RADHIKA BIJOYINI | 29 DECEMBER, 2019
Woke Bois and Whale Tusks
Looking beyond the law for justice…
I’ve been following the global #MeToo Movement for a few years now, torn between celebrating the outpouring of sisterhood and solidarity for survivors of sexual harassment and appalled at the shame and ridicule they were being subjected to for speaking out.
The #MeToo implosion in India followed a scarily similar turn of events, raging through in a brief, glorious burst of fierce feminist energy, only to wither away in legal imbroglio.
The list of accused was vast and varied, from actors to artists, comedians and politicians, journalists and the judiciary, and of course, The Woke Bois of the desi world.
Every sector was riddled with salacious stories of the misdemeanours of men. The ones in the development sector were especially exhausting. The names of self proclaimed champions of the crusade against patriarchy cropped up repeatedly.
(Woke Boi – A dude who claims to care very much about social issues, and uses it to impress, but actually churns out the same casteist and sexist shit, smothered in sanctimonious speeches of service to human kind.)
The survivors, and their supporters, however, had a whole different drama to deal with. The initial days of the movement spawned several revolutionary coalitions and support structures. Colleagues, friends and random strangers on the Internet showed up, offering legal and psychological support, additional testimonies, or simply just safe spaces to talk.
Journalists reported and followed up on stories, artists illustrated, social media savvies collected and curated stories online, and many, many others simply shared the stories on, making the world more aware of the predators that lurked in our midst.
A few legal processes were initiated, but we soon learned that laws depend on people’s interpretations of them. Most cases were discouraged, either by internal committees embroiled in obfuscation or by bureaucratic baboonery. Sub Judice suddenly became the new bogeyman.
Currently, the accused from the #MeToo Movement have mostly minor embarrassments to report, most of which they dealt with by hiding for a short time from public view.
Most of the stories were squashed with a combination of one or all of the following: online threats and legal action, defamation suits, skewed internal ‘investigations’, and a discreet PR campaign on the side.
Days after being accused of bullying and sexual harassment, a dauntless demigod of the efforts to engage men and boys in the conversations on gender equality was spotted swaggering around at an international conference.
Similarly, another khiladi of khel badal redirected public attention to the fact that he was an affectionate and loving man. His organisation rallied support for him: key stakeholders were encouraged to write (and share on social media) positive experiences they had had while engaging with him.
Till date, very few of the stalwarts of feminism and all things awesome have withdrawn or disengaged from these perpetrators.
A few young women continue to clamour for action, but they’ve mostly been dismissed as ‘hysterical’ or ‘disgruntled ex-employees’.
Few have paused to ponder, perhaps, they know the survivors are telling the truth.
General public opinion on sexual assault hovers on the usual survivor-shaming shit, because most people are too afraid to acknowledge such perversions. They’re afraid of shattering the status quo.
In the aftermath of the complaints, the modus operandi was all too familiar. Most survivors, and their supporters, were usually subjected to any or all of the following: bullying, intimidation, being suddenly overlooked to lead projects, or receive promotions, their workload suddenly decreased or vastly increased.
When employees of an organisation demanded accountability and due process, another colleague wrote them a scathing message, calling them termites, out to destroy the organisation from within.
Another, a lawyer by training, wrote in several places that the allegations obviously were wholly untrue, as the complainant hadn’t followed the legal route of a police complaint.
#MeToo has proved that sexual assault, especially in the workplace, continues with impunity.
In the development sector, one must also juxtapose the fact that #MeToo has mostly been scorching the Internet in English, whereas the vast majority of stakeholders have limited engagement with the internet.
Basically, most of the people in the famed NGO-speak ‘field’ have no idea what's going on, or why male Directors and senior management have gone off-grid for a bit in the last year or so.
Globally, citizens are examining long-standing structures of oppression, and dismantling that status quo, a handful of stories at a time.
#MyStealthyFreedom, an Iranian social media movement opposing the mandatory headscarf, had women sharing secret scarf-free moments of their lives.
