By Himanshu Sharma
As the world grapples with Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the US Supreme Court despite serious sexual assault allegations against him, India is going through its own #MeToo moment. The flurry of cases being uncovered back home – comics, journalists, veteran actors – underscore the point made by Kavanaugh’s confirmation: Men don’t give a damn about sexual harassment survivors, so long as their bros are protected. From Anurag Kashyap, Tanmay Bhat, and so many other men in power who knew all along and enabled the harassers, the most worrying part of the multitude of allegations is that so many people who could have done something chose to not act.
Justifiably, women are furious AF. Not just at the cases, but also at our collective indifference to the suffering of countless survivors through the years. It’s only the allegations that are surfacing now, harassment behind the scenes has been a part of patriarchal society and daily life as far back as one can remember. But in the light of a global #MeToo movement, this is the time when everyone’s had enough.
Us men? Well, we have responded in a variety of ways, most of them completely opposed to the rage and fury we, as a part of the same unjust society, should be feeling right now. Some men have taken the diplomatic route and responded by simply not knowing about it at all, as 41 per cent of the 1,147 men surveyed in a GQ and Glamour quiz were found to have had no idea about the movement. We have also responded in an extremely guilty tone of defensiveness, the best example of which is the recent Donald Trump speech about how it’s a “dangerous time to be a man”. Some of the other, less clearly problematic reactions from men to #MeToo have also, at times, bordered on mansplaining. At no point did we stop to ask ourselves what part of the phrase “#MeToo” sounds like a question or cue for nuanced critical analysis?
We’re still busy replying to the movement when it didn’t ask for any response. What it did ask, however, is for us to quietly listen, and then to take this conversation to other men who may genuinely not know what they’re doing wrong, and to gather the means to call out the predators. To sit together and recognise problematic behaviour among ourselves that normalises a culture of widespread harassment, and our part in its perpetuation. It was about recounting the extent of the problem, listening, healing, and having some difficult conversations as to where it all went so horribly wrong, and what we’re doing to fix it.
However, things haven’t exactly followed that understanding path. Men have gone on to issue lengthy statements on the nuanced, grey shades of consent, about the effects of the movement on men in particular, and dating culture in general, and handed out unsolicited advice to women on how to proceed, among other things absolutely no one asked for.
Even now, there’s an air of separating ourselves and the culture we are an active part of, from the vile men who actually go out and harass, molest, and rape.
As far as I can see, nothing has changed. #MeToo has not solved patriarchy or stopped the men who harassed and abused from continuing their behaviour. The greyer area is how the rest of us are taking it, the ones who’d stay silent at inappropriate behaviour from fellow men for the fear of confrontation, the ones who, in all honesty, don’t think it’s any of their faults, even if it’s quite difficult to not know what constitutes sexism or sexual misconduct in today’s age.
Even now, there’s an air of separating ourselves and the culture we are an active part of, from the vile men who actually go out and harass, molest, and rape. A wall of separation between us and them is so clearly visible in these conversations if you care to listen. They don’t see the wrongdoers as just a higher degree of misogyny gone unchecked, but a group of people separate from them. I’ve personally been told to not generalise all men on merely mentioning the Weinstein allegations. Honestly, if your first response to a whole different case of a crime unrelated to you is, “Hey, but I didn’t do anything,” maybe that response should tell you something about yourself.
This frustration of putting us in the same category as a group that we feel wholly and comfortably separate from is where the #NotAllMen narrative comes from. Many men would not admit to their role in the system – for a long time, I couldn’t either; it’s like we’re born with it or something – nor recount the times they could have spoken out and made a difference, but remained silent. #MeToo has only re-energised those conversations, though they were always happening for those who bothered to listen.
Every guy probably has that one friend (and many, many more than one in usual cases), who they know has problematic opinions, or who is so obviously creepy that they would not be invited to public gatherings around women. But they will actively keep them as friends, not call them out, and shout especially loudly when you tell them that by tolerating behaviour like that they may be a big part of the problem. But to them, rapists are completely different people from their misogynist childhood friend who “means no harm”.
This refusal to acknowledge our part in it is where the discrepancy in giving a fuck about #MeToo comes from – because men just don’t care to find out how we’re responsible. We keep making attempts to separate ourselves from any sort of culpability in that indifference.
A lot of us genuinely see no correlation between, say, someone in a position of power making a “women can’t drive” joke around them to actual sexual assaults. Nor do they realise that the patriarchy that drives honour killings in the country’s hinterland, which causes shock and outrage, is the same as the patriarchy they simply overlook at home when women are denied access to rituals meant exclusively for men at poojas and weddings.
As a society, we all owe each other and ourselves a mirror. For men, the #MeToo movement might be the biggest mirror of them all. Sadly, we seem incapable of comprehending the grotesqueness of that reflection, let alone taking active steps to fix it. Most will just refuse they have anything to do with the monster because the alternative is the difficult realisation that it is somehow a collective coming together of all these factors that have made the world what it is today.
It’s not like all of this has transpired within the last few days; women have been reaching out and telling us about the sheer gravity and magnitude of harassment they face every single day ever since I can remember. And yet our collective reaction to it has always been indifference at best. If a global movement of survivors coming together and sharing their horrific stories of harassment and assault doesn’t shake us from that indifference and make us – men – start taking immediate steps to fix it, what will?
Himanshu Sharma has written for Forbes, Cracked, Little Black Book, What’s Hot and Screen Rant.
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