Inferiority complex is the gift that women in India receive as part of their socialisation, indoctrinated at every stage. The main goal of social institutions such as marriage, family, motherhood and others is the repression of women. Not fighting this repression and embracing it as the natural state of being is the main cause of all the issues that women face in this country.
Hence, a sigh of a woman speaks what even thousand pages cannot comprehend.
‘Me Too’ is a collection of many such sighs. The stories that have come out are not personal experiences of pain, of either Priya Ramani, Tanushree Dutta, Shruti Hariharan, Kangana Ranaut; they are the repressed stories of oppression suffered by innumerable women. ‘Me Too’, just like any other campaign or movement, aims for achieving equality: the oppressed should organise and fight for equality, and ‘Me Too’ has organised certain sections of women.
Most social organisations thrive upon male domination, and cinema and media are not an exception to this. The colorful world of cinema and media that foster patriarchy and male domination are the prominent sites of sexual harassment.
Talking about sexual harassment that women face in workplace is perceived to be an act that violates the dignity of the organisation, thus it is a tool that men use to control women in the workplace. Most men believe in the Freudian idea of female sexuality, according to which it is ‘inactive, hysterical and innately submissive’, and women are socialised into believing that she is the one to be desired by men and is incapable of desiring. This is the sentiment that runs through across classes. This in fact is obstructing liberation of women in its true sense.
‘Me Too’ in India
‘Me Too’ has set a stage for the voices against sexual harassment that cuts through these oppressive sentiments prevalent in the worlds of cinema and media. The discussion around the violation of self-esteem and respect of female actors was started in the Malayalam film industry following the accusation of sexual harassment against actor Dileep in 2017 by a female actor. The prominent female actors of the industry came together to form the ‘Women in Cinema Collective’, and this rolled out the movement across the nation. The same year in October, Alyssa Milano, a female actor of Hollywood accused the director Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment giving rise to the Me Too campaign as ‘hashtag Me Too’ (#Me Too). It started in Hollywood and in no time the movement spread like wildfire across the globe. Elite women began to out the perverted behaviour of their prominent elite male counter parts. The true colours of the heroes, directors and other male members of the cinema fraternity came out in public.
In September 2018, during the anniversary of the #Me Too, Tanushree Datta, a former actor in the Hindi film industry publicly accused Nana Patekar of sexual harassment. She had to pay a heavy price for the harassment that she had faced in the hands of the actor- the harassment had pushed her towards depression and she had turned towards eastern spirituality, Buddhism, Vipasana, and Christianity to recover from depression. She also had to bid adieu to her career in the film industry and is currently settled in the United States.
This gave rise to women who believe in speaking up. Priya Ramani, a senior journalist accused M J Akbar, a senior journalist and a Minister, of sexual harassment; following Ramani, the horrific stories of harassment by Akbar started to unfurl. Even in Karnataka the same developments took place and ‘Me too’ has become the centre of all discussions: most of the men who have been accused are busy in formulating ways to destroy the careers of the women who are speaking up and repress their voices. They are also in the forefront of the efforts to erase all the available evidences against them.
Against this backdrop, women’s movement is beginning to look at the condition of women in the upper classes or what we call the elite classes, and women in the cinema industry- to learn yet again that women across classes are oppressed. These few women who are speaking up against sexual harassment have probably made it easy for many more women.
‘Metro Feminism’ ?
Me Too is also being strongly criticised by a few.
Some are branding these women who are raising their voices as homosexuals and some female colleagues of accused actors are busy giving clean chit in their defence, claiming that they are innocent. Many women are seen arguing that these women who are raising their voices are doing so to gain cheap publicity. All such criticism makes one wonder, what is it that is making women to turn their backs towards other women who are speaking up?
In the history of human social development, the first one to be enslaved were women. As Frederick Engels said, woman has been a slave of a slave of a slave of a slave. The state of mind that was responsible for this enslavement can still be felt to be thriving around us even in 2018. Even though none of the scriptures ban the entry of the menstruating women into the Sabarimala temple, and the Supreme Court has also passed a verdict permitting the entry of women, we still see women themselves protesting against the verdict and insisting that women should not enter the temple. Just the same way, there are democratically elected female representatives who insist upon their male relatives to accompany them in the office meetings. Same kind of women criticise those women who are speaking up in the Me Too movement. All such instances show the influence of wrong models and ideals that make women submissive and enslaved.
This is also the main reason as to why women find it difficult to talk about the harassment that they face. The voices of women against oppression are silenced arguing that they are subjective experiences. Campaigns and movements like Me Too aim precisely to break this notion and claim the universality of these experiences. Those women who are speaking up are saying, “My problem is not only mine. Sexual harassment should be discussed openly just as caste-class-religion based violence is discussed and the solution should be sought publicly.”
Some women have criticised the Me Too campaign as ‘Metro Feminism’ and ‘Corporate Feminism.’ This criticism comes in the light of the increased attention that the narratives of sexual harassment of the upper class and famous women are receiving from the same media that has always ignored the plight of working class women.
Yes, it is true that these women are upper class, elite and famous. But then, who made these women famous? It is the personalising of life that has generated a market for the private lives of these women, in turn making them famous. The society and media have both forgotten that these famous women and men are just like any other human beings who eat, drink, cry and celebrate. If one peeps into their personal lives and reports, it becomes ‘breaking news’.
Let us not forget, fame is a responsibility and it is also forced upon few human beings. Historically, it has been the responsibility of women to guard the honour, name and fame of a certain community, clan and/or class. This responsibility in turn has forced women into taking to silence until death. It is hurtful to see these women who took a step forward towards a change, being criticised for wrong reasons. This campaign no doubt should not be limited only to the famous and upper class women but should also reach out to the working class and lower strata women; but the question is, whose responsibility is it to make this possible?
Such criticisms also assume that the working class and lower strata lack the ability to think. This assumption in itself is a reflection of feudal values. There exist working class women who are empowered to make all the decisions in their lives on their own and in the same class there are also those who are forced to become prey for the rich and mighty. Behind the walls of palaces there are women who are lazy and lavish and also there are women who cry due to oppression. In Karnataka, when a female Ramakatha singer (an upper caste woman who went to court) was sexually harassed by a ‘God man’, the community of the singer had claimed, “if she was of a lower caste then it would have become international news, but since she is from the upper caste, no one is interested to listen to her voice.” On the other hand, such groups also exist which say, “When dalit women in Khairlanji-Vijayapura-Malur are raped and killed, it doesn’t move anybody, but a Nirbhaya would drag the whole nation out on the streets.”
What is the Truth?
Violence is the only truth.
Mathura was a tribal girl; Aruna Shanubaug was a nurse; Nirbhaya was from Delhi; Soujanya was from a poor family near Dharmasthala, Karnataka; young girls of Vijaypur and Kashmir were Dalit and Muslim – true. But irrespective of their caste, religion, class, nationality, organisation or party affiliation, when someone says they were hurt, it should shake one’s conscience. This is the only truth. It is the responsibility of each one of us, to be there for those who confide about the harassment and to ensure it does not happen with anybody again in future. It is inevitable for the women’s movement today, to break the boundaries of community, class and sexuality.
Standing with all those who are oppressed is feminism. It stands for the liberation of all oppressed human beings, both women and men. If campaigns like Me Too, Happy to Bleed, Kiss of Love and the temple entry movement aim at shaking at least one stone in the foundation of the casteist patriarchal Indian society, then it is our duty to support them. They should be supported by every woman.