Dear Ms. Tavleen Singh. I recently came across an article penned by you and published in The Indian Express titled ‘Why I am Not MeToo’. In the said article you take great pains to explain why the recent phenomena of Indian women coming out on public platforms to publicly name and shame their sexual harassers – mostly men of great ‘repute’ and public standing – does not impress you. The article both angered as well as amused me with its tone and irrelevance.
You begin with calling the ‘Indian version’ of MeToo as ‘imitative’ and ‘irrelevant’ to the ‘real horrors’ Indian women face. You describe the movement as “nothing but a shabby copy of western Hollywood movement”, alluding to the churning in America’s movie industry following allegations of sexual misconduct, abuse, and assault by multiple women against Hollywood producer and film-studio owner Harvey Weinstein. The allegations led to the dismissal of Weinstein from his own company The Weinstein Company, which he co-owned with his brother and expulsion from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.
Ms. Tavleen, there are a few questions I would like to ask you. Why do think women coming out to recount stories of sexual misdemeanour by men around them is ‘imitative’ as an action on the individual level or as a movement on the social level? Just because of a shared name? Sexual abuse against women is a universal phenomenon and not confined to any one region or race. Also universal is the need to speak up when faced with situations where your rights and dignity as a human being has been violated.
Don’t you think that this sudden and urgent need to talk has may be got to do with women finally deciding that enough is enough? Do you think Indian women decided to speak up not because they had reached the limits of their patience as far as putting up with sexual misconduct by men was concerned, but because they wanted to imitate some fancy western-label movement? Women through the centuries have faced abuse of every nature and if they are now getting platforms of far-reaching impact to air their grievances and if a hashtag or a name gives them a sense of shared purpose and a sense of solidarity with their tribe, why does it bother you? And why do you think the #MeToo movement was essential, relevant and alright for western women and not their Indian counterparts?
Another thing I would like to ask you Ms. Tavleen is what do you mean by ‘real horrors’ Indian women face? Ms. Tavleen, sexual harassment that women face in their workplaces at the hands of their superiors and colleagues is very real and very scary. Don’t trivialise the pain and suffering of a set of women only because they have a voice and a platform that countless others don’t. Do you really believe that silencing the vocal women with voices would benefit the countless socio-economically marginalised and ‘voiceless’ women whose guardian angel you claim to be? Or are you only evoking the pain of these marginalised women to achieve your own agenda of belittling a movement that threatens to dethrone from the high pedestal some of the people who happen to be your ‘friends’?
why do you think that ‘you’ get to decide as to whose ‘horrors’ are real and who’s not?
Don’t you think that women who have silently been suffering humiliation of all sorts would derive strength and hope from seeing other women – some of them quite well-known – calling out predatory behaviour among powerful men? Maybe it would serve to embolden them to stand up for themselves in future knowing that there are hundreds of survivors out there and that they are not alone.
Why should we pessimistically believe that none of the women from the downtrodden sections of the society would benefit from the awakening created by the #MeToo movement? Why do you believe that #MeToo is an exclusively urban elitist movement concerned solely with resourceful women? Why do you believe that it would in any manner take away from women less fortunate in terms of socio-economic standing their due in terms of social justice and gender equality? And why do you think that ‘you’ get to decide as to whose ‘horrors’ are real and who’s not? Ms. Tavleen, your grounds for rejecting the #MeToo movement are too flimsy. Not to mention your attacks on its credibility utterly desperate.
You claim that in causing a loss of reputation or a job for those high-profile men who even a few days ago appeared invincible and could get away with almost anything, the #MeToo movement has achieved nothing and that it would do nothing to improve the lot of the ‘ordinary’ women. Ms. Tavleen, I would like to know the definition of ‘ordinary women’ as perceived by you. Are not the thousands of women who venture out of their homes to earn a livelihood and who quietly bear the brunt of sexual harassment because they cannot afford to lose their jobs ordinary enough for your taste? Or do you not feel for those women whose pain and suffering happened behind closed doors and did not make it as a spectacle on social media or who did not fortunately ended up with a fate as gruesome as some of the others of their tribe?
Maybe those women who haven’t been violated brutally in public (with documented proof) or killed mercilessly are not victim enough in your eyes. Or maybe you believe that ‘such’ incidents do not happen in swanky offices and that men who are professionally successful and wealthy cannot stoop to the base-level of forced sexual encounters. You, Ms. Tavleen, seems to have a very elitist view of criminality. You probably feel that women only point fingers at such ‘esteemed’ men for monetary benefits or for 15 minutes of fame. You also tend to forget that most of the #MeToo survivors were ‘ordinary’ young women venturing out on a quest to build their careers when they faced what they claim they did and hence they were equally, if not more, vulnerable to any woman who ventures out of her home for whatever reasons.
one hand you lament that majority of the women don’t have the voice and on the other hand you are quick to dismiss those who have the desired voice and the visibility.
