The internet has been taken over with Harvey Weinstein’s upsetting legacy of sexual harassment ever since the news broke -- which involved a sting operation, mind you.
This episode of one of Hollywood’s most influential men, a mogul in the film industry harassing and assaulting women, not to mention the rape accusations against him -- is all a telling sign.
Over the last few days, many in Hollywood have come forward and given their own respective two cents to this revelation. One is: “Oh my god, I had no idea. This is disgusting.” Another is: “I am a father, so this is disturbing information. We have daughters and a duty to protect them.”
Another popular “statement” is: “This has been going on from the beginning of time. I’m glad we are talking about it, but we need to stand together, hand in hand, and take action now, sisters.”
While all sound somewhat dishonest, hypocritical, and vague, this episode of Weinstein’s coerced coming out as the pervert he is, in fact, is good news (as long as he doesn’t get away with it like Hollywood’s extravagant, artistic Roman Polanski did).
Because it led to #metoo
When I heard about it, the first thought bubble that surfaced from a web of neurons gone wild is: Even if Hollywood -- the haven of glamour, class, and everything liberal -- has closet sexual predators like Harvey Weinstein who are protected by the mighty virtues of fellow Hollywood torch-bearers of glamour, class, and everything liberal, then how bad it must be in other industries and workplaces.
And that must have been the purpose behind Alyssa Milano’s tweet of her friend’s suggestion: #metoo to show the world the epidemic nature of sexual harassment.
Hashtags can’t do much, indeed. There is no quick fix to this anyway.
But what it makes us do, without fail, is talk about it. And what is evident is that, #metoo isn’t confined to Hollywood, or show business, or workplaces. It’s almost everywhere, but the one place we often decide to not talk about is home sweet home.
It is our collective silence, and sweep-under-the-rug approach to difficult realities which help such Harvey Weinsteins to thrive
Starts with the basha
From movies like Antwone Fisher, Highway, or Spotlight, it is clear that this disease which never found its cure is widespread. And this disease doesn’t discriminate against race, sex, religion, or class.
It affects everyone at its reach without fail, and mostly under the watchful eyes of others in the house, who mostly choose to tell the child to “hush my baby, don’t you cry,” and that all is the child’s imagination.
But we never really talk about it.
Mostly, such stories resurface or are told by the victims after decades of the crime being committed, because time does that wonderful thing -- it heals the wounds to some extent, or so I imagine.
I think on my third or fourth time listening to such a crime story from a woman in her 50s, I asked, does time make it easier? She said, yes. It does.
But by then, the perpetrators are long gone, either surrendered to death or retreated in a retirement home in a faraway magical land. Basically impossible to reach.
Shift the focus
Obviously, much has changed and improved in terms of curbing sexual harassment and assault at home and at large, and in terms of awareness of this epidemic.
But we still have a long way to go when it comes to making a child feel safe and protected from all the Weinsteins in the family.
It is long overdue that we stop telling young girls and boys to be more cautious when certain relatives visit, or not to sit on the hujur’s lap, rather we -- people of age and with awareness of the reality we live in -- need to tell these suspects and culprits that they are not welcome in our homes, irrespective of their social status, occupation, and age.
It does start at home.
We are not protecting family honour or religious integrity when we choose not to call out the uncles and hujurs who commit such crimes.
It is our collective silence, and sweep-under-the-rug approach to difficult realities which help such Harvey Weinsteins to thrive in our own respective households.
This fight against sexual harassment should not only be women’s jobs. And why should they be? Why is it only the potential victim’s duty to do everything to avoid such a crime being committed against them? It sounds exhausting.
We don’t have to take down Hollywood or find ways to take down corporations, before we call out the monsters in the family. Take a step, spare a family member from this trauma.
What about when we are out and about?
Catcallers and street harassers will not suddenly disappear. Local bus rides and Gausia trips will not become easy and worry-free. Things will not change. But we can speak up and out against things we see on the street and experience outside.
For that to happen, best if we don’t rely on the “masculine” men to come to our rescue -- instead, we should come to each other’s rescue more often.
However, therein lies a problem.
Women are the worst
A prime example would be #metoo trending.
On my own Facebook newsfeed, I saw scores of women putting up the status, and many didn’t. I personally thought, to each her own, and didn’t think much else.
But I came across two discussions on Facebook which, again, are telling signs. One is about, to some extent, shaming those who did put up the status.
The logic was, it only gives reason to the perpetrators to laugh it off when such a thing is broadcasted on a public platform. So, in a way, the victim is belittled; and why put up a status when it is already well-known by all?
I beg to differ. Saying it out loud doesn’t make you smaller, by any means. In fact, it makes a person seem even stronger that she (or he) is -- still alive and kicking, despite the trauma.
The second and slightly laughable argument was how women being groped or touched in Gausia markets are not in fact “survivors” of sexual harassment.
Reading this, I had a brief epiphany. Are we that petty, really? Do we, now, have the need to quantify someone’s humiliation?
Harassment is harassment -- be it groping, molestation, or rape -- invasion of your body’s privacy is sexual harassment. Is there any other way to see it?
The audacity of women to claim that a certain degree of harassment doesn’t cut it for #metoo is probably where the problem lies.
How about be, and let be.
Finally, there is no need to desensitise sexual harassment with a blinkered take on life, especially when there are Weinsteins to take down.
Now that we are all talking about it to this extent, how about we also start to change how we think and perceive sexual harassment?
Nusmila Lohani is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune.