If We’re Saying #MeToo, Why Not Name the Harassers?
If we’re going to say it, what’s wrong with people choosing to name the person whenever they can, asks Arul Mani.
(With #MeToo, women worldwide have come out to share their stories of sexual harassment and here’s a professor’s take on the issue)
There are clearly two kinds of #MeToo floating around us right now.
One is a refusal to collude, through silence, in acts that violate the hashtagger's sense of dignity.
I am trying to think through my only vague difficulty with this refusal. If we want to say it happened, why stop at some polite limit? If we’re going to say it, what’s wrong then with people choosing to name the person whenever they can?
Call the person out, and say, if it happened at home, or other places that are supposed to be safe, and say uncle/neighbour/cousin/sibling/parent/teacher/colleague/friend, you did this, and you don't have my forgiveness just yet. Truth may not always bring reconciliation, but should we think about what it might bring, or might change?
If it was strangers, as is quite often the case, maybe we should describe them like we're writing our first novel. I don't know how that is going to help. Could capturing an avid pig or toothsome reptile in some telling image be a mirror to hold up to other people, that they may see themselves in that moment and a way of reducing such terror or irritation, past or future? Not talking about it becomes complicity, inevitably.
Not finding a way of talking about it that works for you is equally lousy, and by this I don’t mean a mere ‘language of victimhood’.
There are risks here, but it is worth asking, in each case, what that terrible risk might be. Should that risk, however terrible, stop anybody? Coming this far, and then not naming the perps is to fall back into the same old conspiracy of silence and not rocking the boat.
Maybe this will be a moment of revolution. Maybe not. Maybe more people will get stabbed, or have acid thrown in their faces. Is the everyday conspiracy of politeness a better option than an unmasking of the violence that is underwritten into our dealings with each other? Perhaps it is best that each person should decide how they want this war to work.
But if #MeToo is not accompanied by these moments of debate, it may not amount to anything more than a furthering of complicitness.
I said there were two kinds of #MeToo. The other is a me-too of the traditional hop-on-to-bandwagon variety that is laughable at the very least – I recall at least one status that made apologetic references to glancing at somebody's cleavage. Right on, darling. Throw in a little sight-crime, a little thought-crime, keep the soul-searching low-level, but get that status out. That clearly is an important thing to be doing right now.
This me-too can take more lousy forms. One of my students put up a irritated post after their #MeToo. Because the person who took liberties came trotting up and liked that status. And then there are the presidential remarks – Indian society. I didn’t realise how terrible, and bloody blah.
I'm also troubled by the synchronic suck that social media can impose on these experiences. Perhaps some history-ing is the corrective. How have public and private spaces changed over the last couple of generations? Have they changed in the same way for those who know how to hashtag, and those who don't?
Also Read: There are Still Many Unspoken #MeToo Stories
In the 60s and the 70s, as a civilian employee in the defence services, my mother had to become combative on an everyday basis to stay sane among endlessly macho assholes. This was for her day at work. But what she dreaded the most, into her late thirties, was the afternoon or evening walk back home on days when 127 from Shivajinagar wouldn't run. She wouldn't take an auto, and walking alone meant that she got propositioned, and followed and harassed regularly.
My guide, who was one of the first women to work in the University, once told me about how her Head of Department would keep offering her a ride back home. She kept refusing, and then said yes out of exhaustion once. Two minutes into the ride, he took one hand off the steering to grab her hand. When she yelled at him, he said but you are so free with Loy Machado and your other male friends. She gave him something to listen to, and he never spoke to her after that. In both cases, trying to be a person seemed to translate into meaning that you were available.
I don't know how much things have changed since then, or indeed if they have changed for the better. But asking that question out of a sense of historical curiosity may be worthwhile.
(The author is a senior lecturer, department of English at St Joseph's College in Bengaluru. The post first appeared on the author’s Facebook wall and has been republished with permission. The views expressed above are of the author’s own and The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same)
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