How Do We Sustain the #MeToo Movement?


How Do We Sustain the #MeToo Movement?

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

October 2018 was nothing short of a turbulent rollercoaster ride for Indian women. With #MeToo penetrating into Indian newsrooms, comedy circles, film sets, art galleries, startups, and even advertising companies, hundreds of survivors have banded together to out their harassers.

What started out as the simple act of naming and shaming predators online, has over time progressed into a cohesive movement: Complaints are being taken forward to respective organisations and institutions. FIRs have been filed. And perpetrators are facing repercussions for their unchecked actions: MJ Akbar had to resign as Union minister, Sajid Khan had to step down as director of Housefull 4, and the Federation of Western India Cine Employees and Cine and TV Artistes’ Association have issued show cause notices to Alok Nath.  

But despite the results of the #MeToo wave, it’s still hard to slot the repercussions of the movement into a universally agreeable definition of justice. For some women, it’s an act of confrontation, for some a search for closure, while for others, it’s an act of solidarity – of speaking up not for them, but for the sisterhood.

Dwelling on the anarchy of #MeToo, writer Supriya Nair observes how the intention of this movement was “never simply about finding legal recourse” but always about “exposing a social faultline”. It makes sense considering how it hinged entirely on calling out men’s unacceptable behaviour that we have been conditioned to normalise. It’s no wonder then that the default reaction for every new accusation broadcasted into our respective timelines has been unfettered rage. Sure, it’s accompanied by empathy for the survivors, solidarity for their courage, and frustration at the mechanisms that shield predatory behaviour. But, an impenetrable layer of anger – at men who harass with impunity, at the bystanders who look the other way, and at women and men who indulge in victim-blaming – have coloured each of these emotions.

What we often seem to forget is that in navigating all of these inroads, anger has been and will be our choice of weapon.

As the days pass, our collective anger and empathy tends to wane. Accusations refuse to shock us, even though they continue to rattle us. But our ability to be enraged diminishes with every violation made public – with every man sent on administrative leave and with every anonymous complaint casually disbelieved. Over the span of these three weeks, there’s been a drastic change in our level of engagement with these allegations.

With the risk of our reactions becoming more and more subdued, I can’t help but wonder: How do we sustain this momentum? Because rage and empathy are not inexhaustible emotions – they are easily spent.

Even as we debate how to keep the movement alive, the best way forward probably rests on our ability to be relentless with our rage, our demands, and our solidarity. Whether it is urging women to escalate their accusations as formal complaint to internal work committees or the women’s commission or taking legal recourse, or ensuring that workplaces, organisations and public events distance themselves from proven offenders.

What we often seem to forget is that in navigating all of these inroads, anger has been and will be our choice of weapon. Our refusal to let go of our long overdue rage could possibly herald a culture where angry women aren’t casually dismissed as hysterical. A reality where men fear the anger of women – because it is justified and has consequence.  

The public outing of our harassers might not end sexual harassment, but it might just end up giving the next girl enough confidence to speak up about abuse, hold a powerful man accountable, and refuse to internalise shame. The only way we can guarantee that #MeTooIndia doesn’t just end up as a mere public whisper network is by staying angry and not backing down. It’s probably time to bring the adage “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” to life.