Time for a #MenToo movement now!

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Sabrina Almeida

#MenToo could symbolize many things! For one, men too face sexual assault, harassment and unwelcome advances. However, the issue receives less attention probably because there are a smaller number of victims when compared to women. Or, they remain largely unknown—shamed into silence by men’s need to conform to the traditional tough guy image. Nonetheless it is real, and the attacker could be a man or a woman.

Three friends recently shared their stories, one was assaulted by a priest, the second his uncle and the third his mother’s best friend who incidentally was a woman. With the conversation on sexual assault gaining momentum and volume, they felt empowered to speak more than 20 years after the incidents had taken place.

Listening to their experiences was awkward. I could see the ladies in the room shift uncomfortably in their seats while the other men looked down unable to meet their eyes during this revelation. We’re accustomed to women sharing their stories and quick to reassure them but didn’t know how to process the revelations by the male victims. As is the case with any uncomfortable subject, the conversation quickly shifted to another topic. I couldn’t help feeling that we had let our friends down and simply because in our minds this was the wrong gender enduring the problem. Not that we didn’t believe them.

They too were probably relieved that we didn’t probe further or attempt to comfort them. After all boys and men are supposed to be able to defend themselves and the women around them as well. Nevertheless, it was difficult to hear.

#MenToo could also be an expression of male and female solidarity… According to media reports some tried it out when the MeToo movement suggested all men were guilty and to be shamed! I could be disowned for implying otherwise but rotten apples shouldn’t be allowed to tarnish good men. Perhaps, that’s why the movement was ill-received and gained little traction. We simply aren’t allowed to sympathize with men and call out the female opportunists and scorned women who engage in a witch hunt. We must support the “weaker” sex. Never mind the fact that one accusation can destroy a man’s entire life. An innocent verdict will not restore his reputation or career because it doesn’t make headlines like the allegations do.

Australian author Bettina Arndt attempted to present the other side in her book #MenToo. She believes, and I agree, that feminism has gone off the rails as some feminists are using the MeToo movement to crush male sexuality. Given the strong sentiment in favour of the female gender, it is not surprising that she and other women who support innocent men face intense hostility. She writes about the unfair tilt towards women in laws and regulations and the rising rates of suicides by men which could be the result of it.

Recently Pooja Bedi (a former Bollywood actress, television talk show host and newspaper columnist) spoke out in support of her best friend Karan Oberoi, the latest actor to be accused of rape. True or not, Bedi questions the public’s verdict that he is guilty and blames the Indian media for his almost immediate sentencing by society. More importantly she acknowledges that the authorities were virtually powerless and had to go through the motions dictated by law. And public sentiment I might add.

She points out the strong need to punish women who wrongly accuse men purely for personal vendetta and extortion purposes. I too am of the opinion that they should be publicly shamed just like the perpetrators of sexual assault and harassment are.

Unfortunately, although the #MeToo movement was essential to putting the evildoers on notice it has also created a culture of fear and suspicion between men and women. Any word or action could be misconstrued in favour of the female gender. Everyday brings new stories of powerful and other men assaulting or harassing women. While there are several campaigns calling for men to speak out against these criminals and support female survivors, it is equally important for us women to raise our voices in defence of men who have been wrongly accused. Let’s not automatically assume that all men are guilty. I’d hate for my husband, sons or male friends to be in that horrible position.

So yes, I will support #MenToo because it is as important as #MeToo!

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