It is only now that these survivors have the means and the standing to expose their harassers. And if they are doing so, would you simply dismiss them and their claims because they are not ‘ordinary’ enough for your liking? I am unable to solve the contradictions within your stand as on the one hand you lament that majority of the women don’t have the voice and the visibility to even count and hence suffer silently and on the other hand you are quick to dismiss those who have the desired voice and the visibility and you simply refuse to believe them for exactly that reason. If this isn’t hypocrisy, I don’t know what is.
You go on to recount recent incidents of honour-killings, rape, and molestation (the video-clips of which are making a round on the social media), in order to ‘compare’ them with the MeToo-stories (for the lack of a better term), conveniently forgetting that the #MeToo stories being recounted on the social media range from sexually inappropriate behaviour to brutal rape. What is your agenda in comparing the different incidents of sexual abuse and assault coming to the fore through different mediums? Why do you feel sympathy for some victims and disdain for others? Is it because the latter are brave enough to tell their own stories and resourceful enough to have a platform? Instead of helping other women attain such platforms and the relevant support-system, you go around mocking those who have them.
You probably feel that what women face in their fancy offices at the hands of their eminent and distinguished bosses is just a ‘minor inconvenience’ that can be ‘adjusted to’. So, you don’t see what the fuss is all about, am I right? Or most probably – and I feel this is the true reason – you feel that these ‘#MeToo ladies’ (as you prefer to call them) brought it upon themselves by being ‘visible’ and by ‘putting themselves out there’. It doesn’t matter if they are stepping out in the public to exercise their basic right, that is, to earn a livelihood to sustain themselves.
Somehow it gives men the wrong idea that they are ‘available’ because they are independent and smart enough to make choices for themselves. So, it all becomes a woman’s liability as to how to conduct herself in her professional life, always walking the tightrope between appearing rude and stuck-up or appearing too-friendly, with her ‘friendliness’ being open to nasty interpretations by bosses and men around her. So being easy-going gets interpreted to ‘being easy’ and friendly behaviour is seen as an ‘invitation’ to be sexually intimate.
Are not the thousands of women who quietly bear the brunt of sexual harassment because they cannot afford to lose their jobs ordinary enough for you?
Ms. Tavleen, don’t you see that violence against women is not about ‘the degree of violence’ but about the mentality of our society. The mentality that gives men a sense of entitlement over women’s bodies and their destinies. The mentality – the result of centuries of social conditioning – that gives them a sense of ‘invincibility’ because women aren’t socially programmed to protest against abuse aimed at them.
Do you not see that when it comes to women, the society’s notion of sexuality, honour, and chastity are so intertwined, skewed and warped that it leaves women with no breathing space? What purpose does it serve to compare the ‘degree’ of violence among a set of victims? Why give a ‘classist’ angle to a social movement with a potential to create new awakening and drive a wedge between women of different socio-economic standing? Don’t you think it would be more useful to address the mentality that emboldens men to misbehave instead of fighting over the justification of the pain of a victim by measuring it up on a scale of violence?
This is not to say that the issues of rape, molestation, and honour-killings happening routinely in hinterlands and going unnoticed by the media do not deserve to be addressed, but are women themselves to be blamed for this lapse? You absurdly try to shift the blame on the #MeToo movement by ludicrously exclaiming that the mainstream media failed to pick up these ‘real’ stories because they were too busy recounting the #MeToo stories thus in one stroke shifting the blame on the #MeToo victims and labelling their stories as ‘unreal’ without having any evidence whatsoever for disbelieving them.
Don’t you think you are a bit off-the-track in blaming the women helping bring out stories of sexual misconduct by big names for the failure of media to do its job? And may I ask what kept ‘you’ busy from highlighting these gruesome stories till the time you felt they were ‘needed’ to make some women feel ‘stupid’ and ‘lucky’. I guess you were too busy defending a certain friend to pay much attention or to care. The only reason you even bothered to bring these horrors to attention is because you felt it was necessary to tell some girls to stop whining since they haven’t faced abuse or violence to ‘that’ extent. And if you feel that there are already enough laws against sexual crimes, maybe you should be demanding better ‘implementation’ instead of ludicrously blaming people of only responding to #MeToo stories.
Any movement that encourages women to come to the forefront with their survivors’ stories cannot be detrimental to the cause of women empowerment along the entire socio-economic spectrum. I see no rationale – or need – of bifurcating stories of sexual abuse and violence into #MeToo and non-#MeToo stories and pitting one victim against another. Your intentions in finding loopholes in the movement are extremely dubious and your arguments in support of your stand are utterly unconvincing. Not to mention your ‘bias’ damn obvious (partly because you make no efforts to hide it).
You wrote the article not because you believe that the #MeToo movement is irrelevant but because you know exactly how relevant and powerful it has become. You wrote the piece because you are scared for your ‘friends’ and want to do your bit by trying to chip-away at the credibility of the movement by evoking the pain of women who are silenced before they can muster the courage to speak. Your article does a great disservice to such women and to the cause of women empowerment in general.