Recently on Twitter, a young girl spoke about a man who had been sexually predatory towards her. The man was one of those who fell neatly into the ‘woke feminist’ men part of a stand-up comedy group which has been vocal about feminism and gender issues. Another woman spoke out. Screenshots were shared. The sharing gathered momentum. This was followed up by an apology that wouldn’t stand up in any court of common sense even if propped up by an asparagus.

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The churn was probably set off by Tanushree Datta who spoke about the harassment she’d faced on set for a song sequence by senior actor Nana Patekar. She spoke about how steps were changed to include him in a song sequence he was never meant to be in, how she was uncomfortable with a certain ‘intimate’ step and how she refused to shoot it. And more scarily, of how goons were called onto the set to intimidate her, and that she did file a complaint and spoke about it to the press. But nothing happened when she did. She spoke again after all these years, named names. Got slapped with defamation suits by the men concerned. Saw the men of Bollywood close ranks against her, the women though stood by her, speaking out tweeting out in support.

It was not the first time a woman had spoken out. It wouldn’t be the last.

It was not the first time a woman had spoken out. It wouldn’t be the last. Bollywood has had its share of horror stories. Compromise karna padega is a catchphrase that has been thrown around at aspirants for decades. Film families would traditionally put their sons into the business but never their daughters. That has changed now though.

But men hitting on women, preying on them, hasn’t been confined to Bollywood. If anything, it seems to be an endemic epidemic. Across geographies. Across the country. Across states. And across professions.

This morning, women journalists on my timeline were speaking out about the instances of sexual harassment and predatory behaviour they had faced. Names were mentioned. Instances detailed. What had only been a flurry of conversations in the whisper network that women have in the informal sisterhood had now been laid out on the table, warts and all, for detailed inspection by all and sundry. Perhaps this is Indian journalism’s #MeToo moment right now, and it was a long time coming.

What had only been a flurry of conversations in the whisper network that women have in the informal sisterhood had now been laid out on the table, warts and all, for detailed inspection by all and sundry.

In the not so distant past we’ve had a brave young journalist call out the predatory behaviour of one of the top journalists of the country, a case that is still going on. The whisper network has always been strong and the men have always behaved with impunity despite it. There have been no repercussions for most. But now, the women are speaking out. Somewhere, women have stopped censoring themselves for fear of not being believed or not being taken seriously enough. What is heartening for me is that women now know that their voices matter, and they can reclaim their narrative.

And yes, these have all been very triggering for me as well, from back when I was a young girl entering journalism and the stars were quickly dashed out of my eyes. This of course, was decades ago, and I had hoped that with increased agency and more ‘wokeness’ this behaviour would have decreased, but it would seem I was wrong. If anything, this just goes to tell me that men, in the tiniest position of influence, will use that position of influence to seek sexual gratification from women in their ambit. Sometimes, this will be consensual, with which I have no truck, although the power dynamic would skew this enough to make me uncomfortable with it. At others it will be regardless of consent and interest. Interest is assumed to be a given regardless of age, marital status or attractiveness.

If anything, this just goes to tell me that men, in the tiniest position of influence, will use that position of influence to seek sexual gratification from women in their ambit.

Why are these women speaking about it now, they ask, after all these years, why didn’t they speak about it when it happened? Isn’t this attention seeking? Isn’t it a hopping onto the bandwagon and hoping to get a rub off effect and some publicity? Some women will never speak out, that is their choice completely. Their narratives are their own, and that they have hopefully found some form of closure and wish to not reopen those situations again for public consumption is their choice completely. But for those who speak up now, it is not about hopping onto a bandwagon. It is about giving other women courage to speak out, it is the realisation that sharing these stories obliterates the foundation of power that these men operate from.

Some women will never speak out, that is their choice completely. Their narratives are their own, and that they have hopefully found some form of closure and wish to not reopen those situations again for public consumption is their choice completely.

I’ll tell you why women are speaking about it now. Most probably they’ve spoken about it earlier but weren’t paid heed to. Some of them had even complained to the authorities but had their complaints dismissed. Some had fought battles with HR departments of companies when they reported the harassment, others were told the perpetrator was a very nice man he couldn’t have done something like this, yet others were labelled troublemakers and completely sidelined until they were compelled to quit their positions. A very important factor is also the conditioning from childhood which has made women internalise that in some strange way they were to blame, perhaps they had seemed available. Perhaps, they thought they had encouraged the creepy behaviour in some manner. This is the emotional gas lighting that most women go through, having been brought up on a steady diet of what did you wear, what did you say, why did he feel emboldened to act the way he did with you, why were you out so late and all the victim shaming that women deal with on a day to day basis.

A very important factor is also the conditioning from childhood which has made women internalise that in some strange way they were to blame, perhaps they had seemed available. Perhaps, they thought they had encouraged the creepy behaviour in some manner.

What is encouraging now is that women no longer feel the responsibility to bear this narrative. It is not their shame. They did not ask for it, encourage it, and will not bear the emotional burden of this anymore. All those years ago, they might not have had the language or the medium to tell these stories, nor a space where these stories would have been heard. Now they do. They have the space, the medium and the language to speak about what they have experienced. They also have the audience to pay attention to these stories and not to dismiss these stories as inconsequential. Women in Indian journalism have just about started speaking out. And the world has no option but to damn well pay heed.

Kiran Manral is Ideas Editor at SheThePeople.TV

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