Posted by Saloni Diwakar
On October 24th, an article appeared in Outlook magazine entitled “Dear Bollywood Actors, Would You Dare Name The Weinsteins Among You?” in the form of an open letter. We could disregard the derisively challenging tone of the title, but the rest of the article doesn’t get any better.
The author laments that while actresses have alluded to the existence of sexual harassment in Bollywood, they’ve been hesitant to name-drop. He posits that these actresses have acted in self-interest and are hence complicit in the continuing harassment of other actresses of lesser stature and power.
The most ridiculous and tone-deaf part of the article is when the author purports that the women who have spoken out now are only pretending to care about the issue. Regrettable phrases like, “It is of utmost importance to nip these transgressions in the bud so that they don’t bloom into “flowers” of sexual assault,” feature frequently. In a statement goading women to fight their own battles, the author cites four men – Mahatma Gandhi (oh, the irony), Muhammed Ali, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King as shining exemplars of bravado.
The entire discourse surrounding the Weinstein scandal has been predictably disheartening. While scores of women were encouraged to speak out, found solidarity in numbers, and an audience for their grievances, each instance was followed by men questioning the timing and motives of their confessions.
The utility of speaking out now, and suggestions that victims who agreed to sign an NDA had somehow transacted away their right to human dignity for a pay-out guaranteeing their silence and stifling their trauma ensued. Some even justified the occurrence of such instances given the nature of Hollywood, in which the lines suggesting appropriate workplace behaviour are often blurred, and morals are supposedly expected to run loose.
In light of this, one wonders just how much corrective attention was even given to the harassers, in comparison with the sheer volume of voices policing the manner in which women ought to (or ought not to) speak out. Is it absolutely imperative to school victims in communication skills?
Instead of establishing hotlines for anonymous tips, communicating or providing pro bono legal recourse, or simply allowing women to leverage social media to look out for each other and call out sexual harassers (à la the Raya Sarkar list)? The latter even saw feminists bifurcate into Savarna apologists, insisting “due course” be followed. They seem to forget that this is the same country in which due course meant that a victim of rape (a minor at the time of rape) was court-ordered to “mediate” with her rapist, to the end that they would marry in what was deemed a “happy conclusion”.
Perhaps the writer needs to be told that the Weinstein case is not an overnight revelation, but the result of decades’ worth of women following the “due course”, and nobody listening. Of women speaking up and powerful men and media houses warning of impending man-hate and “witch-hunts” (also, NO).
Wish men would stop using "witch hunt" -which describes mass hysteria that led to the deaths of innocent women- to mean "ppl are mad at me"
— Anne Thériault (@anne_theriault) October 15, 2017
That of all the women who spoke up, a percentage had to switch careers, or otherwise face repercussions that affected their career trajectories. Reliving assault is traumatic for victims, let alone following through with long-winded legalities with a one-in-never shot of lawful conviction.
Deigning to mansplain (there, I said it) sexual assault to victims of said assault reeks of male privilege (there, I did it again). Or the privilege of someone who never has to navigate life as a series of tradeoffs in personal freedoms – career choices, commutes, travel routes, hostel/PG in-times, clothing preferences etc.
The author does not address his open letter to men in Bollywood.
Women let seemingly trivial transgressions pass because they’re primed to prepare for much worse simply on their way to work. They get bullied and harassed for speaking out. Their experiences are denied as non-truths or half-truths or dismissed using “not-as-bad-as” reasoning.
They are talked out of filing FIRs after speeches about honour by self-righteous policemen. Even more ignorantly, their choice of words, tone and context in which they choose to speak out is deconstructed, dismantled, and reconfigured to the point that they become the point of discussion in think-pieces like yours. And now they’re open to judgment by your readers.
The expectation that victims of sexual assault must put a pin in their suffering to function as activists that also bear responsibility for the potential assault of others, distracts from the onus of men bearing the responsibility to not harass. To expect this in the absence of safe and anonymous communication channels, infrastructures that guarantee fair investigations and options allowing litigation, with minimal blowback to victims’ personal and professional life is naïve at best.
I write this not to discourage victims from speaking up, but to elicit empathy by men towards those who do speak out, to encourage bystanders to believe, help establish a protocol that’s equipped to fix the problem, and to redirect our penchant for incisive character analyses toward the harassers, not the victims.
It is interesting that the author cites the culture of silence that perpetuates harassment, and even acknowledges that men are useful allies in the fight against sexism, but does not address his open letter to men in Bollywood. Would it not be easier for men to leverage their social standing and support their female colleagues in calling out sexist behaviour? Must the onus always be on the victim? That’s just textbook victim-blaming.
Also Read: In Defense Of Social Media Activism
Saloni Diwakar is a psychology researcher and writer based in Pune. She enjoys reading about popular science, watching cartoons, and promotes rational thought in daily life. She can be followed on Twitter.
Featured Image Credit: MTV India