Further to Part-1 of this series, this second part seeks to identify the journey and progress that #Metoo has taken.
This series has been written by a Perennials intern and has been edited by Perennials’ editors who also gave their support in providing inputs and guidelines.
#Metoo, which started as a social media campaign, as we discussed in the first part of this series, has evolved into a full-fledged movement, sparking a revolution across the globe. Millions and thousands of people all over the world have found a voice. #Metoo took over Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, summoning men of all ranks and revealing the cascading testimonies of the widespread epidemic of sexual harassment. People vented the stories of sexual crimes and wrongdoings at the workplace, classrooms, in restaurants, on the streets etc, by strangers and men they knew. The flood of responses brought to light the social monster that was hidden in silence and complicity. The power of the movement stems from solidarity. The general perspective towards sexual harassment has been that of hiding and concealing for the fear of losing careers, reputation, hurting loved ones etc. Though the fear of social penalty remains, victims derive courage from the knowledge that struggles once borne privately could pave way to a consolidated war cry.
The movement has accounted a plethora of responses. Award-winning actresses including Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Lawrence, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Lupita Nyong’o to name a few, brought to the limelight the harrowing tales in connection with the Harvey Weinstein report. But #Metoo has served a platform for women from all walks of life to express a collective revolt.1 One of the best manifestations of the movement occurred at the 75th Golden Globe Awards, where #Metoo outshined the nominees and award winners themselves. A majority of the A-listed celebrities wore black in solidarity to the women who have spoken out loud against sexual predators in the entertainment industry; and called to attention the need for discussion beyond it being merely lip service. Women dominated the night, not because of the brands they were wearing, but by giving shrouded voices the volume needed. Celebrities including Saru Jayaram, Ai-Jen Poo, Tarana Burke, Rosa Clemente, Marai Larasi, Monica Ramirez, Calima Lawrence and Billie JeanKing brought with them, as guests, activists to throw light upon the issue which so far had been largely sidelined by culture and society.2
With the floodgates of allegations of sexual harassment opening in the entertainment industry, lawyers sided with celebrities and women’s rights organizations, to call for revolutionary change. Anita Hill, a professor of law and an attorney, is heading a commission formed to work towards eradicating sexual harassment from Hollywood. In 1991, Hill had accused the then US Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment at the time of his confirmation hearings. She now along with the President of the National Women’s Law Center, has teamed up with 150 top-level Hollywood professionals for considering measures to eliminate sexual abuse from the industry. Additionally, famous lawyer Tina Tchen, longtime Chief of Staff to Michelle Obama, is leading the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund which she launched along with 300 well-known personalities including, Meryl Streep, Shonda Rhimes, and Selena Gomez. Launched on January 1st, 2018 it helped raise over $19.5 million by early February to help sexual assault victims. Though Hollywood’s celebrities emerge as the major sponsors of the movement, it expands to all industries and on the whole has gained significant momentum, transcending beyond Hollywood.3
Moving past America and Hollywood, #Metoo has reached global shores and elicited varied responses. The movement resulted in dividing the French Feminists. A letter signed by 100 women recently published in the French newspaper Le Monde, said that, #Metoo movement “chains women to the status of eternal victim.”4 They regarded the campaign as rampant censorship in feminist ranks. The famous French film star Catherine Deneuve also joined the signature campaign. They stated in the letter that, “what began as freeing women up to speak has turned into the opposite – we intimidate people into speaking ‘correctly’, shout down those who don’t fall into the line, and those women who refuse to bend [into new realities] are regarded as complicit and traitors”. They refused to present women as “poor little things”, which represents the Victorian ideology of reducing women to little children who have to be protected and looked after.5
In Kenya, #Metoo ignited a protest in Nairobi, after several new mothers were allegedly sexually harassed by male members of staff at a hospital, while breastfeeding in January 2018. People, enraged by the hospital dismissing these claims, took to protesting. Their protest march was successful and led to the initiation of an enquiry by the Health Minister.6 The march was organized by a famous Kenyan Facebook group by posting the story of a new mother who claimed to be nearly raped as she walked down a hallway to breastfeed her baby.7
In Pakistan, the rape and death of 7-year-old Zainab Ansari instigated a #Metoo styled movement. The law was changed to criminalise sexual abuse of minors, two years ago, but is so far ineffective. This horrific incident led to many sexual harassment survivors across the country to come out and share their stories. Frieha Altaf – a former model and Maheem Khan – a fashion designer, amongst others, shared their stories. Both were victims of child abuse and revealed how Pakistani culture of shame and fear kept them from speaking about the atrocities they bore.7
A darker shade of the #Metoo movement is witnessed in India. Rape and sexual abuse are equally prevalent in the country as in any other place, but Indian women who dare to speak against the system have a greater probability of losing their jobs and reputations. People want to raise their voices but find themselves buried deep by the anxieties of the consequences. Mona Mathews, a 48-year-old belly dancer, and aspiring actress, said, that “They (people) don’t want to be in the limelight for [the] wrong reasons. If women talk, other women will say: This is a normal thing. Why is she making such a fuss?.” Newcomers in the entertainment industry, usually with no connections or contacts, have to submit to the expectations of the “casting couch” or in other words gratify senior members’ sexual desires, in order to gain access to a route to stardom. Daisy Irani, a veteran actress, brought to light her #Metoo story in the Mumbai Mirror. She was allegedly raped at the age of 6 at the hands of her male guardian Uncle Nazar, who accompanied her to film shoots. Prominent movie director Mahesh Bhatt believes that sexual abuse in the industry is a work of victim-blaming. Therefore proposition is common and accepted. Simi Garewal believes that Bollywood men have no obligation of facing scrutiny like the men of Hollywood because an accuser stands at the position of losing her job if she does so.8 #Metoo in India is dark and distorted and stands nullified as one moves down the social hierarchy. It is restricted to the women of the educated middle class having access to the Internet.9 However, Indian we noticed demand for respect and equal treatment for women, for example, Devi Sharma, a farm worker who lives in Alwar, Rajasthan says she wants equal wages as her fellow male workers but has never heard of #Metoo. There are certain campaigns launched by the Indian youth to raise their voices in coordination to #Metoo. They include movements like “Why Loiter” which aims at making women feel safe when they are outdoors. Women took over the public places like parks, gardens, streets in order to assert their right to feel completely safe in public places like all men do. Another movement called “Meet to Sleep” was organised by a prominent campaigner Jasmeen Patheja. It required women to sleep and lie down in the parks and streets like men. Patheja said, “For too long we have been told to be careful. Every time a woman is harassed she is told to be more careful. We are now changing the narrative”.10
In recent interviews given via Indian cinema celebrities across India, we have heard opinions on the #Metoo campaign. Most of them seem to be playing it safe or are being rational. Radhika Apte and Konkana Sen11 have been vocal about their support for this campaign but there are others who have said that they have been fortunate to have not been a victim of sexual harassment, therefore have not been aggressively supporting the campaign. Producers12 have also addressed the fact that sometimes its ‘they’ who are the victims as there have been instances of sexual favours being offered to them for jobs and they have had to respectfully decline and manage the situation. It is pertinent to note that this campaign has not reached the desired level of support in the Indian film fraternity as was expected.
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