In the recent years, all conversations about gender-based violence in the Indian women’s movement and popular feminist discourse are moving more and more towards intersectionality. Consequently, there is a distinct recognition of how women from marginalized positions have not been given the platform to speak from their own standpoint. At such a juncture, any new book about sexual violence or women’s issues by a woman author from a socially privileged location automatically becomes a piece of work that needs to be looked at quite carefully. At best, it is a repetition of everything that has already been said, and at worst, it is a complete negation of marginalized narratives.
Tanushree Ghosh’s ‘Beyond #MeToo’ (Sage Publications) fortunately does not fall into either of the two traps but becomes an important primer for readers who are looking to learn more about the #MeToo movement in India and abroad. While the book has a horizontal view of the #MeToo movement, it would still be a great book for someone who wants an easy but comprehensive introduction to the movement and its consequences.
The book draws on not just the Indian women’s movement and its engagement with #MeToo but has a sustained comparison and discussion with how the United States of America dealt with the #MeToo movement. There are plenty of well-known and lesser known examples that the author discusses in detail showing her research. Her research also shines through in a chapter that is simply named ‘The Cost’. In a unique way, the author tries to financially quantify the cost of sexual harassment and assault and against women and how that affects big companies to the economy of entire countries. Rather than restricting her scope to just the time periods before and after #MeToo movement, the author also talks about some other significant notions that are inevitably linked to conversations about sexual violence but often get shadowed in the eyes of legal technicalities. Thus, the chapter ‘Towards the Culture of Belief’ executes careful analysis on how society needs to develop a culture where they believe women. In ‘The C Word’, she looks at consent and how the lines get quite blurred due to popular mass media or in marriages due to discriminatory laws in India.
The book also tries to quite big in its scope with a detailed discussion about related laws in both USA and India along with well-known cases of gender-based violence with personal narratives from on-ground activists. Quite a few pages look at gender-based violence and sexual discrimination at work – particularly at high-level, organized sector companies. The author’s own position and experience in the corporate environment leads to an empathetic look at how violence against women in formal workspaces is almost never redressed and the aggrieved women never find justice. She shows how violence can also take on the form of micro-aggressions for women who never seem to get ahead in the hierarchy simply because they don’t speak the implicitly masculine “language” that her male co-workers do. Another interesting part in the book is where the author focuses on Men’s Rights Movement and particularly looks at how some of the more popular Men’s Rights Movement groups like ‘Save India Family Foundation’ and ‘A Voice For Men’ function and what drives them to host a separate platform advocating for men’s rights exclusively at the cost of women’s emancipation and equality. The answers as she finds are quite familiar, fear of false accusations and malicious persecutions of innocent men.
Even though the author hits the nail on the head with many of her stances (as it is futile to imagine one can ever write on a sensitive theme like this with a perfectly neutral stance) and interpretations, her analysis about the Indian society and Indian women’s movement sound a bit dated and incomplete. She argues that gender as a cause suffers as it becomes a sub-identity to caste, class or other identities. However, recent explorations in the concept of intersectionality has clearly shown us that there is space for all identities of women to coexist simultaneously. The women’s movement along with feminism has to grow in scope rather than emphasizing upon how our gender identities should only be at the forefront. This interpretation could create a false sense of universality on how all women’s experiences are the same due to their gender – something that the book itself disagrees with as it attempts to look at caste violence.
Even though the author herself has claimed that she doesn’t “want to sound preachy”, I have still looked at it as a reader using a feminist lens. Quite naturally, I often disagreed with some of her characterizations or arguments as I come from an academic background where I also deal with these themes in my classes or my dissertation. However, at the end of the day, a good book about social issues always gives you the chance to interpret and understand the complex issues from your own perspective. ‘Beyond #MeToo’ presents succinct facts with a deeply empathetic personal touch but also leaves ample scope for the readers to engage with a serious theme and decide for themselves if #MeToo ended up ushering a new women’s era or was just noise.