Backlash to #MeToo Isn’t New or Unexpected – The Movement Stands
Hyderabad, Nirbhaya & all the other cases – that is the context. #MeToo cannot be dented by predictable retaliation.
Almost a year after the #MeToo movement struck India, a rash of accused perpetrators have started making their sometimes-sly, sometimes-loud comebacks. But is there anything to the backlash? Is there anything the movement needs to ‘introspect’ about? Can a survivor be held responsible for an accused losing his job?
YouTuber Utsav Chakraborty, who was called out by a number of women for sexual misconduct and sexual harassment in the wake of the #MeToo movement in October 2018, took to Twitter last month to come out ‘clean’.
Chakraborty managed to discredit two allegations. But several others still stood. And while he was at it, a fresh slew of allegations were levelled at him by even more women.
After his social media ‘comeback’ – via a five-day spectacle in which he drip-tweeted salacious detail after detail – Chakraborty issued an advisory to the waiting horde of trolls not to harass the women, whom he was doxxing, further. He also claimed that he has received help from ‘all quarters’ – legal and otherwise.
YouTuber Utsav Chakraborty managed to discredit two allegations, but several others still stand.
Twitter users, meanwhile, took to his messages just as intently as they did to the first-ever allegation that was made against him by writer Mahima Kukreja. As he strategically positioned himself as a man who had been wronged by women, they were ready to reinstate Chakraborty’s lost glory almost instantly.
But, have Chakraborty’s recent made-for-social-media revelations discredited the movement? Not even a dent.
This Is Par For the Course
The #MeToo movement is a result of literally centuries of work that women have put in to create an environment where women can finally speak out against violence, patriarchy and gender discrimination. The movement did not spring from Twitter nor does it die there.
This movement began in 2006 when a black American woman, Tarana Burke, broke the silence around sexual harassment. She coined the term #MeToo.
It exploded into prominence when one of Hollywood’s biggest producers, Harvey Weinstein, was called out by multiple women in 2017.
It made landfall in India when researcher Raya Sarkar came out with the ‘LoSHA’, a list of sexual harassment-accused academic professors.
The #MeToo movement did not spring from Twitter nor does it die there.
Sarkar’s list was widely denounced as several women, including older feminists, called it a ‘witch hunt’. Many said women must follow ‘due process’. But when this ‘due process’ failed women for one more year, actor Tanushree Dutta decided to blow the lid off Bollywood’s worst kept secret – sexual harassment on movie sets.
Dutta even spoke about how her life was completely derailed when she’d called out Nana Patekar back in the day.
“My work suffered, and after a point, I just stopped getting work altogether. I went into depression and had to eventually leave the country.”Tanushree Dutta, Actor
Yet, her disclosures, like many others, were looked at with suspicion and almost instantly they were asked, ‘why now’.
Senior advocate Rebecca John believes that women didn’t necessarily call out their harassers to prosecute them.
“I don’t think a large majority of women who came out with their disclosures and stories actually wanted to prosecute anybody. I think they needed to say what they said because of the experiences that they faced, which were very dark and very humiliating experiences. They also wanted to warn the younger members of their fraternity about the various dangers that lurk in a workplace. I think it was done to spread awareness, it was done to empower women.”Rebecca John
The women who have accused men are still sitting at the altar of justice, while the accused men are out and about, fairly unruffled. Be it US President Donald Trump, former Union minister MJ Akbar, writer Chetan Bhagat or actor Alok Nath.
Within 15 days of being outed, MJ Akbar published an opinion piece in Hindustan Times. Chetan Bhagat was invited to address an event hosted by Aaj Tak. Alok Nath acted in a film just a few months later – and even audaciously ridiculed the movement with a ‘main bhi’ remark.
Despite all this, the movement is repeatedly criticised for not having done enough for women and for having ruined lives of ‘innocent’ men – in this formulation, the ruined lives of women don’t even feature.
Twitter Is Merely the Medium
The #MeToo movement goes above and beyond what happened on Twitter between October and December 2018.
The cases that preceded the #MeToo movement are just as much a part of the narrative. The Tejpal rape case, 2013, and the Pachauri sexual harassment case, 2015, for instance. Both the survivors have followed due process, and both are still fighting their cases in court.
And then, there’s the high risk of sexual violence against women that has gone unabated.
A woman is still raped in India every 15 minutes.
Even before the dust could settle on this fresh Kukreja-Chakraborty outrage on Twitter, the charred body of a 26-year-old veterinary doctor was found under a bridge on the outskirts of Hyderabad. She was allegedly gang-raped, suffocated to death, and set on fire.
Do the horrors against women have to be this stark to warrant outrage? This kind of brutality against women does not happen in a vacuum – yet the outrage is reserved only for this very end-point of misogyny, while everything that comes before it is dismissed.
It’s like trying to end terrorism by encouraging extremism.
The #MeToo movement ushered in discussions that will have a huge impact on how women will be represented in society from here on out. We saw a similar movement after the Nirbhaya gang-rape case when lawmakers woke up to the most obvious problem around us – sexual violence against women. It brought in knee-jerk reactions from politicians and courts alike, leading to changes in the country’s rape laws.
Of course, you can change the laws all you want, but nothing will really improve until you change society’s attitude towards women. And that is what #MeToo has sought to do.
Change attitudes, and change norms of behaviour that men have taken advantage of for too long. One accused man going on a tweet-spree a year later against two out of several accusers doesn't change that.
This wave of the #MeToo movement is less knee-jerk and more of an awakening. It is a gradual process of witnessing change which cannot be damned by a few blips on Twitter along the way.
#MeToo is more than just a start, especially in the US where women have even called out their own president at great personal cost. Only in India has it not resulted in much except the court case against MJ Akbar – and that too, in which the survivor is the accused party.
Instead of accepting the consequences, when the accused are indulging in mudslinging or filing defamation cases, they are seeking to punish the women who spoke up – to create a chilling effect on other women. This is calculated.
By contrast, it is the career opportunities for the survivors that have dwindled, including for the women who merely curated other people’s allegations – and that’s on top of vicious trolling.
“I didn’t have the time to pitch for stories. I don’t have an income now and I need to get back to work, which is why I reached out for help. The other intangible toll is the perception. You are seen as a troublemaker if you do this kind of work. So it makes people wary because you’ve already crossed the line between a journalist and an activist.”Rituparana Chatterjee
And yet, we call men the real ‘victims’ of this collective catharsis. Every time a woman is abused on the streets, in her office, in schools, or at home, it is a rude reckoning of how we have collectively failed to provide the most basic safety to a full half of the population – a fact any society would be ashamed of.
But now awakened, women shouldn’t fall silent again. Any woman’s struggle has never been easy, and it won’t be. But the trick all along has been solidarity – and thanks to this ‘Twitter movement’, we now have it in spades.
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