Over the past 2 weeks, social media has exploded with the #MeToo campaign. It caught fire when actress Alyssa Milano tweeted #MeToo in the aftermath of ‘Harvey Weinstein’ scandal, where dozens of women accused the Hollywood mogul of having sexually harassed them. Following Alyssa’s tweet millions of women have come forward with stories of being prey to known and unknown men who sexually harassed or molested them.
I too put up a #MeToo post just like 90% of my women friends did. It is commendable that we women have found strength in the collective, which we couldn’t as individuals. I prefer to refrain from articulating on the many incidents over years, which led me to write #MeToo. Instead I’m pondering over this one time when someone groped me in an office meeting room – the safest places of all, one would assume – and to my utter disbelief, I found myself dumb-struck. I was unable to move or say a word for the first few minutes. My tongue felt like it was glued to the roof of my mouth, my hands seemed stuck to the sides of my body, my senses frozen.
So what happened to the bold, liberated, free spirited woman I presumed myself to be all those while? What was this inertia which suddenly consumed me beyond my own belief? Was it because I was transported back in time to a period when I found myself in similar predicaments, but did not know how or if I should respond? Or is it that despite all what I had surmised about myself, I too am just another weak, feeble, hapless woman like the millions I doled out pity over the years?! If so, who was responsible for my complete incapacity to react, despite being a non-conformist who has been relentlessly vocal about justice and its paraphernalia? Why did I let him walk out of the meeting room with a puffed-up chest like he had conquered something prodigious, instead of hanging his head in shame for his abominable behaviour? The fact is, I felt disgusted. I am not sure who is responsible for that though – him, my upbringing, or the society as a whole. A revolting, repulsive feeling overtook my entire being that I was ashamed of my body, ashamed that I have breasts. And made me freeze like an Arctic iceberg.
Thankfully I was wise enough to come to my senses, lodge a complaint with the HR department and the punishment he deserved was meted out – immediate termination. The myriad of #MeToo hashtags that have been swarming the internet shows the unbelievable number of women who have been preyed upon right in our vicinity. Isn’t it surprising that most of the women we know have all been wronged against, but none of us know as many men who have been in the wrong? Precisely why women need to rise from being lambs who find strength just in herds, and be tigresses who hold their heads high even while facing the storm. Let fingers be pointed with no shame, at those who think they can hide in the safety net of anonymity endowed by the silence of women.
This thought catapults another incident to my mind. Of another woman who stood up against the atrocity that she was faced with. A colleague at the same office, who had an exactly identical experience from her co-worker. She promptly filed a complaint to the HR team. She had to attend multiple hearings and discussions for months, which culminated in them deciding to move the person to another location as a disciplinary action. She expressed her disapproval that this sort of trivial penalizing would not suffice. And now even after 10 months, she is still fighting for justice. The worst part is that, one of the lead in the HR team, called her for a meeting outside office premises and advised her to forgo the case, lest it creates more issues and more ignominy to her. The difference between mine and her case was that, I had a voice clip I discreetly recorded while confronting the guy about his deed and that proved his culpability, while she on the other hand had no proof of the incident. Whatever happened to ‘no questions asked for harassment redressal’, that too in a company which has been featured repeatedly in the global list of ‘Top 50 employers for women’!
And a question gnaws my insides – When a woman is treated like she is a run-down wall any passer-by could scrawl scruffy graffiti on, it takes every shred of her strength from every crevice of her being to tear herself open, lay out her entrails and scream aloud of how she was trespassed. And when she manages to do that, if the law, the organization she works for, or the society that includes her family and friends look at her as if she is a culprit, and if she needs to prove what happened to her or she needs to be ashamed of what transpired, what is she left with? When she tries to stand tall and cry her lungs out of the horrors she endured, where would a woman draw strength from, if her trembling shins are kicked down?