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The #MeToo tsunami: Bitter truths

Shihab Sarkar | December 11, 2018 00:00:00

Had Samaresh Basu been able to get even a faint inkling of the raging #MeToo campaign, he would have thought twice before writing his two breakthrough fictions in the late 1960s --- 'Bibor' and 'Projapoti'. For their graphic depictions of middle aged males groping teenage girls, the novels kicked up bouts of notoriety. The books, especially 'Bibor', were dubbed obscene. Upon filing of a court case, the writer had to be in the dock. The case was resolved after the slapping of a ban on the said books. Almost a similar controversy raged around Vladimir Nabokov's 1955 fiction 'Lolita'. The novel tells the story of a middle aged literature professor called Humbert Humbert, who has a crush for a 12-year-old girl named Lolita.

Despite the notoriety the books had earned after their publication, lots of readers and critics poured laudatory remarks on them. As they found it, the novels unsparingly exposed a subterranean, dark recess of the male mind. This was accompanied by the shedding of light on the attitude of modern males towards women as mere objects of desire. Male chauvinism is found at full play worldwide given the discriminations against and a skewed view of women in general in every sector. Abusing and making advances at them comprises a significant part of the whole domineering attitude of the males towards women. The ongoing global campaign of #MeToo could not have been timelier, given the alarming rise in the suppressed and silently endured carnal swoop on women. Few countries seem to be free of the vice.

In whatever term it may be defined --- a resistance movement or a hurricane or a tsunami, the #MeToo is fast emerging as one of the most turbulent social upheavals in the recent times. It has evidently cut across national borders and social barriers. The movement has amply proved that vulnerable women across the world are destined more or less to the same nightmares. They are subject to such an ordeal which they cannot share with even their most trusted persons --- including parents, siblings and even life-long friends. Thus the unwanted touch of body parts coming from the office boss or an elderly relative's lewd behaviour experienced by a young woman eventually makes her a male-hater. In cases, psychological complications overtake women and girls, leading to their loss of self-esteem and the strength to protest. That the recent vices of sexual misdemeanor or crimes like violating women have been first detected in the glamour and glitz worlds like cinema or TV is no surprise. Thanks to these worlds being free of inhibitions and many social taboos, the lascivious males are found always on the hunt for women who might fall prey. The recent whistle-blowing movement, quite naturally, began with the long-revered movie personalities in Hollywood and the Bombay filmdom. Nearly three decades ago, a great comedian-turned-American director's adoptive daughter raised a global uproar as she accused the director of having sexually assaulted her when she was a child. After a long gap, the Hollywood has found itself again abuzz with an outburst of allegations of sexual misconduct committed by influential movie people including moguls.

Given the divulging of scandals one after another by the victims, the alleged oppressors worldwide are being pushed to the wall. In their quest for an escape route, many of them will possibly adopt an offensive stance. They may include filing of defamation cases, false propaganda, presenting fake witnesses etc. Following the preparations for a humiliating confrontation with women, the male gladiators now seem to be all poised to enter the stage with their armour and war strategies. No matter how weak their adversaries are physically, socially and economically, the male warriors may not take rest until their vanquishing --- here the destruction of all proofs of their misdeeds. Already, desperate acts of backlash have started in the media.

A distressing aspect of the womenfolk's coming up boldly with their long-suppressed allegations is the scourge's prevalence in almost all sectors of modern life. Apart from the filmdom, the media, politics, faith-healing and even social work, the rot has vitiated even the world of literature. The institution of the Nobel Literature Prize has also not been spared. What is especially worrying is a section of victimised women's pointing the finger at the males, who are held in high esteem in society. At this point, firebrand feminists may want to be enlightened on the role society expects women to play in critical issues. To the diseased mind, the answer could be 'biological engagement' and 'procreation'. Reactions such as this may not be explicit and widely discussed. But millions of males across the world subscribe to this view, a lot of them subconsciously. An irony is, most of the women in underdeveloped societies consider the view as sacrosanct and a natural rule.

A very positive aspect of the #MeToo campaign involves women who cannot be made to acquiesce to male dictates and wild whims. They have been present in human society through the ages in order to create an honourable place for women at every level of life. Great and morally strong males welcomed these courageous Amazons to show their mettle in challenging situations. Lots of women are born warriors --- in battlefields and in the fight for respectable survival. They prove themselves to be the likes of Hatshepsut, the Egyptian pharaoh (1507 -1458 BC), Queen Elizabeth-I (1533-1603) Joan of Arc (1412-1431), or that of their modern enactments in Rosa Parks (1913-2005) ), Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) or Bengal's Begum Rokeya (1880-1932). Notwithstanding its start with protest against sexual harassment in 2006, the #MeToo movement spread into nearly the whole world only lately. The extraordinary movement was pioneered by the African-American civil rights activist Tarana Burke (b.1973) in 2006.

Thanks to the individual women and groups who mustered the timely courage to wage an undeclared battle against the influential offenders, the issue of their sexual oppression by sick males has entered the global spotlight. Keeping the movement confined only to the area of sex-related misconduct runs the risk of sending the other injustices meted out to them into the backburner. With women entering the broader areas of life in increased numbers, they become vulnerable to newer types of assaults. These challenges can in no way be overlooked. The ongoing campaign may not lead to the full liberation of women. But it has, at least, shown the world that they can unite --- and raise hell if necessary. It has become a question of women's survival, and one with due dignity.


The writer is Associate Editor at The Financial Express and a poet.


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