In the recent wave of MeToo stories of women having faced sexual harassment in their work lives, with revelations of how much respected men (in positions of power) have misused their power to make unfavorable advancement towards women in their surroundings, it is time men start accepting that they have occupied too much spaces.
The new wave of feminist empowerment strategies have given strength to the women, young and old to speak out of the workplace sexual harassment they faced in recent times or years back. This has put the Bosses into uncomfortable seats at the moment of position they now hold, and MeToo campaigners and supporters are asking for resignation / stepping down of the man from the position he holds. Initially the MeToo stories were from the West – from the field of Media and Politics, then the stories from the Universities and Judicial came, and now in India in the present month of October it has moved from Films, to Media, and more to NGO stalwarts.
I work in the NGO sector and am in the ‘business’ of working for social change – with projects for development / rights of communities, and a strong focus on the marginalised sections of society, which have been defined as women, dalits, adivasis, poor, and more. In the 2 decades of my work I have slowly built a connection with the Feminist movement, and count myself as a part of it. This is not a common phenomenon as very few men associate with the women’s movement, because of its pro-active stand with women, and negation of men’s privileges. For historical reasons, men are seen as perpetrators, and women victim. Maybe quite rightly so, for most of the incidents of violence against women, while in few chances the patriarchal mindset ingrained in society might have influenced the women and hence perpetrator – victim model might not be a good analysis for a violence case.
Having said the above that women could play an active part, and might not be a passive receiver in certain cases of violation of sexual rights, it is appropriate that men realise the privileges that men hold through ages. They have occupied spaces – and when I say this, I am counting myself as part of the human community, which has violated the spaces where men and women are supposed to have equal rights.
I am part of the problem. And while presently I am trying create solutions and break the chains of patriarchy, its not as if I have never violated the spaces. The sexual violence against women, is best understood from the ‘consent’ perspective. Any wooing can be interpreted as violation, if its without consent.
When it comes to sexes in India, men have a tendency to be open about their sexual propositions, and women usually do not make the first move (unless it is a case some tribal community where women may be as daring). So if a man makes an advancement towards the woman has expression to agree or disagree. There already is a myth that has been promoted in the men’s world, that a woman’s ‘No’ is actually a ‘Yes’ in her passive style of responding. It is for this reason that unless a firm loud and clear ‘No’ is not expressed, the people around do not believe in her disagreement, non-consent (this has been depicted in the film ‘Pink’. The film has also added to clarity in understanding of how a consent based touch, could move towards a non-consented sexual touch which in legal terms could be understood as attempt to rape, and hence an act of sexual violence.
The above para was about sexual harassment or violence in a relationship. Now, when there is a power dynamics between the two party, with a kind of of a hierarchy (as at workplace site), the relationship is unequal and hence the issue of consent has a different dimension altogether. Can a junior refuse to give consent to a senior, in a situation where there might be negative repercussions is the junior does so (refuses to consent, in other words objects to the act)? Brings to my mind, the movie ‘Aitraaz’ (2004) depicting how a man was accused of sexual harassment by the senior manager (woman), and the story unfolds to show that the woman had forced herself on to the man. It was a different story, supportive of the idea that many men pose, that laws are usually biased towards women, and that men can be trapped into such incidents.
So ‘Yes’, there are a few cases where men may have got trapped in a sexual harassment case, it cannot be denied that in 98-99 percent of work environment men hold greater power, in terms of a senior position, permanent versus contractual position, and more. This added to the advanced form of articulation of sexual desires by men is a concoction which is commonly witnessed around. Men and boys, invading women and young girls’ spaces, crossing over the limits of body space sanctity – to touch, grope or just stare, is a phenomenon quite common. ‘Boys will be boys’ attitude prevails as boys and men are cultured in this manner. Any boy who dares to act differently is laughed at, called girlish, and more. To be masculine and ‘Mard’, boys and men are required / forced to succumb to patriarchal thoughts and acts – as a Fresher to College has to shed his ‘cowardliness’, and approach girls to say ‘Hi I Love You’, whistle at them, give them ride on the motorcycle and ‘protect’ sisters. In this way men’s sexuality gets expressed while women’s sexuality get curbed / controlled by men around her.
Now, why is it that so many MeToo incidents are being reported? It’s all because women have found ways to express themselves through various means of communication and empowerment within. They are making their position count. They have realised that when you get raped, sexually harassed then there is no ‘Izzat’ or honour which is lost, it is a physical emotional trauma that she has to pass through, and can be overcome. Not like the olden days, when suicide or ‘Jauhar’ in the name of honour was a trend.
Yes, society has changed through years and there are parents who are preparing their children to resist any injustice, be it sexual violence or mental violence in the name of dowry. Parents are investing in their girl children to help them enjoy wholesome lives, through completion of their education and taking up of jobs to be self sufficient, and not rely on their husbands. This change in family systems and a fast trend in women becoming self reliant, and the communication tools advancement has together strengthened the voice of women.
Feminist Movement has started building new waves with the way ICT has contributed to campaign building. There is now a media which is more decentralized in terms of ownership, has varied channels of expression, and hence control over the writer is very little. She / He can write and self publish – make range of friends across cultural, national boundaries and receive support from the friends across the globe. The language of rights is also now more known to people – and its not just rights which the State has defined but beyond that to equate with international human rights standards. This transnational global closeness is taking movement emerging in one country to another. LGBTQ movement is one such spread of movement, and now MeToo is similarly spreading.
As every article has to come to an end, let me try summarizing this write up, and get to the point. When I said that I am part of the problem, I talk about myself and many other men who have grown up in the same Patriarchy which is so much prevalent around. And while I try to work towards women’s empowerment and gender equity, it is a tough struggle within to shatter own patriarchal values or behaviours or male privilege. This is an internal struggle which any conscientised man has to go through if he wants to shed his patriarchal chains. Yes, patriarchal chains have harmed men too – they can’t cry, can’t express love to children the way mothers are able to, forced to follow the division of labour principle where men have to earn and women to look after households, forced to be protective and more.
Many men might be going through this shedding of patriarchal chains as I do. But this is not to say, that I have a clean history. We, all men are waiting, when there name will appear in a MeToo allegation by someone. As men, we have all invaded women’s spaces, in some moment of time, when we were in High School, or College, or a Camp, or a Tour, or in any Job, or any unknown neighbourhood, or in a relatives / friends place and so on -the stories and experience that all men have gone through because of the patriarchal environment we have grown in.
Its time to men to apologise to women and girls as a community and give way to their expression and rights journey.
Dear women, there are men who trying hard to bring about a change in themselves and to other men and boys around. Men do not want to remain perpetrators and predators, they want to change. Please help the men around you to get sensitive to gender issues, respect women and transgender, and their sexuality. Together there is a need to make a community where these sexual rights and its diversity is accepted and kept free from any kind of violation. We ‘Men’ want to be good human beings as son, brother, husband, uncle, lovers and friends – help us to be so, dear women and girls ! Teach us !!