#MeToo Movement: 5 Yes or No Questions
Imagine a man and a woman in a closed room. The man has more power - maybe he is famous, a teacher or a supervisor. And the woman is a person of lesser strength. Maybe a student.
Imagine the man misbehaving with the woman. The misbehavior can be an uncomfortable stare, mildly suggestive words or advances like,
“I can’t take my eyes off you!”
“You know how beautiful you look?”
“I keep thinking about you when I’m in bed!”
It could be suddenly holding her hand in the middle of a conversation. Or giving her an uncomfortable hug. Or just flat out physical assault - groping, kissing, all the way to rape and worse. All this is happening while the woman is protesting or without giving the woman a chance to protest because she is so shell shocked.
Let’s say the scene ends with the man getting more or less what he wants, and the woman storming out of the room in tears, shattered and humiliated.
But there is no proof of this behavior. No photo, audio or bodily evidence. Only the man and the woman know what happened in the room.
1. Is it wrong? Yes.
Can we all first agree that whatever the man did in the room is wrong? It is wrong and inappropriate if it makes the woman uncomfortable. Especially if the woman clearly expressed her displeasure on the spot, and asked the man to stop. Or maybe the inappropriateness is so obvious that even a no wasn’t necessary. (maybe he is a married professor with adult children, and she is a teenage student) .
We can all also agree that a person doing something wrong should face consequences. How else do we stop him and others from making the same mistake? That’s why we punish criminals and put them jail.
2. Is there always proof? No.
How do we punish this man? Our existing justice system requiring proofs and evidences won’t work because this assault, by definition, has none of that. It is his words against hers. The man will likely dare the woman to take him to the court of law, where he is innocent until proven guilty, proven using evidences, witnesses and alibi. In fact, the lack of such evidence likely empowered the man and emboldened him to commit the assault in the first place.
To mete out punishment, we need some other instruments in our tool chest. A threaded screw should not be pounded with a hammer. A typical sexual assault trial is incompatible with the traditional court of law.
3. Can there be justice? Yes.
We thus need an alternate justice system outside the court of law. There is already one: the Court of Public Opinion. This court is often as powerful as the courts of law and also acts as a deterrent.
For example, recent studies have shown that India has the lowest divorce rates in the world - less than 1%. But the reason for such a low rate is arguably not because Indian marriages are supremely successful and stable, but because divorce is a taboo there. In general, men and women would rather suffer in matrimony than file for a divorce and face the court of public opinion.
However, the #MeToo movement is showing the world that, when used wisely, the Court of Public Opinion can bring women justice.
When the woman comes out and reports it in appropriate forums – maybe her parents, doctor, friends, family, social media, etc., the "trial" begins. The fact that the woman reported an assault wouldn't necessarily indict the man. He will likely vehemently deny the accusations. Whichever story has the stronger ring of truth will be believed by more people. In the ensuing tug of war, supporters for each side will rush to pull the rope in their direction.
4. Will it be easy? No.
There are two possibilities:
1. The woman is telling the truth and the man is lying, or
2. The man is telling the truth and the woman is lying.
On an average, if 100 women report a #MeToo assault, we think 95 will tell the truth. Women know that this is a male-dominated society, and that it is going to be a harrowing experience. The last thing they want is the intense scrutiny they will have to endure when they come out. With just a major force working against them, there's very little incentive to lie.
These 95 women did nothing wrong. They went through a stressful and traumatic experience, mustered the courage to say it out in the open, and are hoping that their story will help other women avoid such situations and seek support for their trauma through a community of people with similar experiences.
It is not going to be easy for these 95 women. They will face an uphill task, and most may end up frustrated with the outcome.
We need to start pounding the wall with a hammer. The first few bangs may not produce visible results, but it doesn't mean that the poundings aren't helping. Sooner or later, one feeble & tired strike will create a crack. The visible crack will be rejuvenating, subsequent strikes more powerful, and soon the wall will come crumbling down, leaving the workers breathless, exhausted and tired. Yes, they will be left with aching muscles, but the sense of achievement would make the whole ordeal worthwhile.
No pain, no gain.
Then we have the 5 women who are lying. which means there are 5 men who are being falsely accused of crimes they did not commit. This is different from the criminal justice system, where there are safeguards to avoid punishing an innocent person even if it lets 100 guilty slip through. It will likely tarnish the image of these five men, and create doubts about their character. Five innocent men will be seen as guilty by a section of society. That's ok too. It is a 5% tax that mankind pays for being part of the mankind club. That's a lot lower than the 95% tax that womankind pay today.
No pain for the 5 falsely accused men, no gain for the 95 truth-speaking assaulted women.
5. Is it worth it? Hell yes.
We already see women outperforming men in several areas all over the world. Generally speaking, they are more responsible and have more EQ than men. They shoulder more responsibility in most households of developing countries, are more reliable when it comes to microloan repayment.
What's missing from the mix above are self-confidence, courage to fight stereotyping, and strength to defy outdated social norms. "What would society think?" is a weapon that has enslaved women for ages, much to the convenience of the male-dominated society.
The #MeToo movement has the potential to bring in much of the missing ingredients and to grab the fast-approaching "What will society think?" weapon and, like superwomen, hurl it right back at assaulting men. It would be men's turn to think before an assault, "What would society think?" As women come out of their shell and speak the truth, they will garner courage and strength through association with support groups, friends and family. Their inbuilt fear of societal repercussions will give way to increased self-respect and sense of accomplishment.
The barriers to #MeToo movement’s positive impact are the inevitable and intense push-back from the 95 lying men, their army of supporters and institutions, and the intense internal pressure from within the 95 truthful women to stay silent. Staying silent is a difficult habit to break. However, we fight these forces from within and without, we can achieve “#WeToo” gender equality in the next 50 years.
About the guest co-author:
Dr. Narendra Narayanan is an engineer by training and an entrepreneur by profession. He has three sisters and three daughters who, along with his wife and mother, give him a plethora of women's perspectives on all matters!