The courage and power of #MeToo

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There are skeletons in every woman’s cupboard. Dark secret fears that encumber her for years, sometimes for an entire lifetime, often forgotten like a bad dream but always lurking in some corner and casting a shadow now and then on her psyche. It is no more a surprise that for most women this skeleton is sexual harassment; in a very large number of cases it is also assault.

Gender equalitySocial media was recently taken by a storm by a new hashtag — Me Too. First posted by American actress Alyssa Milano in response to the revelation of multiple incidents of sexual harassment by popular Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, the hashtag became viral with millions of women across the world, including in India, getting encouragement to reveal their horrid personal tales of sexual intimidation and violence. #MeToo turned out to be a powerful tool that brought about a small yet thunderous revolution, giving women from different countries, cultures, races and religions the courage to face the monstrous memories that they had been unsuccessfully trying to obliterate since forever.

Talking about sexual assault has always been like walking on the edge of a mountain for the victims, for it is not only an attack on their bodies but also an intrusion into their extremely precious private spheres. The assault directly affects one’s individuality. It takes the effect of a drug forced into the body — the dread seeps into the skin,
dissolves in the blood and is circulated to every organ and every cell, affecting the brain, the spine and the heart.

Sexual violations may be physical but their ramifications are psychological.

What was most distressing about the powerful online #MeToo campaign was that it revealed an ever-present yet
hidden fact that every woman, literally every woman, has been a victim of sexual harassment at least once in her lifetime. It was heart wrenching to hear women’s stories of being assaulted as children, some of them as little as seven or eight. For years they had been weighed down, consciously or subconsciously, by the trauma of the
violations and #MeToo was the little idea that lit that spark to let go off the embarrassment and shame.

The online revolution as well as Weinstein’s scandalous culpability being brought to light revealed how enormous a malice sexual harassment is; the stigma attached to being a victim of sexual crime exposes society’s hypocrisy. If Hollywood actresses can be subjected to physical violations and choose to keep quiet due to fears of victim-blaming and losing work opportunities, what would be the fate of ordinary girls and women!

It was heartwarming to see a lot of men too resorting to #MeToo to reveal their experiences of sexual harassment and violence at the hands of other men. Perhaps it was more difficult for the males to make these revelations; hats off to them for standing up to the fanciful concept of manliness at the cost of being ridiculed for a lifetime. There was also another set of men in this campaign who deserve to be commended for openly accepting having harassed women (or other men) and regretting it now that they have evolved into mature persons.

Sexual violence is a crime involving power. It can only be committed by a person when he believes himself to be more powerful that his victim. And this powerfulness is not only about being physically stronger. It is about the chauvinistic notions of men being superior to women (or ‘manly’ men being superior to ‘sissy’ men). Men try to control women, physically or otherwise, when they believe that females are lesser beings who need to be told, not asked. And these parochial notions are passed on to them through the generations, through society.

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