#MeToo: Why Women Refuse to Believe Other Women


#MeToo: Why Women Refuse to Believe Other Women

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

The last few days, whether you’re a man or a woman, have been confusing. As India’s #MeToo movement shows no signs of abating, no one is sure what the outcome will be. But the one thing we do know is that sexual harassment is a lot more pervasive than it seems.

There has been no dearth of stories even though hundreds more are still to be heard. We’ve mustered the courage to call out celebrities and strangers, but the movement hasn’t yet reached the point where we can call out those close to us. Perhaps we never will, because a significant part of the problem is not men… but the women who refuse to believe the survivors.

In Vinta Nanda’s terrifying post about being raped by “the most sanskaari person” in the industry, she did not name Alok Nath – because her mother warned her that publicly outing him would not be worth it. Our mothers, our sisters, our friends might often stop us out of concern for our safety, but even beyond them, there is a world of women who have not only discouraged survivors from naming and shaming their assaulters but  have also participated wholeheartedly in victim-blaming.

The truth is that when it comes to opening up about sexual abuse or harassment that they may have faced, women generally don’t talk to men. Their port of call is almost always another woman, and very often, it is this woman’s response that colours her reaction to the incident.

One of my closest friends was raped by her best friend’s father. My friend remained mum about this violation for years, unsure of what really happened. Years later, when she confided in her mother, she was asked to be cordial with her rapist because “Ladki kharab hogayi, ab log kya kahenge?” My friend’s already low-self esteem was crushed after her mother refused to support her; for months after, she continued blaming herself. And the next time she was abused, she knew better than to speak out.

The worst part of this exercise is, the ripple effect it inevitably causes: The outlier, who might be in single digits today, will multiply to double digits a couple of years later.

On the other spectrum of victim-blaming are women on Twitter, who as this tweet points out are more angered by “imperfect feminism” than “systemic misogyny” during #MeToo. When a noted editor was called out for sexual harassment by multiple women, his wife didn’t just jump to his defence but also invalidated the experiences of these women. She went on to blame survivors for making a big deal of “an affair that did not take off.” On the other hand, reporter and columnist Tavleen Singh, chose to indulge in whataboutery and discredited the entire movement – which includes scores of men and women outing their harassers and reliving their trauma – by saying that it made “little sense” since women in rural spaces have it far worse.

They are hardly the first women to take this stand. Since time immemorial, women have been conditioned to not speak up because their stories don’t meet the imaginary metric of not being “bad enough”. In an Atlantic piece titled, “Why Women (Sometimes) Don’t Help Other Women”, the author argues why the damage caused by women disbelieving each other is irreversible. “The basic idea is that since all women experience sexism, they should be more attuned to the gendered barriers that other women face. In turn, this heightened awareness should lead women to foster alliances and actively support one another. If women don’t help each other, this is an even worse form of betrayal than those committed by men. And hence, the special place in hell reserved for those women,” she writes.

Take for instance, in the Christine Blasey Ford case, even though the general female support tilted toward her, the ones who managed to make a difference were Republican women like Susan Collins who stood up for Brett Kavanaugh. And a staggering 43 per cent of other women believed him. You see, these outliers become the dispiriting face of an otherwise, empowering and revolutionary movement. Because if these women are convinced they can’t believe the survivors, why should anyone else?

The worst part of this exercise is, the ripple effect it inevitably causes: The outlier, who might be in single digits today, will multiply to double digits a couple of years later. India’s own #MeToo moment was heralded by one girl who spoke up against a comedian, which led to another woman speaking about powerful journalists and which eventually made its way into Bollywood. It’s a movement started, executed, and housed entirely on the shoulders of India’s women. It’s a movement that is a reminder of the sheer power of united women. And it’s also a movement where every woman counts – considering how it took one woman to start a movement, it could just as easily be derailed by another one.

Since us women have full power over how #MeToo unfolds, the onus is also on us, to stick together to guarantee the rage of #MeToo doesn’t fizzle out in a matter of weeks.