There’s a hashtag that’s making waves and leading to much-needed introspection

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(Photograph: Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

 

By Boshika Gupta

The first time I felt my insides recoil in disgust and backed away in fear, I was nine years old. He was a staff member at the local laundry shop and had come to collect clothes as usual. While my mother was upstairs collecting clothes for the next batch, he brushed my arm suggestively. I was on the phone with a friend and clung to the conversation like it was my lifeline, breathing a sigh of relief when Mom appeared a few seconds later. I told her immediately about the incident and she became instantly protective, talking to the people at the shop about the episode. I never saw him again.

He managed to scare me, though. His face haunted my nightmares for several days as my brain tried to grasp the concept of assault and personal space. I’d been instructed very early on to always shout and say no if someone tried to touch my private parts or violate my space in any way. I was able to speak up because of my conditioning and still seethe in anger whenever anyone casually tries to feel me up on a bus or at the train station.  This assortment of unwanted experiences has made me appreciate the importance of honest conversations about sexual abuse faced by men, women and everyone else. It matters, it must be spoken about especially when it makes us uncomfortable and leads to difficult questions.

The #MeToo campaign has taken the world by storm on social media this month. It all began with an earnest suggestion from actress Alyssa Milano, who requested her followers on Twitter to step up with their stories on sexual abuse after the Harvey Weinstein scandal was unveiled.  The “Me Too” campaign was originally started by activist Tarana Burke a decade ago.

Scores of women (including celebrities like Lady Gaga and Viola Davis) from different parts of the world joined in. Some wrote about their pain, others showed their full support for the movement and many shared the posts, encouraging more viewers to talk about the gravity of sexual assault and speak up.

This is a ripple in the ocean, without a doubt. There are still miles to go before we reach a point where the world is a safer place. There is a lot to endure before we’re able to respect all individuals and stick to the rules of consent without swaying.  The system is very flawed as well. For example, sexism exists everywhere – from flawed workplace dynamics to groping on buses to harassment in bars and irresponsible depictions in popular culture. In Bollywood, many movies (Wanted (2009), Raanjhanaa (2013), Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya (2017)) still stick to old, damaging stereotypes and glorify romantic relationships connected to stalkers and their flattered female leads. In reality, stalkers are downright scary and no one wants to be chased relentlessly in a dangerous manner.

#MeToo is bringing dark, dreary stories to our computer screens and blinking phones, making us hold hands over long distances and saying to each other, we’re so very sorry you had to go through this. We feel your pain; we’ve been through something like this too. We’re very sorry this happened. You’re not alone.

Men are a part of the movement too. While many men have tweeted in support and even shared the posts widely, others have started responding with a different hashtag (#HowIWillChange) created by Australian journalist Benjamin Law. It’s important that this discussion doesn’t stop.  It must find a way into our living rooms, dinner dates, locker rooms, lecture halls, fancy Sunday brunch sessions, movie theatres, conference rooms, office lunches and more. We must fan the flames of a fire like this one cautiously and make conscious efforts to stay away from objectifying people and appreciating them for everything that they are. We should call out sexist comments directed towards anyone at all, speaking up where it matters the most. It’s only by implementing basic rules that teach us to respect other human beings that we’ll be able to change things, bit by bit. We must be stubborn and fierce throughout; there is no other way out.

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