From the Chilean soprano singing out of her window during curfew, to the Lebanese protestors singing Baby Shark to a scared child stuck in traffic, what is emerging is collective empathy that is building protestors’ resilience.
Watching these global movements unfold made me realise that the last few months have actually been a deeply introspective process of self-purification. (Read Martin Luther King’s letter from Birmingham City Jail.)
An ugly, unholy search for catharsis and redemption, of looking beyond the law for justice, of seeking solidarity and validation of the fact that the silence has gone on too long.
What originally began as a determination to stick to due process very quickly left many of us alienated, angry, exhausted and of course, unemployed. Several close friends and associates around me made peace with the fact that they worked with a predator. Many of us, who couldn’t fathom this complacency, have now had to negotiate with the fact that we’ve lost friends and opportunities along this journey.
It took many months of bird watching, gardening, mandala making and self-reflection, and finally, a dance party at a feminist conference, for me to realise De Botton’s theory of holding on to hope and gratitude was the key to resilience.
Not all wars are won by bashing up the bullies, and none are won overnight. #MeToo originated more than a decade ago, as a message to survivors: “You’re heard, you’re understood”.
We’re deeply aware of the systemic flaws and legal hassles that enable the impunity for sexual assault, so shattering the silence on sexual assault now needs to move beyond sharing social media posts.
Building solidarities must now consider moving beyond showing collective outrage and towards mobilising for action.
Creative strategies in moments of crisis have gained centrestage in recent history. A Polish chef in London found himself wielding an unlikely weapon to tackle a terrorist. Feminist collective Lastesis, in Chile staged a powerful intervention in front of the Ministry of Women’s Rights and Gender Equality. Puerto Ricans partied to the perreo intenso calling for Governor Rozello’s resignation.
Instead of clinging to false notions of ‘justice’, I've learnt instead to listen carefully to survivors.
Every day brings a fresh new narrative of assault, and yet another twisted tale of how the organisation covered it up. I suggest you start listening. When you get the creepy vibes. Or when your friend tells you they got the creepy vibes. Walk in, if you see someone else caught in a spot. Walk out, when the sexist jokes don't stop. Sometimes, stop and ask if she's okay. Create safe spaces. Sometimes this also means holding your silence, till you have the permission to speak.
For fucks sake, chronicle everything coherently. The legal system doesn’t give a shit about your emotions (I do, but evidently that doesn’t matter!). They only care about what you were wearing and why you were there. The narrative ought to clearly explain why you were disempowered, or what you did to clearly deny consent.
Sometimes, somewhere, someone might be paying attention and might realise you were telling the truth! Talk about how this destroyed your career. Tell them how much money you’ve lost. People pay attention to these things. Onions are expensive.
Predators rarely write official emails harassing employees. They do it on the sly, in the dark, on the quiet, as a joke. Most perpetrators get away by brandishing character certificates, whereas complainants rarely have evidence or witness.
Stop working with organisations and individuals who perpetuate and encourage this behaviour. If you’ve heard the rumours, ask. Ask that awkward question. If there’s a clear conscience, the organisation won’t be discombobulating and obfuscating in their responses.
To constantly exercise any privilege or space you might have to speak is your most powerful tool. Predators thrive on fear, silence and oppression. It most likely means you’ll lose opportunities and employment, and some friends along the way, but the road to revolution is rarely a joyous one.
As someone who’s watched the shit storm of #MeToo destroy mostly the lives of the survivors and their supporters, I often wonder what would it take to deconstruct strategies, identify patterns, and look beyond our usual leaders?
The truth is that most of us are pretty tired already, and barely dealing with our own financial and mental trauma to be waging wars on these Woke Bois.
How can we further speak truth to power? We don’t have friends on Broadway to sing sad shitty songs about us. Perhaps the only way to win this one is with empathy, story telling, and of course, the art of listening, simply because we live in a world that shuts up survivors.
Radhika Bijoyini is an independent researcher and writer based out of Goa. She works on gender and environment, travelling, living and working with communities, cuddling dogs and blogging about her adventures.
Cover illustration: Sanitary Panels