A video of Rani Mukerji is doing rounds on social media, in which she can be seen blatantly making women accountable for their own safety. Participating in the Actresses Roundtable 2018, Mukerji made some cringe-worthy remarks on how women should tackle sexual misconduct. Other participants like Alia Bhatt, Anushka Sharma, Deepika Padukone, Tabu and Taapsee Pannu looked flummoxed by her comments, and went ahead to politely counter her arguments. Twitterati however, wasn’t so kind and severely criticised the Mardaani actor for her one-dimensional 80s style solution for a complicated issue like sexual harassment at workplace.

SOME TAKEAWAYS

  • During a roundtable discussion, Rani Mukerji said that women should have the courage to protect themselves.
  • Mukerji’s take yet again proves that many people still hold women accountable to ensure their own safety.
  • Unless this accountability shifts from women to men, sexual harassment won’t go away from our society.
  • We also need to motivate men to be better role models for their sons. Instead of putting the onus of proper upbringing singularly on mothers.

We cannot resolve a complicated issue like sexual harassment with 80s style solutions.

As it is with almost every talk show this year, the conversation on Actresses Roundtable too shifted to #MeToo. The actresses gave their takes on how there is a sense of change in Bollywood. It seemed apt, since these leading ladies represented the female workforce in Bollywood, which has long endured harassment at hands of powerful men. But it all went downhill, when Mukerji said that women should draw the line and even kick men who misbehave in the nuts. “You have to have the courage to be able to protect yourself,” she argued.

Rani went on to say that we need to talk to women who don’t find the courage to confront predators and end it there and then, and tell them that they need to change. But the worst was yet to come. While debating with other actresses, on how it shouldn’t come to the point where women have to learn martial arts to protect themselves, she said, “You cannot tell hundreds of mothers out there how they have to bring up their children, because it happens right there. It is women who are making these boys, who are doing this.”

Mukerji’s comments were very disappointing. However, her take on sexual misconduct, in fact, reflects the mindset of most people in our society. The accountability to keep women safe either lies with mothers (and not fathers mind you) or with women themselves. Hence, it is women who are responsible if men don’t know how to be respectful  or persist with unwanted advances despite a “no”. When will this accountability shift from women to men? When will we start asking Indian men to be better role models for their boys? The society needs to stop implementing more and more dictates on women to “protect” them from sexual crimes.

Unless the society strips men of entitlement and conditions them to stop looking at women as walking-talking breasts and vaginas, sexual harassment won’t go away.

When you say that women need to learn self defence or draw the line at first transgression you are overlooking the hierarchy of power. So many girls and boys face sexual assault even before hitting puberty. How do you expect them to protect themselves from their grown-up assailants? How do young girls, who are told to safeguard their dignity at any cost from the very day they can comprehend sex and sexuality, not turn the blame of rape and harassment inwards and confront their perpetrators? Even in Bollywood, when powerful actors and filmmakers call the shots, it isn’t easy for women to take a stand.

When you tell young and impressionable girls that they must take all possible measures to safeguard their dignity, it sends out a very wrong message. If a girl faces harassment or misconduct, she will end up blaming herself for failing to protect her dignity or not fighting back enough. It won’t do anything to discourage men from turning into predators, but instead demoralises women, in situations where they are powerless. Besides, there are a lot of things at play when it comes to sexual harassment at the workplace. Pay disparity, male privilege and male brotherhood to name a few and these won’t go away by encouraging women to learn martial arts or learn to take a stand.

Yes, we must indeed encourage girls to speak up and never tolerate unwanted sexual advances.

But if we want to rid our workspaces of sexual harassment once and for all, we need to change the system. The society needs to rid men of male privilege and stop shielding them. No mother wants her son to grow up into a molester or a rapist. But then we must also ask where are our boys learning these virtues? When they look at their fathers get away with domestic violence, or their elders with eve teasing, what do they learn? Alas, we are still stuck on how we can further enable women to protect themselves, than thinking about how we can change our ways to create a world where they don’t have to put in the labour to be safe at work.

Also Read : Building Female Power Circles Can Prevent Marginalisation Of Women

Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section.  The views expressed are the author’s own.

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