In an article published in The Guardian following the now ubiquitous Harvey Weinstein scandal, one of the suggestions provided to men to treat women better was this: “Don’t need to literally witness a man being horrible in order to believe that he’s horrible. Trust and believe women.”
The article, entitled “Men, you want to treat women better? Here’s a list to start,” as the name suggests, lists some instructions on how to provide the general male on how to behave and what to do in certain situations regarding women.
As expected, much of the vitriol that erupted in the comments section was from ticked off men who took issue with how condescending the whole article sounded, how it generalised men, how it was too long, how some of it was too obvious, et cetera, et cetera.
Then, of course, there was the virality of the #MeToo campaign which resulted in millions of posts, comments, tweets all across social media.
The idea was to show people truly what the extent of sexual harassment amongst women (and men, too, by some accounts) was. And it was quite a lot.
We watched as, quickly and steadily, our newsfeeds became inundated by the sheer volume of posts relaying their stories of harassment. The list included sisters and cousins, mothers and nieces, colleagues and bosses, friends and acquaintances, enemies and rivals.
The ubiquity with which sexual harassment pervades the female consciousness was evident; here was proof that almost each and every woman that we knew had been objectified and stigmatised, have been catcalled and raped, been molested and beaten, regardless of their race, religion, social class.
Here was the world of women pushing it up in our faces the fact that this was a truth that infiltrated the very fabric of society; it was a truth that was so essential to a woman’s existence that it could not be denied, no matter how much privilege she had.
While the #MeToo “movement” -- if I may be allowed to call it that -- was not without its detractors, had it really succeeded in letting people know that women were, in fact, oppressed, despite their social or national backgrounds?
And had it succeeded in turning the tides towards convincing the sceptical few that feminism was not only relevant but necessary, even now, even in places of the highest privilege?
Not quite. As some of its detractors have pointed out, all it does is let us know the extent of the problem, without really solving it. Though one would argue that certain segments of society denying the extent of the problem is part of it, it does the beg question: What exactly will truly change?
Will men, those who have partaken in such forms of harassment, turn over a new leaf having realised how many women suffer? Will those who deny the omnipresence of its existence change their minds?
Will those who do not consider it (which includes anything from catcalling to rape) “harassment” change their minds?
Whereas the collective abhorrence felt by the powerful majority might turn the tides in the future, thereby changing the way our children or grand-children might behave, movements such as these, which highlight the “wrongness” of certain characteristics -- characteristics which have become second nature to a significant majority of the population -- find it impossible to change the status quo.
The reason for this is simple: Misogynists don’t suddenly, or even over the course of their lifetime, change their misogynistic tunes. While we can insult them and try to shame them, laugh at them for their ignorance and retrograde schools of thought, it will have little effect. In fact, it will have the opposite.
Misogynists don’t suddenly, or even over the course of their lifetime, change their misogynistic tunes
Which brings me back to the article in The Guardian. While such characters surely deserve disdain, this approach is certainly not the most effective. No one, not even the writer of the article I’m sure, would like to be talked to as if they had no idea of what are presumably “obvious” ways of doing anything, let alone treating women.
Not only that, by using blanket statements which claim women should always be believed does not help assuage the backlash which, even the writer should know, is inevitable.
It also completely ignores the ideological divide, which is a result of class, race, language, cultural context, among others, and treats the notion of societal convictions as science (ironic, because it changes every day, all the time).
The good fight
What irks people on both sides of this gender-neutral divide is the preponderance for condescension, a veritable tour de force of “I’m better than you, I know better than you, so you better listen to me or you’re an idiot.”
While this tonal frequency is understandable considering the immense amount of oppression women have faced and continue to face, no one will be surprised to note that idiocy recognises no ideology; it manifests itself in the “rightest” and “wrongest” of narratives, it presents itself through the behavioural nuances of protagonists on both sides of the story.
It also harms the work that is being done, such as the #MeToo campaign, which has significant potential to change the minds of future generations, who will be allowed to at least grow up in the mainstream narrative of women’s harassment being so extensively widespread.
While personally, I am not sure what such a future, which fights for freedom yet is unsure of what exactly is the right thing to say or do, will be like, I am sure, though, that, when it comes women, history is littered with their broken souls crushed under the foothold of a man’s heavy boot. This must, of course, change.
And men have suffered too. And suffered immensely. We must learn to perhaps not deny that at least.
But I do know that the way we talk about suffering, be it man or woman, needs to change.
SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him @snrasul.