By M K Arun , Source : The Economic Times
There has been a tendency to label the #MeToo movement as an elite enterprise, which leaves out of its ambit the vast majority of working women, those who are financially too precarious to risk their jobs by raising their voice against anything but the grossest assault on self or dignity, and thereon to dismiss it as a storm in a teacup.
Only the mean-spirited would fail to salute the courage of the #MeToo women, who have come forward to bare their pain and prolonged mortification to expose men who abused their positions of power for sexual gratification of one kind or another. It is likely, however, that the #MeToo movement would prove more effective in preventing future harassment than in bringing retrospective justice for past misconduct.
There has been a tendency to label the #MeToo movement as an elite enterprise, which leaves out of its ambit the vast majority of working women, those who are financially too precarious to risk their jobs by raising their voice against anything but the grossest assault on self or dignity, and thereon to dismiss it as a storm in a teacup. This is mistaken at best and a ploy to undermine the movement, at worst.
Indeed, women in well-paying jobs and the professions, have been the ones to come forward to denounce harassment and harassers. Even if the resultant benefit of delegitimising harassment and legitimising the calling out of harassers brings relief only to this social layer, it would be a huge gain. But there is every reason to believe that this gain would not stay confined to a tiny elite.
Either all or none is a stupid argument. And ahistorical as well. It is in the nature of things that leading proponents of social change often come from the better-off sections of society: women’s suffragists and feminist thinkers, for example. But what they do changes the lot of society itself.
Yet, there is a difference between predatory behaviour being held in check by fear of exposure by newly empowered women and a lasting cultural change that takes predation and harassment out of the interaction between bosses and subordinates and between men and women working together.
Tarana Burke, a black female activist from Harlem, originated the #MeToo movement. It began in 2006, 10 years ago after Burke bonded with a young girl at a youth camp. The girl revealed she had been sexually assaulted by her mother’s boyfriend, and Burke took steps to help the community take action to protect such children since there were no rape crisis centers nor any aid for sexual assault victims in the community. Burke was clear about the goal and purpose of the #MeToo movement: “To aid underprivileged women of color affected by sexual abuse.”
Her movement has been hijacked in a cruel bait-and-switch game, popularized in October 2017 after the assault accusations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. The #MeToo movement is advertised as representing the interests of all women, but when the benefits arrive, it is the elite who are highlighted. Just take a snapshot of the racial and class profiles of women who have come to the fore of #MeToo and you see those who occupy the upper echelons of business, the media and higher education.
The needs of those women living in trailer parks, trapped in crime-ridden and drug-infested urban neighborhoods, or languishing in our foster care or prison systems will continue to be ignored by #MeToo. These women reside in the #NotYou isolated areas of this country … out of sight and out of mind.
That cultural change cannot be brought about by a #MeToo movement that stands in isolation from an overhaul of society’s assorted hierarchies and normative values associated with them. A sustainable change in gender relations depends on democratisation of society and empowerment of the disempowered across the board.
“Dhol gawar shudra pashu nari, ye sab tadan ke adhikari,” goes a line in Tulsidas: the drum, the rustic, the low-born, animal and woman, these are entitled to be beaten. It reflects a normative social order in which women and those of ritually lower castes are placed on par with animals and a musical instrument designed to be struck.
Manu, the ancient law giver, declares that a woman, protected by the father in childhood, by the husband in youth and the son in old age, is not worthy of autonomy. Of course, subordination of women and control of female sexuality are common to most cultures and not unique to Hindu society. The same Manusmriti declares the Brahmin to be the lord of all creation and ordains it the duty of all other castes to serve him.
India has a democratic Constitution, but the cultural ethos has been shaped by an ideology that divides society into hierarchies and denudes multitudes of temporal and spiritual power.
Sustained gender equality calls for uprooting this ideology. Women’s equality is intimately tied up with ending caste inequality, meaning removal of caste itself.
Part of Democratisation
A social structure and attendant cultural norms that see kidnapping and raping lower-caste girls as the natural privilege of upper-caste men will constantly feed predatory entitlement in every stratum of society. The short point is that radically altering gender balance at the workplace calls for overall democratisation of society and empowerment of those disempowered at present. If the #MeToo movement is to offer something more than catharsis, it must build links to a broader democratic movement for realising, in practice, the guarantees of rights and freedoms held out by the Constitution to one and all.
Laws do not enforce themselves, especially when they conflict with custom.
Sections of society must mobilise to enforce existing laws or write new ones that get rid of unfair restraints.
Tweeting about sexual harassment in office while being wholly oblivious to the violation of rights of those labelled urban naxals is, in other words, self-defeating. What of M J Akbar? He should resign or be sacked, not because anything has been proved beyond reasonable doubt but because it is wholly inappropriate for a man accused of sexual misconduct by so many women to continue as minister.
It is remarkable that a party that rode to the political centre-stage in Ram’s name forgets an elementary principle that Ram upheld at the cost of personal trauma: he abandoned Sita when he learned that his own confidence in his wife’s purity was not shared by his subjects.
Of course, the rationale underlying the norm was misogynistic but that does not take away from the point that Ram upheld political propriety over personal preference. Political propriety demands that Akbar should not continue as a minister of the Indian Union.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author's own. Original Link to the story :https://blogs.economictimes.indiatimes.com/cursor/for-metoo-to-sustain/