Written By: Nandita Singh
I know you’ve been reading story after story from woman after woman, retelling her traumatic experiences with a man, at a certain point in her life. I know it infuriates you and hurts you. I know that each new story instills a sense of shock in you, because you cannot wrap your head around it.
I’m going to ask you to take a moment to internalize something. For every new story of harassment/abuse/violence that makes your jaw drop because you can’t believe how rampant it is, or because you can’t believe how close to home these incidents were… there is a woman reading about it, and relating. Either because she suffered the same trauma, or because she knows another girl who did.
For all the shock you experience each time you hear a new account or allegation, we feel NO DISBELIEF WHATSOEVER. Does that disturb you? That so accustomed are we, to these ‘big and small’ incidents, that we just nod and say #MeToo? That was the idea behind the hashtag, which has lost its meaning along the way. It was to assert just HOW MANY OF US have been through the same scarring experiences in one form or another.
So my question is this. You know some of these men yourselves. How does this make you feel? What do you want to do about it? Will you call them out, at least personally? Will you dissociate? Will you for the LOVE OF GOD stop talking about conquests and encouraging this behavior? Even as a joke? Every joke you crack about a woman in a group, adds a stone in the path of a potential harasser, to take a step towards justifying his current/future actions.
Will you please STOP pointing fingers at me when I call you out on a joke gone too far? Yes, I know your intent. And it is possible that I trust you and completely understand that no love is lost between us. But what about every other man you surround yourself with? Your friend. Your friend’s friend. If it enrages you when someone outrages my modesty, PLEASE BE ENRAGED at yourself for doing it to a woman who is not already your friend/sister/mother. And please, I beg of you, please be enraged when even an unknown man does it to an unknown woman. If you see it happening, I urge you to not be party to it.
I’m so proud of all the women who have come out and told their stories. Whether this was done anonymously or openly. It takes GUTS. To tell even ONE person. I’ve never been able to say it openly, and maybe I never will. But that’s my way of dealing with it. And after guilting myself into taking responsibility for not having the courage, I have made peace with that decision, knowing that no other woman is at risk. And I am proud of all of you who have stood side by side with the women you love, and called the perpetrators on their bullshit. And I love you for it.
But I have a greater concern. We are instilling a fear of public shaming in the hearts of men. Which is a first step of sorts towards acknowledging the magnitude of the problem. But on the one hand, there is a man who justifies his actions and resents the woman who ‘ruined his life by going public even though he said he was sorry.’ (Because apparently that’s enough). On the other hand, is the man who still feels entitled, but worries about the shaming so he ‘controls himself.’ But does he believe there is something fundamentally wrong with his approach? No, this is a temporary fix – it makes a man stop in his tracks and think twice before he does something he cannot take back. It helps reduce the risk. And that is some headway. But we need more. What about you, who swears by treating Man and Woman with equal respect and dignity? Please say something.
This has to be an ongoing conversation, between us, between us and you, and between you and your peers. Instead of normalizing toxic and potentially dangerous objectification, because that’s what ‘dudes do’ please, please discuss these incidents and discourage them. Talk about the impact these stories have on you, when it is about a woman you care for or a man you have associated with. We need a collective conscience to recognize and tackle the severity of this problem. Ask yourselves, even if you disbelieve a story and don’t think she had enough grounds to make an accusation – why is it that the possibility to ‘misconstrue’ exists only for the woman? Why is it that there is rarely (not saying never) scope for a woman’s words or actions to be taken as harassment or as being offensive? What is it so inherent in this divide, that allows for a grey area for men at all?
Remember your reactions.
“But maybe he didn’t mean it that way.”
“Maybe she’s uncomfortable with touch in general”
“She probably didn’t say no verbally.”
“Ye harassment thodi hota hai, woh try kar raha tha. Mana kar deti.”
Among several others. And ask yourselves this. Why does this question barely arise with women’s behavior? What is this distinction? And how then, do we give to men, the benefit of the doubt?
Please. Get talking. Do something. Anything. The point is not for women to unite against men. It is for humane, compassionate individuals to be on the same side against transgressors. It is for us to be together, and work towards putting an end to this deep seated sense of entitlement that puts a woman at risk, at every step.