India's #MeToo moment has finally arrived. Most national and international news outlets have opined as women from media and entertainment industry are breaking their decades of silence and 'naming and shaming' their molesters at workplace. As a woman who had been a journalist not too long ago, I was appalled by the revelations and elated that finally, women were getting a platform to voice their darkest fears.
Not surprisingly, however, amidst all the outpouring support and empathy there has been a steady stream of open suspicion, outright rejection and hysteric fear about false accusations. Not a surprise again that a major portion of these counter-narratives has been from the male point of view. The spectrum of male response to #MeToo has been very broad starting from attempts to quantify abuse to hysteric fear that it is a very difficult time to be a man and this hysteria has been the genesis of the #HimToo hashtag. Men are apparently confused about what is abuse, what is 'harmless flirting', what constitutes harassment and what is a benign compliment. In short, #HimToo reveals that men have never paid much attention to 'consent'.
#HimToo has been on the internet for a few months now, but was propelled to popularity, albeit on a hilarious note, when a Florida woman posted a picture of her son with the hashtag claiming that he is scared to go out on 'solo dates' even though he respects women. The tweet spurred a series of memes and the son in question, Pieter Hanson, had to open a Twitter account to clarify that he didn't support #HimToo and believed all survivors. But not all #HimToo claims have ended on frivolous notes and there is no reason to take it lightly.
#HimToo is being used as a weapon to combat the #MeToo that is clearly being perceived as a direct threat to male kind and the campaigners are trying to make an anti-abuse movement all about cis-het men by portraying themselves as victims. Interestingly, #MeToo has not been restricted to one gender and many men have used it to talk about their experiences of abuses in the hands of other men as well as women and the gender binary that #HimToo seeks to introduce, belies the very basis of this movement. It, not only casts aspersions on women survivors, but also makes it more difficult for male victims to speak out.
The #HimToo campaigners have used the patriarchal rhetoric of painting women as conniving and vindictive who would go to any length for maligning men. They have amassed women supporters by convincing them that their husbands, fathers, brothers and sons are not safe anymore. Donald Trump, while lauding Brett Kavanaugh's appointment, called it a victory of women because clearly, the only thing that should concern women are the wellbeing of their male relatives and acquaintances.
Along with the hysteria surrounding fake allegations, there is also a flurry of tweets trying to establish that #NotAllMen are molesters and that movements like #MeToo label all men as harassers. The brigade has gone on an anti-feminism tirade emphasising that the movement has become increasingly about misandry and domination over male. Men have repeatedly emphasised their own virtues because they have not physically forced themselves upon women even when they could, refusing to realise that such a behaviour is accepted as normal and will not be lauded as chivalrous.
As I scrolled through Ghazala Wahab's heart-wrenching account of assault by journalist and Union Minister MJ Akbar, limp with disgust and horror, I could not even bring myself to imagine what she had gone through 20 years ago and how she had managed to put on a faÃ§ade of normalcy every single day after that, determined to not be labelled as a victim. Her detailed description of day-to-day harassment has laid bare the impunity that the perpetrators sitting in powerful positions enjoy and even then, men have only been worried about their reputations being tarnished by false accusations and have felt threatened about their actions being misconstrued.
The #HimToo brigade has been busy questioning the authenticity of the survivors' accounts seeking proof and citing delay in opening up while in reality every account in Indian media and entertainment industry harps upon the inaction that followed their complaints which made it more difficult for the accusers to continue working in that scenario. The comment sections " the underbelly of social media that reveals the darkest misogyny of Indian men " of articles on #MeToo allegations are full of men insinuating that most alleged assaults are, in fact, consensual but women concoct lies to bring down the men. They seek tangible proof but brush aside supporting statements and accounts that corroborate the survivors' narratives because no proof is proof enough when it comes to women.
The #HimToo campaigners express worry about their safety and the authenticity of reports because women have been levying accusations often after a decade or more. Repeated reminders that there are evidences of the survivors confiding in friends, associates, colleagues and even going to the police, fall into deaf ears. The entire brigade ignores the mental state of victims and refuses to recognise the complexity of situations because nothing is more valuable than a bruised male ego.
The #HimToo supporters have presented the survivors with quite a catch-22 situation. While female actors like Tanusree Dutta and Sandhya Mridul have been accused of trying to worm back into the limelight by making fake claims of harassment, anonymous accounts of survivors naming their accusers are also being questioned, well no prizes for guessing, citing the very anonymity. 'Damned if I do and damned if I don't' and clearly, nothing will be enough to make them believe survivors.
A male friend's Facebook post expressing solidarity with survivors had another man commenting that the former would realise the danger of the #MeToo movement once he is falsely implicated for some harassment that he had not committed. This comment and millions like him are telling examples that men have reduced the #MeToo movement to an attempt to subvert their sex while refusing to take responsibilities for their actions.
While arguing that rape and sexual assault become weapons at the time of wars, feminist scholar Cynthia Enloe had argued the assaults become a part of a 'wartime stew' termed as 'lootpillageandrape' and women's accounts are hardly recorded even while negotiating peace. Faced with the onus of proving assault and risking social stigma in the process, they choose to bury their trauma. The incessant demand for tangible proofs and the resultant 'slutshaming' reveals that the situation probably is not too different in privileged urban spheres where #MeToo has been taking roots.
As Emily Scott writes in The New York Times, even the Bible needs its own #MeToo accounts as it is replete with stories of women who are nothing more than nameless pawns in men's wars and their diplomacies and there is not a single line devoted to their perspective or to their consent in the entire holy text. No major event in history or in mythology has been told from the perspective of women who have largely been relegated to being either objects or tools of oppression. Hashtags like #HimToo and #NotAllMen are proofs that men are becoming hysterical about any shifts from the male-centric perspective.
The tweets we retweet, the solidarity we express, the support we amass are largely for women who have managed to carve a niche for themselves in their chosen professions. There are a million others with scarred memories, mental illness and botched careers all because of their assaulters and they are still not empowered enough to speak out, not privileged enough to lose the jobs that depend on the whims of their assaulters. Hashtags like #HimToo and #NotAllMen further drive these women into a corner making them believe that there is no way out but to submit. Survivors are finally going public with their darkest and most vulnerable moments, not to make celebrated actors like Henry Cavill nervous about flirting for fear of being labelled a 'rapist or something', but to lay down the rules of consent once and for all so that no other woman has to cut short her ambitions for fear of being bodily harmed and has to make the difficult choice between safety and career.