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When does a consensual sexual act turn into a # Me Too moment?

Pinjra Tod is one of the few feminist collectives which continues to fight SH on the ground and the internet hordes do not stand outside colleges like they do, fighting case after case.

This is part II of the article ‘Some Thoughts on metoo

At least five young heterosexual men I know have come to me over the last two years with the strangest cases:

  1. a girlfriend has accused one of rape but continues to want him and attacks any other woman seen with him
  2. a mutually consensual sex tryst one semester with the guy blowing her off the next turns, two years later, into a # Me Too harassment rumour in the whole batch against him
  3. one is termed a creep when he offers a woman friend a back rub (remember Radhika Apte?)
  4. a man expresses interest, is rejected, accepts it and yet the rumour starts that he is a creep and ‘propositions’ women
  5. the worst – a dumped girlfriend warns the guy that she will file a false SH complaint against him and goes ahead and does it, ruining his reputation in the entire University, when it was she stalked him, beat him, abused him, refused to listen to him, blocked his entry into his own hostel, faked a health crisis, faked a suicide attempt.

Everyone, of course, believed her.

In the last case, he fought the case in the ICC and won as he produced a truckload of evidence in emails, whatsapp texts and much else. But his having been exonerated meant nothing to the University, the widgets from his University on the internet and his reputation remains in tatters.

To my mind, none of these cases qualify as # Me Too. just asked me to sign a petition asking Sony Entertainment to sack Anu Malik from being a judge on Indian Idol. They say Sona Mahapatra says I should.

Sona Mahapatra harassed a male friend of mine relentlessly but he was too nice to go public on it. Why should I do anything that that creep (which is what Jhatkaa calls Malik in a tired meme that accompanies the petition) Sona Mahapatra says I should do?

I hope you get the point.

There’s no point in demonising people. There’s no point ruining their careers. Malik may well be a predatory sexual harasser. I am sure those women are not lying. But till they make official complaints, give me facts, give me details and win the cases, I do not think I want to call him a creep nor do I want to sign a petition denying him work.

Further, even if he is found guilty, I will not sign a petition saying he should be sacked from anywhere. If he is found guilty, he fucked up. He harassed one or 20 women. He would have paid the price for it (whatever the ICC or police or court will decide) and can we all move on? Harassing someone sexually is not the biggest crime in the world and certainly not the worst.

Do we want the crimes of criminals to be branded on their foreheads? Do we want them never to have jobs again? Do we really want a sexual harasser never to be able to have a job again? Are we really fu$king serious? This is US style criminalising and it is sick. Do we really want to go that way? Do we want to brand migrants, the lower classes, the lower castes, and now sexual offenders and destroy them for life? Do we want posters with their faces on them all over neighbourhoods? This is lynching culture and white US has not gotten over it. We are the shiny new entrants, making lynching a national pastime and feeling smug about it.

Women are the new lynchers. Women taking advantage of a hysterical online movement and making it payback time for men. Many of them even say, ‘Men have exploited women for centuries so if some ‘innocent’ men go down, too bad. That’s collateral damage.’

There are no ‘innocent’ men or women is my point. There are men and women and hijras negotiating sex and power with each other. Sure, they have to understand consent. Sure they have to respect a No, a rejection, a boundary-marking. But both men and women transgress these rules.

Laura Kipnis in her radical book was the first feminist to question the sick culture of which Me Too is both symptom and spawn.

We live in such a hyper-hysterical, illiterate and ignorant sexual culture that anything becomes harassment to us. We are sexually naive and stupid and fearful and dumb. We do not know what abuse is.

A boy in St. Stephen’s College when I was teaching there said my walking down the corridor while he was returning from the shower with a towel wrapped round him (we were in a hostel; I was hostel warden) felt to him like a violation. Another at Jindal said my wearing nail polish or chaptstick was a come-on he could not handle and wanted to file a sexual harassment case against me. A boy who came to our feminist group in Kirorimal to stare at the ‘pretty’ woman faculty member who co-organised the group with e accused me of harassment. He came to my house once and while leaving confessed to being apprehensive about my jumping his bones but was leaving relieved (disappointed?) that I didn’t. He was three times my size.

So, perhaps, we all need to calm the f**k down a little and think about what sexual harassment really is, what unwanted advances really are, how we are complicit in the situations we involve ourselves in and how retrospective revenge-seeking, a broken heart or plain prejudice cannot be sanctified by self-righteous claims about being sexually harassed.

Sexual harassment is a serious issue and has long-term and painful effects on people, particularly women. It involves usually egregious forms of power-based institutionalised violence. The women actually fighting cases are alone, they burn out, they are victimised, harassed, tortured, bought out, isolated, they fight alone. We have sat with them in the trenches and known what it feels to be powerless at the hands of institutions.

They are not women sitting behind keyboards waiting for their two minutes in the internet sun. They are not actresses who want careers and want to have their cake and eat it as well. They are not women able to dismiss due process.

Due process is all they have. Yes, it often fails them. But that’s because there is no pressure on institutional power (and women in ICCs as much as men are against the complainants so it is not just fucking men so stop with that shit) and there is no movement on the ground supporting these women. There are only widgets behind keyboards doing jacksh$t about anything but feeling mighty good about their usually anonymous self-righteousness.

Sure, there are also small, everyday forms of sexual harassment that women, and men and hijras face. Sex education and education about sexuality is the way forward with that. Not a million internet complaints. Use the fucking internet to educate not to demonise someone and ruin their lives because they lacked sexual etiquette or poured you white wine instead of red!

Companies in the US are separating men and women at work. Men in India are forming men’s rights groups and are terrified of women and false complaints (which are a thing and I do not care if you think this is MRA bullsh$t) and misuse of laws (which is a thing and I do not care if you think this is MRA bullsh$t). Men and women need to dialogue not demonise each other.

# Me Too needs to die for that dialogue to begin.

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