Social media was flooded on Monday with posts by women, cutting across age, region and background, sharing experiences of sexual abuse and harassment with the hashtag #MeToo. It all began when American actor Alyssa Milano asked women, on Twitter, to write about the incidents, along with the hashtag, so it could give the people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. The outpouring followed allegations of sexual harassment against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein after a New York Times investigation found charges against him dating back to several decades.
Milano’s post went viral and thousands of women around the globe shared details of what they had to go through, or acknowledged that they had been a survivor of an assault. Many men also participated and shared their stories of harassment. Actors Anna Paquin and Debra Messing supported the campaign, along with Australian TV presenter Charlie Pickering and American stand-up comic Nick Jack Pappas.
In India, while sexual abuse survivors are generally advised to maintain silence and avoid “embarrassment”, many took to social media to share their experiences. Lawyers Vrinda Grover and Karuna Nundy too updated their status messages in response to the campaign. Grover wrote: “So it can’t be just Weinstein, who is a sexual predator. There are many many more men, men holding high positions, talented men, super smart men, men who are our friends, relatives and acquaintances… sexual abuse is not inevitable, nor accidental; it is always intentional and deliberate”.
Delhi-based stand-up comic Mallika Dua, shared: “Me too… in my own car. My mother was driving while he sat at the back with his hand under my skirt the whole time. I was 7. My sister was 11. His hands went everywhere inside my skirt and on my sister’s back. My father who was in a different car dislocated the bastard’s jaw with his bare hands later that night.”
Women from the Malayalam film industry, too, went all out to share the hashtag. One such was Rima Kallingal, a member of the Women in Cinema Collective, which voices issues that women in the industry face. Sajitha Madathil also shared that she was harassed by known and unknown men, as an adolescent and adult. Another actor, Parvathy, too made it a point to put her status #MeToo.
Speaking of a woman’s silence about such abuse, Chennai-based poet-writer Meena Kandasamy, wrote, “Sometimes the silence is to protect our friends and not out of any misplaced sympathy for these abusers… There’s a constant clock ticking away — and that reminds people that they can only choose some battles, not all. Respect women’s silence too.”
Last week, a post by blogger Sheena Dabholkar alleging sexual harassment by the owner of High Spirits, a popular club in Pune, had started conversations around sexual abuse on social media platforms. Such discussions have made it possible for women to speak up on issues that were once taboo.