality. Almost every woman you know has had an unwelcome encounter with a man; be it at work, in social settings, in public transportation, or even in their own homes. For many, the first brush with harassment occurred when they weren’t even ‘women.’ But it took a twitter trend for people who ignored it to get a sense of how overwhelmingly common such acts of harassment are.
For people in the limelight, this means a reassessment of the unquestioned power they usually wield. And for the rest of us, it marks the beginning of an important discourse on how the gender relations in the nation (and the world) must be revamped. It means that predatory behaviour needs to have some form of repercussion, either legal or societal. What we can do as students and civilians may have a limited scope. However, since we form a major section of what will become the nation’s workforce, our actions do have significance. It is, hence, upon us to reshape our mindsets and influence those around us to do the same.
Those of us want to see change should be observant of predatory behaviour around us and call out abusers we know, be it in a college campus or elsewhere. Often, people get away with such acts simply because those who know better stand in the sidelines and hesitate to call them out. No one must be let off the hook for the discomfort and pain they inflict, even if it means confronting them may lead to an uncomfortable situation. If that isn’t possible, the least we can do is warn other people against said abusers and make them known for what they are doing. What we must also do is support those who are being abused, and offer help in case they are willing to report the crime. Tangible change doesn’t come with awareness alone; it needs action.
Those of us who think we might be in the wrong, should welcome criticism and educate ourselves with an open mind. And accept that our ‘casual’ sexist remarks that someone pointed out is a reflection of the deep running patriarchal setup, and should not be allowed to pass as unimportant. And when we laugh when someone makes a ‘harmless’ sexist joke, we indirectly given them validation that they definitely should not get. Call them out even when a woman is not around.
And finally, those of us who have been, or are being abused, must not hold ourselves at fault at all. Thoughts of guilt and second guessing ourselves will occur, but in those moments we must remind ourselves that we deserve dignity and indisputable bodily sovereignty by virtue of being human.
It is important to share our accounts to throw light on the sheer magnitude of the problem, to out abusers and protect others from potential abuse at their hands. By sharing our own instances of harassment, we can help other victims feel less alone. A real, personal account makes the listener see past their own cynicism and get a true sense of the impact it has on the victim. By speaking truth to power, we take control of the narrative away from the naysayers, and make ourselves seen.
MeToo should be looked at as a subset of a larger, ongoing movement for the erasure of rape culture, and towards gender equality. The hashtag is an indication of the kind of conversations we should be having. And restricting these conversations to the internet is no good. It is vital that we speak up in everyday life, continually critique the current way of things, and evaluate its fairness. It is vital that abusers among us don’t carry on unseen. It is vital that we hold a mirror to the mistreatment we endured, no matter how trivial it may seem. In the context of this movement, strength lies in solidarity.
Even if the current discourse eventually loses its momentum, and the term loses its buzz online, we must keep the conversation going. Sure, we do need better laws and a more effective due process, but lasting change does not come with legislation alone. It requires a shift in our collective attitudes. MeToo is no endgame. It is merely the start of a change in the way we see the seemingly trivial issues that women deal with. They act as extra roadblocks in her path of trying to get somewhere in life, which she should not have to put up with.