I was surprised by the response to the #MeToo movement in my Facebook circle… most of which is of Indian origin. We typically don’t like to speak about these distasteful advances that girls and women in India, at least, are subjected to virtually every day. Perhaps because it makes you relive all those repulsive situations you’ve pushed into the furthest recesses of your mind.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that you walk out the front door every morning mentally preparing yourself for the onslaught and ways to shield yourself. From the disrobing stares of the elevator operator in your apartment building to the persistent unwelcome attention of male colleagues—we are conditioned to accept and deal with it as part of life. Just being a man puts you in a position of power, status had nothing to do with it. That was my experience growing up and I am not sure it has changed much since then.
The defensive behavior that resulted has never left me. And while I may have lowered my guard a bit having lived for almost two decades in North America, it comes to the fore whenever I go back.
Nobody ever talked about sexual harassment in the work place when I began my career almost 30 years ago. Let alone tell a superior about it or stand up to the perpetrator. It was too shameful, almost as if you had invited the attention. You’d just pray for it to go away, even go over the incident in your mind to be sure you had not imagined it. Those that had brothers or a male colleague they trusted might consider getting them to intervene depending on the threat level. One in a hundred might actually call out the depraved colleague but rarely the boss or relative.
Yes, we talk about it quite openly now. Compare stories and nod our heads in solidarity. Even our mothers and aunts are now willing to speak out! While you might think of it as a major leap forward, and it is, one cannot escape the magnitude of the problem. Across generations and borders too, recent news reveals!
Though we were all victims, it is time to acknowledge that our silence enabled these shameless men to continue doing this. To us and who knows how many others. If there is one thing that most of us regret, it is not standing up for ourselves. Held hostage by misplaced guilt and shame, we didn’t dare risk any exposure.
It is heartening to see friends come out in the open and share their experiences… encouraging others to do the same. Somewhat cathartic… to unburden yourself, know that others felt your pain and have some contrite men apologize for their role in it.
But it’s not enough and collective action should not stop with the sharing of stories on social media. Unburdening yourself and expressing rage or sorrow might be what the shrink ordered but much more is required for healing and to prevent it from claiming more victims.
I am almost certain that while we are ready to talk about these experiences, even on a public platform, most would shy away from confronting the offenders. Chances are the people who have harassed you will never see your social post or be at the rally you are speaking at.
Yet this might be the only effective action. Calling out and shaming the culprits. Unfortunately their families will be collateral damage but there just isn’t any other way.
Even more deplorable are women who defend the wrongdoers because of their personal relationships —be it a father, brother, husband or son. No job or relationship is worth putting up with or condoning this behaviour.
Speaking out has a critical purpose– to prevent the offender from bullying and harming someone else. To stop others in their tracks for the fear of being exposed. After all their fear is the same as their victims –social shame!
#MeToo must morph into a campaign that will empower women to cast aside their fear (and shame) and stand up to a colleague, boss, acquaintance or relative who dares treat them this way.