Social media is a strange beast. Ask anyone who's spent any time on it and they'll give you enough examples that show the depths of human depravity. Expletives, abuses, character assassination, slander and violent threats are all par for the course if you regularly inhabit the online world. One's chances of experiencing all of these, sometimes simultaneously, increase exponentially if one is a woman, with an opinion on matters that affect her physical, mental and emotional well-being.
Which is why it's like a shot of oxygen for a person gasping for air on the rare occasions that the incredible power of social media is harnessed to bring about a positive social change.
In the last couple of days, the feminist movement around the world has experienced something magical. And it started with a simple enough idea — joining hands, virtually.
Hollywood has been under intense scrutiny for creating a toxic environment that breeds sexual predators, allowing them to sexually harass women with impunity.
For almost a fortnight now, Hollywood has been under intense scrutiny for creating a toxic environment that breeds sexual predators, allowing them to harass women in the industry with impunity. One of its doyens, Harvey Weinstein, has been accused of sexual harassment and rape by multiple actresses, his own employees and other film industry workers over the course of three decades, stirring a global debate about power structures in social and professional settings that allow rampant abuse and ill-treatment of women.
As more and more industry insiders came forward with their stories of abuse, on 16 October, actress Alyssa Milano called on all the people who had ever been assaulted or harassed to tweet with #MeToo to help others understand the scale of the problem of sexual abuse — across sexual and gender identities.
And social media responded in a spectacularly unexpected way. Not just women, but people from every gender and sexual orientation from across the world came together in a bittersweet, cathartic, heartbreaking show of solidarity as stories of abuse tumbled out on social media platforms, after months, years and decades of silence and internalised shame. Twitter confirmed that within 24 hours, #MeToo had been tweeted nearly half a million times.
It was evident that sexual abuse is a malaise that cuts across caste, class and professional barriers, as women from all walks of life talked about experiences that were scarily similar.
#MeToo A man tried to assault me into realising how much he cared.
— Mitali Saran (@mitalisaran) October 16, 2017
Social media is not new to conversations about sexual violence, but for the most part, they are limited to a handful of feminists ploughing on in the face of ridicule and threats. The global show of solidarity we have witnessed since Milano's tweet is as unprecedented as it is important.
For the last few days, Indian twitter has been abuzz with a case not dissimilar to Weinstein. Multiple women from Pune levelled accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct against Khodu Irani, the owner of High Spirits, a popular local night club.
Refusing to back down even when High Spirits staunchly rubbished the accusations, several women shared screenshots of their alleged conversations with Irani, in most of which he is seen making unsolicited sexual advances. Presently, there are roughly 30 accusations against Irani. High Spirits, however, continues to be operational and hold events.
The furore over the matter, with dozens of men indirectly defending Irani by questioning why women continued to go there despite the unbridled harassment being an open secret, prompted a former employee to write a detailed blog on Medium explaining how Irani's entire eco-system — the staff, his friends, and regulars at the club had, over the years, thoroughly normalised the culture of abuse and objectification. Even as several women employees routinely suffered mental and emotional breakdowns from the stress of grappling with the way they felt, they found themselves justifying Irani's behaviour due to years of gaslighting and having the veracity of their lived experiences questioned.
Ask any victim of sexual abuse and they will tell you that not being believed can be almost as devastating as the experience of abuse itself.
Creating and cementing a culture of silence is the most effective way of ensuring that the status quo is never challenged.
We all know that it's happening to all women, everywhere, in every space they occupy, but the magnitude of the problem of sexual violence and the enormous impact it has on every woman's experience of life continues to be ignored or shrouded in secrecy. Creating and cementing a culture of silence is the most effective way of ensuring that the status quo is never challenged, giving men the right to treat women and their bodies with unchecked entitlement.
Which is why, when women band together, refusing to be shouted down or talked over, making it their mission to ensure that, for once, the victims' voices are louder than the aggressors', no matter how big or small the transgression, it is a giant stride in the right direction.
As is the nature of social media, eventually the tweets, retweets and status updates will wane and be reduced to a trickle. And yes, soon enough, our shrinking attention spans will force us to divert our energies to the next and the new; but for now, it is the moment of all the women who were too scared, too ashamed, too something to come together to find strength in one another and reclaim some part of their narratives by simply saying #MeToo.
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