The last month and this month and for months to come, this avalanche will continue. But please don’t hide for cover. Read it all, empathise, grow stronger, grow angrier. It takes a lot of courage to speak out against what happened not just yesterday but what happened 10, 20, 30, 40, even 50 years ago.
You are not the weaker sex just because you were born with a vagina. Yes, it puts you at a higher risk of being abused and assaulted, but not because of who you are, but because of the world we have created. I say we, because I also take responsibility for creating this world. Each time I think of what the survivor of sexual violence could have done to protect herself or to not put herself in a dangerous situation or why it took her so long to speak out, I reinforce the twin Ps – patriarchy and privilege that allowed this and will allow to continue for the centuries to come.
Each time you hear a woman recount her #Metoo moment, don’t second-guess her. Just listen. Listen, really listen, and believe her.
I am sorry my dear daughter that this letter is not more hopeful. I am sorry that I cannot assure you that things will get better. They won’t. Not in India, not in the United States, not in Bulgaria or Iraq or Brazil or the Congo. There is no silver lining. There is no rainbow hiding behind these dark clouds. But let not the state of the world paralyse us into inaction. We know that the majority of women speaking out won’t get justice from the legal system – they simply won’t be able to prove it and our legal system is already too overburdened. Some of them will get apologies from the offenders, but not all. Some of them will know that their testimonies, will come to naught like Christine Blassey Ford but still have the courage to relive the worst of their life experiences.
But here’s something that we can do. As women, we can express solidarity with other women. Each time you hear a woman recount her #Metoo moment, don’t second-guess her. Just listen. Listen, really listen, and believe her. That’s the only balm we can offer right now. The silence has been shattered and these shards may not be sharp enough to pierce through the impunity with which sexual violence occurs, but at least it will make potential perpetrators take a second and think before they act. We don’t want men to quake in their boots. We only want them to think through the consequences of their actions – the anger, hurt, and lifelong scars they have caused to those they have used and abused.
At the cost of belabouring something which has been said a hundred times before – women don’t lie about sexual violence. See, the stakes are so high, if we wanted attention there are hundreds of safer ways we could get it. Women also do not report sexual harassment because it is exhausting – I can speak this from personal experience. Often sexual harassment takes place when we are at our most vulnerable – when a relationship is dissolving, or while we are going through a divorce or when we are in the ‘care’ of someone who is more empowered than we are.
I hope that just as we teach our daughters to be brave, we can teach our sons to be brave too. Brave enough to stand up for what’s right.
I was harassed at a place of work for 6 months and did nothing about it. I was scared, tired and worried that no one would believe me. When I asked him to stop, he got rude and aggressive and started making wild accusations about my character. Well, he has moved on to greener pastures and I have found some semblance of peace in my life. But I will not forget. I sometimes worry that my inaction means that he will be emboldened to do the same to another woman. I carry that guilt with me every day. But should we be holding ourselves to such high standards while the sanskari betas get a free pass?
The best we can do for now is hope that just as I am writing this letter to you, the parents and Uncles and Aunts and grandparents of sons are writing similar letters to their sons. Not letting them grow up thinking that just because they are good students or good at sports or been successful at a career, it means they have earned a license for sexual assault. There is no license for sexual assault, really.
I hope that the ‘bro’ culture, where toxic masculinity nourishes the roots of sexual violence is dismantled. I hope that institutions take note and go beyond paying lip service to the prevention of sexual harassment guidelines. I hope that just as we teach our daughters to be brave, we can teach our sons to be brave too. Brave enough to stand up for what’s right. Brave enough to resist assaulting someone, just because it’s what young, carefree boys do. Brave enough to support a colleague or a friend who has experienced assault. Brave enough to say #Notme. #Notnow. #Notever.
Featured Image Source: Gulf News