The recent news of Hollywood honcho Harvey Weinstein sexually harassing and molesting women over the years brought forth an ugly reality — the rich and powerful women, whom we revere and draw inspiration from, could be and are victims of sexual assault. Following this, Charmed actress and social media star Alyssa Milano urged women who have been victims of sexual assault to write #MeToo as their status on social media. Since then, the hashtag has become a social media movement of sorts. Thousands of men, women, transgenders from different walks of life have been incessantly sharing their harrowing experiences of being abused and harassed. Though a single tweet triggered it, the hashtag #MeToo has evidently been picked up by countless others, taking on a life of its own.
And yet, on the surface, it is not saying anything new. Sexual harassment has always been a glaring and disturbing reality. The year 2017 began with news of mass molestation in Bengaluru where women, who were out on the streets to usher in the new year, were groped and harassed. Back in 2012, the nation was shaken by the ‘Nirbhaya case’, when a 23-year-old woman was brutally raped in a moving bus by six men. Knowing the way social media works — where hashtags change every few minutes and things that are trending lose their relevance after few hours — the movement, as some critics would argue, should not raise an alarm.
The hashtag, a social media invention, must then be dealt with care and cynicism.
Even so, the sheer scale of #MeToo and the way it has united an apparently disparate crowd deserves our attention. It is perhaps because they are sharing a narrative they were conditioned not to, or maybe because they are finally coming to terms with the fact that it was not their fault. “To every man ‘shocked’ by all of us posting #MeToo, we’ve been telling you for years. You didn’t want to listen. Do you hear us now,” read a tweet while another wrote “Me too. I was probably six and I thought it was my fault.” There is bravado and there is apology in the tweets, and uniting them both is the hashtag #MeToo.
To every man “shocked” by all of us posting #MeToo –
We’ve been telling you for years.
You didn’t want to listen.
Do you hear us now?
— Kelli Butler (@TheOperaGeek) October 16, 2017
Narratives of sexual harassment have almost always been shrouded in silence. Patriarchy, with the sheer regularity of these incidents, has not only conditioned some women into believing that these acts are normal, but has also infused a certain swagger in the perpetrators. Twitter thread by a writer Shariq Rafeek shed light on it when he shared how he was “pushy” and “lewd” with his female classmates and “enjoyed his reputation of being a ‘shameless flirt’.”
Thus, the ongoing ‘trend’ of women on social media sharing their private ‘Harvey Weinstein moment’, reliving it all over again and creating a deafening roar, albeit virtually, seems like a necessary change. By not campaigning for just another name but attaching themselves — their ‘Me’ to a hashtag — these survivors have ceased to remain objective spectators any more. They have, out of their own volition, placed themselves, in the midst of the storm. They have let out a collective howl and have entrusted absolute strangers with their stories. By no longer being isolated narratives, the hashtag and the stories have created a comforting and reassuring solidarity among the survivors and have also propelled some perpetrators to ‘speak up’.
Several men have not only lent their support to the movement but with the hashtag #SoDoneChilling, are also sharing events when they behaved in an unacceptable way. “I was 12 and lifted up the skirt of a girl in my class, thought it was fun, didn’t know it was wrong. My kids know better,” Rafeek wrote and shared how he had been “horrible to women in the past”. The hashtag #MeToo then is not passing a judgement and neither is it holding a single perpetrator accountable. It is merely addressing the inherent misogyny prevalent in the society and creating a space for conversation, admission, debate and perhaps even acceptance.
— Mark Robinson (@ddmfhsuk) October 16, 2017
— Shariq Rafeek (@_riqsha) October 16, 2017
However, posited in a time where the word ‘viral’ with its intrinsic fickleness has entered our lexicon, and where movements are rallied in and virtually ‘walked’ in support of, while sitting in our seats, it is indeed difficult to gauge how far the movement would go, or will it go at all. ‘Will the movement end up being an example of arm-chair activism?’ ‘Will the conversation end after the hashtag ceases to trend?’ These are questions only time will tell. But for now it is a movement that is making people divided by geographical boundaries, race, colour, social strata speak in a common tongue and utter a #MeToo. It is emboldening people to overcome the stigma associated in the admission of such acts for the victims; it is sparking a sense of self-realisation for many a perpetrator — no matter how negligible it might be.
One can hope that this intrinsic sense of #YouToo that a movement like #MeToo movement has generated is not short-lived. The next step is multi-pronged: identifying those who violate basic human decency; instil a sense of integrity and sexual sensitivity towards the other person (who can be of any gender); and assuring those who feel abused that not only is it alright to speak up but it is their duty towards themselves and society to not perpetuate acceptance through silence.