The social media is thick with women coming forth with stories of sexual harassment
The #MeToo revolution is creating a wave in India this past couple of weeks. It is certainly a revolution, not because it is changing structural habits in a male-dominated world, but it is also the only political event which confronts us directly and inevitably with the problem of beginning. Thus, acting precisely entails the event of beginning something new and unique, which is the foundation of our freedom. Acting in view of freedom always announces a new mode of thinking and a new mode of being. This is not a capacity to choose between different options, but the capacity to begin something novel and having the ability to do the unexpected. However, this capacity to create a new beginning is itself dependent on the plurality of others.
The #MeToo movement, which began in the United States more than a year ago in response to accusations of sexual harassment and abuse by powerful men in the entertainment industry, gained traction in India late September after actress Tanushree Dutta accused Nana Patekar of inappropriate behaviour on the sets of a film they were shooting in 2008.
Since then, the hashtag has became a rallying cry against sexual harassment, with multiple women coming out with their #MeToo stories.
The most notable names that have gathered the limelight for all the wrong reasons include MJ Akbar (former Union Minister), Alok Nath (actor), Rahul Johari (BCCI CEO), Ashish Patil (VP, Y-Films), Nana Patekar (actor), Kangana Ranaut (actor), Sajid Khan (Director/actor), Anu Malik (singer) and Vinod Dua (journalist) among an increasing list of celebrities and prominent personalities. We are not here to dissect into the truthfulness of these allegations but to understand why a revolution like #METOO was necessary to help shape the future course of actions in our Indian society.
Our society is taking long strides towards “Gender equality” and “Right to live” with new amendments like Article 377 in favour of LGBTQ, scrapping of Triple Talaq, and the Supreme Court ruling to allow women in their menstural cycle to enter Sabarimala Temple. Hence, with India indulged in Navratri that celebrates womanhood, the timing of this revolution is perfect to reap the benefits of recreation of our society : to voice the atrocities that could have happened behind closed doors without consent.
Plurality entails both likeness and otherness, since we all belong to the same species and we have the mental capacity to comprehend each other. It is this capacity to understand each other that engenders empathy and compassion, but also disgust and rejection. Now, since the #MeToo movement is about structural changes in social and political mentalities, it cannot look at all men as potential rapists, molesters and homophobics. Quite the opposite, if the #MeToo movement is concerned with the art of re-organising our societies, then the other is not necessarily a “male” but primarily a “citizen”. While the urgency of women’s liberation and gender equity does not seem to be the same for all, the cause of freedom is universal.
However, despite numerous successes exemplified by the efforts of women in the past hundred years, the modern idea of the “republic”, as elaborated by the American and French revolutions, continues to be perceived and practised on the basis of a sexual division of roles and spaces. As such, the public space is essentially thought and instrumentalised as a masculine space, while the private space is considered as primarily feminine. Thus, the res publicae (public affairs) has been essentially conquered and dominated by men, while women have been, generally, pushed back to the private space and defined as “mothers”, “sisters” and “wives”.
In other words, in many cultures of the world, women are still to be protected in the private sphere, instead of making use of their reason in the public space. Therefore, what Immanuel Kant understood from the general motto of the Enlightenment: “Have the courage to use your own understanding” still applies, from the point of view of many of our contemporaries, uniquely to men and not women. That is why, until very recently, to be a virtuous woman meant to be a speechless and inactive citizen in the public domain. A common attitude among many men is: “Women have the right to work wherever they want, as long as they have the dinner ready when you get home” (John Wayne).
Accordingly, a general view in many male-dominated societies of our time is that a woman who speaks openly and frankly in the public domain dishonours herself or more precisely disgraces her family and her community. Despite all this, the time for change has come. Beyond all social and political cleavages, feminism is the inevitable philosophy of the 21st century.
Today, the #MeToo revolution is about breaking the silence. In other words, a woman who dares to think and to act otherwise is the one by whom the scandal arrives. As Balzac says, “Every person who thinks strongly creates a scandal.” The scandal in question is a collective object, because it includes not only the one who dares to break the taboo, but also those who try to prevent her from acting rebelliously. Not surprisingly, feminism has always been scandalous, either as a mode of thinking or a mode of acting. However, no other person as Simone de Beauvoir, and no other book as The Second Sex, have ever been at the heart of the cultural and political struggles of women against conservatism and conformism in our contemporary societies.
The opinions expressed in this article are of the editor alone and are not binding as the opinions of Jan Akhbaar as a whole.