#MeToo, Be Uncomfortable And Change, Says Deepa Narayan

Deepa Narayan

#MeToo is about men who think the world is a brothel, made especially for them. The problem is that these men are not in official brothels where the transaction is forthright but in offices or in homes or at parties or in taxis, or in colleges or in conferences or at hotels on work expense accounts. Such men use power as their currency to intimidate and satisfy their sexual desires. And just as with Harvey Weinstein, once stripped of power, what is left is a pathetic powerless predator who once strutted power as his sexual due.

As #MeToo in India finally gains power and spreads, be prepared to be challenged but stay the course because we are all complicit in propping up a culture of silence.

#MeToo is about a cultural shift in which enough women are finally breaking rules of how a good woman should behave and about the privileges and entitlements assumed by powerful men.

It is only in describing the extreme patterns of behaviour of male pimping, does the sick abuse of power of men over women become excruciatingly clear.  It is only when multiple senior women journalists revealed the same patterns of behaviour of one powerful man, MJ Akbar, a star editor and now Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, did the tsunami start rising to possibly crash existing structures of power.

This tsunami is about breaking the silence about sexual abuse as a weapon of power, it is about a culture that enables such widespread abuse of women by men. And because #MeToo is about changing this culture of power inequality, get ready to become uncomfortable because we are all implicated in this seismic change. It will be chaotic, messy and moralistic, but we must stay the course through our discomfort and doubts if we are to achieve safety, dignity and real choice for girls and women.

It will be chaotic, messy and moralistic, but we must stay the course through our discomfort and doubts if we are to achieve safety, dignity and real choice for girls and women.

At a recent discussion of my book Chup: Breaking The Silence About India’s Women, with Meghna Pant organised by Gender Lab at the beautiful auditorium of Mumbai’s G5A Foundation, I asked women to raise their hands if they had never been molested, groped or physically violated in some way by men. Not a single hand went up. The age range was from 13 to 75. In my interviews, I found that 98% of women had been molested and only two had reported it to their mother. The rest kept quiet.

It is changing this culture of silence and impunity that is at stake. As the movement takes hold, it will spread and will touch men we know and we think we owe loyalty. It will get uncomfortable. This will bring out many nay slayers, both men and women who will try and discredit the #MeToo women. We need to discuss and probe.

You will know we are in the uncomfortable zone when you hear any of the following 7 reasons.

  1. Why didn’t she speak up before? A woman’s character and motives are questioned.
  2. Why didn’t she report it to the police? There is no real evidence.
  3. There are so many false accusations, you can’t believe anyone.
  4. This happens to all, what is the big deal?
  5. She misunderstood his intentions, he didn’t mean it that way.
  6. This is elitist, what about the poor or middle-class women who are not on social media?
  7. The poor man’s name and career is ruined, think of his wife and children. All men are at risk.

Over the days and months ahead, many will say “this has gone too far.” But Government statistics show that between 42% to 50% of girls get sexually abused, mostly within extended families and mostly by people they know. How can little girls speak up against people whom they depend on to survive when even their mothers don’t believe them or don’t want to know?

We need to stay the course of cultural shift till these sexual abuse secrets come spilling out of families across classes and our resolve to raise girls as full and equal human beings with strong voices becomes unshakeable.

Dr Deepa Narayan was senior adviser in the Poverty Reduction and Economic Management group of the World Bank from 2003 to 2008 and was named one of the 100 most influential global policy thinkers by Foreign Policy magazine and one of 35 Great Thinkers by India Today. Author of seventeen books, Dr Narayan is the founder of the Gender Action Lab.  

The views expressed are the author’s own.