Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not reflect the stand of the newspaper or any other organization.
I have a dream.
Yes we can.
It’s incredible what a mere sentence – a simple phrase from our everyday parley can do in our complex little world. These meagre words can carry a weight which is much more massive than their simple linguistic sense. They can make or break political regimes, act as rallying cries for social change and ergo, become the primary carriers of socio-political reform.
Last month, USA was rattled by a series of posts by the New York Times and the New Yorker which alleged celebrity producer, Harvey Weinstein, of having made unwelcome sexual advances on a number of stars and production staff that he had worked with. The country watched in shock as more actresses came forward with reports on more such heinous acts by the producer.
Just as this scandal threatened to die down, like the hundreds to have come out of Tinsel-city before this, one tweet changed it all, taking it from being a media sensation to the cusp of starting a social revolution. Actress Alyssa Milano shared a picture on Twitter urging women to use the #MeToo handle to speak out about their experiences of sexual harassment – a move, which she felt, “could give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem”.
The response was staggering. The tweet resonated with thousands of women across the globe who retweeted the hashtag, responding with horrifying ordeals of having been sexually harassed in their daily lives. Within 24 hours, Twitter had seen over 825,000 hits on the #MeToo handle. In the same time, Facebook had seen over 12 Million posts, comments and reactions on posts with the hashtag. The company said that over 45% of its users in the USA were friends with someone who had posted a message with the keywords “Me too”.
The retaliation was almost instantaneous as well with people arguing that the movement had ended up demonizing an entire gender. This sense of alienation too, found thousands of takers across the world, laying the ground for the #NotAllMen campaign. Tweets and posts continued to pour in, with men claiming that the sins of a very marginal section of the entire male populace were being used as a means to target men across the planet.
As the online battle raged on, the debate took ugly turns at many places. Spurred by emotional overtones, people raised a lot of questions with regards to the intent, objectives and means adopted by the #MeToo campaign – some of which, I feel, beg to be put to rest.
First, the campaign was never meant to act as a tool to target a particular sex. It was merely a platform for people to come forward with their ordeals of harassment in their daily lives. The campaign was meant to be a start – something which helps put the problem in perspective, aiding us in contextualizing and acknowledging the very fact that the problem exists – the first step towards addressing any issue.
Yes, this is not a problem that is limited to any one particular gender. Men across the globe are sexually harassed as well. And perhaps, we cannot even imagine the scale of the problem for bisexuals and transgenders – quite simply because such cases are often overlooked by the lens of the mass media and wilfully ignored by the state authorities. I agree, these issues need to be addressed as well. Yet, crimes against women continue to account for a vast majority of all sexual harassment plaints and are the ones that are in need of the most urgent redressal.
People have also come to question the use of social media as the platform of choice – arguing that any post would be inconsequential in bringing about any significant change in the system that we are trying to fight against. But here is the intriguing thing about social media – you may hate it, you might even actively dissuade others from using it but what you cannot most certainly do, is ignore it. This means that these portals don’t just act as mere mirrors of what the people, especially the youth of the country feel like, but they are also playing an increasingly active role in shaping the thinking, belief and outlook of this net-savvy generation.
A recent study by researchers at IIM Kashipur, published in the book ‘From Tahrir Square to Gezi Park: Social Networks as Facilitators of Social Movements’ highlighted the important role that social media played in the movement that followed the horrific Nirbhaya gang-rape case in the NCR. It feels almost weird to think that if there had been no social media, we would not have seen the massive uprise and the subsequent socio-political revolution that we witnessed at that time. These portals, then, seem take on deeper and much more important meanings in the ways in which they are tangibly shaping our cultural fabric today.
The #MeToo movement itself was started nearly a decade back. However, it took the power and reach of the social media to help it reach women across the globe. I think it is important to realize that these issues are inherently extremely personal in nature and that it actually takes a lot of courage to confide in someone about having gone through such a distressing incident. Social media, on the other hand, provided women with a conducive environment where they could confess and for once, talk their hearts out about something so personal.
Yes, we all recognize that sexual harassment is a problem. We are all aware about how widespread and prevalent the problem is. We live in a world where the most powerful man on the planet, the President of the USA can include sexual innuendos about female genitalia in his electoral speeches. We celebrate a picture of a sailor kissing a nurse at the end of the Second World War as one of the most prominent symbols of “liberty” – all the while ignoring the fact that the sailor had forced himself on the nurse without consent. And I cannot even begin to describe the terrible state that exists in more fundamentally patriarchal societies such as our own. Yes, we definitely recognize that we have a problem – we “understand”.
Yet, when we realize the scale of this problem, when we see that one of our closest relatives or friends has also been through this harrowing experience – that they have been cat-called, groped or harassed at their workplace, home or in their streets, that they feel unsafe to actually step out of their own house – that is when we will actually understand just how depressing the state of the society really is. And that, I believe, is just what this campaign does and why this is important. Just the fact that it takes the issue and the conversation around it out of our television set and places it into our living room instead makes this a worthwhile effort.
Truth be told, perhaps the naysayers are right – maybe this won’t amount to any real action, maybe this is a spur of the moment thing, maybe this will all be forgotten tomorrow. But today, when we know that real people who are around us, even the ones that are closest to us have been affected by this – perhaps we would just be that bit more aware and conscious of these issues and our own actions. They don’t need your pity, mind – they are much stronger than that. But perhaps, we would be more sensitive about the various manifestations that sexual harassment takes, more supportive towards our colleagues, more open to conversations on this issue, more staunch in shunning these evils and perhaps, when the time comes for real action against this problem – braver and more empowered to do take it up. To that end, I think, we have just taken the right baby step forward.
Image Credits: The Denver Post