Let’s talk about sexual molestation, say #MeToo, shame the harassers
The video of the sexual molestation incident of a child actor and her distraught social media post resonated with young girls and women.mumbai Updated: Dec 13, 2017 23:40 IST
“She is an actor. That’s why her complaint was taken so seriously,” remarked a young girl to me. She was referring to the child actor’s ordeal during a Delhi-Mumbai flight over the weekend. The video of the sexual molestation incident and her distraught social media post resonated with young girls and women. “But did you note that despite being a popular actor, she was trolled? What chance do the rest of us stand,” asked this girl.
She had put her finger on the crux of the issue: Sexual molestation and harassment have become routine occurrences in the lives of young girls and women, but addressing them is not as common. It calls for courage, it requires some privilege. The issue goes to the root of structural patriarchy and misogyny in society.
The actor’s celebrity status coupled with her use of social media upped the ante. The Mumbai Police quickly registered a case and arrested the alleged molester, a middle-aged senior corporate executive. The Women’s Commissions in Maharashtra and Delhi, and the National Commission for Women, took note of the case, assured her support and engaged with the airline.
The teenager’s distress went viral and national, she received support. But it did not stop the trolling, disgusting abuse and sickening shaming she was subjected to. How was it her fault that a man seated behind her made her his target? How is it any girl’s or woman’s fault that they are harassed or molested anytime, anywhere? And just how many harassers and molesters can be confronted, counter-attacked or taken to task?
The statistics are unsettling enough for mega campaigns to be launched. Each statistic means a young girl scarred in some way, her trust in society dented, an apprehension of public places settling in to her psyche, her powerlessness and her sense of shame deepening, her mentally working out an imminent danger quotient for the men she meets, perhaps a danger to her life itself. And all this possibly influencing her life choices.
It happens in the most innocuous of ways, but a young girl knows molestation or harassment. A skating instructor allows his touch to linger. The assistant at the rappelling wall blocks her descent with that gleam in his eye. The watchman or gardener sizes her up, over and over again. An uncle lets his gaze linger below her face for just a few seconds more. The rickshaw or cab driver ogles at her in the rear-view mirror. Co-commuters touch and grope her on crowded railway bridges, in buses. The men laughing away at the corner mock as she walks past them to the public toilet block. A classmate’s father comments on her body.
She checks her clothes; it’s mostly jeans with baggy shirts or churidar-kurtas. Mothers – well, most mothers – rattle off a dozen “stay safe” instructions, as if those can form a protective cover around her. The incidents gnaw her. The faces haunt her. But how many of them will she drag to cops? And what if the cops themselves make the ordeal worse? Eventually, as we know, teenage girls grow up developing their own self-defence mechanisms, form whisper networks about unsafe people and places, learn to watch out for each other. But it should not be this way at all.
There should be no reason that a teenager experiences the world differently if she is a girl. If she does, she ought to be able to speak up without the society dismissing it as “harmless” or “eve-teasing”. Shaming and blaming her, denying her experiences, making her fearful of consequences of speaking up have disastrous long-term consequences for the individual and society, as psychologists warn us. The harassers ought to be shamed, if that.
Each time a woman speaks up, a DJ stands up, a law student draws up The List, a bevy of famous Hollywood actresses open up about a media mogul like Harvey Weinstein setting off similar exposes elsewhere, the shrouds of silence around everyday molestation and harassment come off. The #MeToo is a powerful hashtag already. There’s still a long, long, way to go. But, this year, sexual molestation and harassment have become a part of legitimate and loud public discourse. So far, so good.