MeToo. Sexual harassment. Power.08 Oct 2018
Three things happened this week:
First, in global news: the Nobel Peace Prize.
“In the midst of a global reckoning over sexual violence, a woman who was forced into sexual slavery by the Islamic State and a Congolese gynecological surgeon were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for their campaigns to end the use of mass rape as a weapon of war” (New York Times)
In a year when women have turned the world’s attention to an epidemic of sexual abuse in the home and in the workplace, the award cast a spotlight on two global regions where women have paid a devastating price for years of armed conflict and was a rebuke to what Ms. Reiss-Andersen described as the failure of the global community to prosecute perpetrators of wartime sexual violence. (New York Times)
Second, from the USA: The US Senate voted to confirm judge Brett Kavanaugh to the supreme court. “The confirmation is a major victory for Republicans after sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh threatened to sink his nomination in recent weeks.” (BuzzFeed News)
The bitter political fight crystallised the polarisation of the Trump era. It also became a cultural litmus test of the year-old #MeToo movement, which inspired women to speak out about incidents of sexual harassment and abuse, as it collided with the patriarchy of a political establishment dominated by ageing white men.
The Guardian has put together key moments from Kavanaugh’s confirmation battle in this video:
Third, at home: it appears India is at the cusp of its own #MeToo movement.
“The director of celebrated film Queen, Vikas Bahl, best-selling author Chetan Bhagat, and former executive editor of The Times of India and ex-DNA editor-in-chief Gautam Adhikari were among those accused of sexual harassment, as allegations against names from the film, media and entertainment industries swept social media on Saturday” (Indian Express)
As women shared their stories, that ranged from verbal to physical assault, including snapshots of social media chats showing persistent propositioning, identifying with the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns, the allegations set off a debate on how many of those accounts fell within the definition of sexual harassment at work place. Organisations linked to many of those named said they were taking action. (Indian Express)
How did it start: With Tanushree’s Datta allegations (see the last issue of DisFact) against Nana Patekar, where she alleged that the actor had misbehaved with her while filming a song for the 2008 film, Horn Ok Pleasss. On Saturday, the actress filed a police complaint.
Opening Twitter at any moment in the last three days meant discovering new names. (See Sandhya Menon’s timeline)
Read these stories:
HuffPost India spoke with the woman who was allegedly sexually assaulted by Queen director Vikas Bahl. Celebrated filmmaker Anurag Kashyap, one of Bahl’s co-partner at Phantom Films, said he failed the survivor. The production house has now been dissolved.
Women are declaring that they are not going to take it anymore. But the problem won’t be solved until those in positions of power face consequences for their actions. Few thoughts:
1. Yes, #MeToo is as about sexual harassment. But it is more so about power.
It takes a decade or more for patterns of social behaviour to change. #MeToo is just one year old. It is not about sex so much as about power—how power is distributed, and how people are held accountable when power is abused. Inevitably, therefore, #MeToo will morph into discussions about the absence of senior women from companies and gaps in average earnings between male and female workers. One protection against abuse is for junior women to work in an environment that other women help create and sustain. (The Economist)
Read more: How One Harasser Can Rob a Generation of Women (New York Times)
2. In many of the recent revelations, there were people who knew what was happening and didn’t do enough to stop it.
Anurag Kashyap knew about allegations against Vikas Bahl.
AIB co-founder Tanmay Bhat received “specific, detailed allegations” in a “personal conversation” about allegations against comedian Utsav Chakraborty. But the group continued to work with him. (NDTV)
3. This episode reminds me of my undergrad days at IIT Kanpur: the pattern was similar. We knew something was wrong. We saw how obviously inappropriate sexist practices were normalised as part of “culture”.
It was in my last semester when the debate about sexual assault touched its peak: six students were suspended following complaints by two girls. After I graduated, a girl wrote a long Facebook post, describing an incident where a batchmate had assaulted her—and she named the boy.
But we—the campus community—didn’t do enough to fix things. Many didn’t even acknowledge the problem. I wonder: when will the movement reach college campuses? And if that happens, will it lead to some significant change?
4. Why women speaking up is a big deal? Look at this statistic: 99% of sexual violence cases in India go unreported. And homes are apparently the most unsafe place for women. “The average Indian woman is 17 times more likely to face sexual violence from her husband than from others” (Livemint)
5. #MeToo is the first step. It should not be the end.
Systemic sexual harassment and discrimination can seem like impossible problems to address. Social media campaigns like #MeToo, which ask women to post with the hashtag if they’ve ever experienced assault or harassment, can raise awareness about its widespread nature — but can also be paralyzing. While scandals across different fields share common themes, they also require industry-specific, and company-specific, solutions. Look for people in your field who are working to combat discrimination and harassment and help them. Trying to effect change among the people you work with most closely can often have an outsize result, even if it seems like a small drop in a big pool. (Bloomberg)
In the coming days, we will learn about the actions that organisations will take against their employees who have been named in this fallout. Let’s see.