By Aditya Bhalla May. 27, 2019
The #MeToo campaign’s biggest achievement has been to educate men in the magnitude of abuse and harassment that women face, something that should have been obvious to men all along. Will this tale have a happily-ever-after?
Here’s a reality-accurate fairytale.
Once upon a time, not too far back in the past, it was super easy to trigger the real men of the internet. All it took was a person of the opposite sex to put forth some insight into the centuries-old oppression of an entire gender. Often, it was simply enough to make a comment about women reclaiming their own bodies for these guys to stumble in, combing their chest hair, chewing imaginary cigars, grunting something about how men were being ignored. Sometimes, a group of men loudly discussed feminism, as a woman sat quietly in the corner because she was tired of being shouted down.
In those days, a real man’s response to feminism was like a dog discovering his family had ordered tandoori chicken — he wanted in. Male critics of the movement argued that since their sex appeared to have been left out of this conversation, it was a sexist movement. Like a teenager with FOMO about not being invited to a birthday party, these men threw constant passive-aggressive shade at feminists — “Oh you’re one of those feminist-types, are you?” In those dark days, men shut their eyes and brains to the sexism around them and harassment was something that happened in a land far, far away.
Not long after, this group of grunting men started to wonder how feminism was relevant to them, and decided that the movement needed a man in charge. Through countless Twitter debates, they butted into the conversation with topics like “reverse sexism” and “how do we include men” into a movement that was never really meant for them. It was a dark time in the land of the internet. Until the fated day it was visited by a knight in sunglasses and a see-through vest, the #NotAllMen.
After the orange Pennywise from the White House was outed for his questionable locker-room talk (something almost all men have done at some point in their lives), there was enough outrage for a few men to go on the backfoot. More men online began to acknowledge that there might be a sexist few out there, but were quick to mention that it was of course #NotAllMen. It’s the same logic behind #AllLivesMatter, and gives the people of the internet precedence to ask PETA why it is still ignoring alien rights. During a typical conversation, a #NotAllMen acolyte would interrupt your story about the last time a man was staring at you, to remind you that not all men are actually like that.
This made way for the dragon of our story – the Sophisticated Ignorant. “I’m on the right side, I swear. I respect women so much all the time bro. I’m legit… wanna have sex? No… Okay maybe later. Of course, you want to this time, I was so respectful of you the last time.”
The Sophisticated Ignorant spends his time arguing semantics at public gatherings, and talks about how men should side with feminists because we should all be guilty of our privilege, but apparently not guilty enough to refrain from hijacking the one women-centric movement the world has. The Sophisticated Ignorant could be seen in action everywhere: The pinnacle was reached earlier this year, when one Mexican college decided to hell with all pretence, and asked eleven dudes to host a panel on feminism.
But this is not one of those fairytales that can be summed up as, “Dragon rescued, maiden slain.” This is a WIP story, that might, just might have a fairytale ending.
In the last week, almost every woman I know personally has spoken out on social media about being the target of sexual abuse and harassment.
In the last year or so, almost every woman I know personally has spoken out on social media about being the target of sexual abuse and harassment. Many of the culprits are not the typical molester the #NotAllMen brigade likes to fetishise and use to absolve themselves of all responsibility. The typical harasser and abuser is not some woman-hater who lives in a cave – these are men we meet and interact with every day. They have to be. Colleagues, neighbours, friends, strangers, even family. Because that means that the pool of #NotAllMen shrinks by the second. It isn’t possible that such a large number of women have come forward with claims of harassment at the hands of just a few bad apples. There are Ben Afflecks, Harvey Weinsteins, Khodu Iranis everywhere. And if men have not been active harassers, they have been guilty of being complicit in it, by failing to recognise or call out harassment for what it is. One would imagine that this would be obvious to everyone by now, given that it’s 2019, but maybe what it needed was a hashtag to understand the magnitude of the extent of sexual abuse and harassment.
With #MeToo, we finally had a hero in sight. The hashtag brought to light not just stories of everyday harassment, but the routines women have to follow to just get through the day – routines that most men are oblivious to. From choreographed routines to avoid creeps while walking down the road, to ensuring what everyone’s drinking has come out of a sealed bottle, to the way a bag is to be carried on a train, everything is to be planned with this looming threat at the back of every woman’s head. All of this before breakfast. I can’t claim to understand it, but I can only imagine how exhausting it is. My only thought in the morning is to stumble out of bed and somehow reach work on time.
This is the subtle shift in the narrative. A few weeks or months ago, I’m not sure most men were even aware of this.
And so came the inclusion of the archetypal hero in this Hashtag fable — #SoDoneChilling. I’ve read murmurs that the hashtag movement can only get you so far, and it is a form of activism far removed from reality. But the subtle changes are there for the world to see if you look hard enough. In the years since women first started speaking out, detractors (mostly men, some women) have gone from calling feminism a sexist movement, to acknowledging its goals, to actually being shocked by the number of women speaking out and standing in solidarity (resulting in #SoDoneChilling).
Of course, no one is going to be able to solve patriarchy in one week. It’s going to be painfully slow, and the response to #MeToo and #SoDoneChilling in the mystical land of the internet is far from perfect… In fact, we’ve already been introduced to fresh abominations like “#MenToo,” the latest attempt to highjack a sexual harassment movement, by reminding everyone (once again) that men are harassed too. Last week, dozens of activists and regular folk held placards at India Gate to protest the skewed gender laws, and balance, we presume, has been restored.
Still, as more women speak out on social media platforms, more creeps will live in fear of being called out, and more men will rally behind them. The barrage of detractors will slowly seem too ignorant to be included in the mainstream, and the people who have called the whole movement attention-seeking will cease to be relevant. We might be far from the end of the tale, but we seem to be inching, lumbering to a happily-ever-after. If the conversation continues.