In response to the mass molestation that took place in Bangalore on New Year’s night, the hashtag #NotAllMen started trending across social media. Intended as a way to separate the men of this nation from rapists, molesters and violators of personal space, the movement is a popular one in the United States – but for India, this was a first.
The hashtag displayed a sense of moral superiority – one to be worn as a shiny badge.
On one level, I wanted to be party to this. I don’t want to be clubbed with rapists and molesters. That is not the way I was raised, that’s not what I was taught. But, was I inadvertently distancing myself from the reality of the issue?
The Individual and the Twitterverse
The fact that #NotAllMen started trending did not come as a shock to me.
The anonymity of the internet has given my gender a veritable safety net, where opposition is swiftly dealt with in the form of angry responses typed in ALL CAPS.
But how am I any different? What have I done to prevent this in any way? Why do I distance myself from empathising with the struggles women face on a daily basis?
I voice my concerns through carefully crafted words on social media, but I’m not influencing any real change. I have been making myself feel better, but I have not been dissimilar to the proponents of #NotAllMen.
Passive Involvement vs Active Participation
Passive responses by men on Twitter sharply contrast with the active displays of unhappiness with which women take to the streets on a regular basis. I have seen several protests, both online and on the ground, that are organised against misogynistic comments of politicians or notable instances of rape. Yet, I and many other men, have been reluctant to support the movement where it mattered.
It becomes too much for me to confront the truth and actually do something about it.
Women whom I respect and admire are often out on the front lines advocating for fair treatment which I, as a man, am blessed with from birth. The fact that I don’t put myself on the line, the fact that I feel safe in my cocoon, the fact that I silently thrive in the intense construct of patriarchy does disgust me.
How Do We Respond?
How then, do I take it further? What are men supposed to do in situations like these? How are they supposed to say that they’re not okay with something happening right in front of their eyes?
Not all men are rapists and molesters, but ALL men need to create safer spaces for dialogue. We cannot deny the popularity of online communication and thus need to find ways in which real life interactions reflect what we post online.
In the same manner in which women deal with the struggles of their daily lives, men must be equally vigilant in informing opinion and broadening the outlook of those nearest to them.
There is a need for men to challenge the more overlooked aspects of patriarchy.
- Brothers need to point out to their parents that their sisters are getting treated much more harshly for similar behaviour.
- Male partners need to shut up and listen with empathy when their female partner speaks about even the slightest form of sexual harassment – be it a glance, a push or a feeling.
- Boys in school must be taught to accept (and not simply view) women as equal and be taught to look beyond the false construct of machoism or masculinity.
#NotAllMen has had an unintended consequence of exposing my own outlook, which I have often regarded as liberal – and I’m thankful for it. It shouldn’t take the reaction of a harrowing incident to awaken my consciousness in this manner, but if it does, I am willing to walk the (many, many) extra miles.