Prepare for the Apocalypse
When the polar ice caps melt, we will be exposed to long-dormant killer viruses and bacteria, I read last year. I was thinking of that horror movie scenario this week as a fresh wave of #MeToo shook the media and entertainment establishment, just as #LoSHA had shaken the academic world last year. Stories from decades ago, stories from last week. Stories in the office, on the field, at parties and inside offices were all breaking out from under the tundra of The Show Must Go On.
If you have been on Twitter at all this week, you would have found a million points of interest. I want to point to just two.
One. If it’s a sign of intelligence to believe in two contradictory things at the same time, then we are a highly intelligent culture. I tripped and fell on the footpath this week. I looked up and a man had reached out his hand to help me up. I smiled to indicate that I was okay but before I could open my mouth, another man was pushing the first one away with a giant frown, ‘protecting’ me from a possible assault on my sensibilities. This second man is a human avatar of my entire upbringing—where women are continuously taught that there be danger from men, and mysteriously, safety from men in other men. (Or as they say in Malayalam, kaduva-ey pidikyan kiduva. A tigger to catch a tiger. Or something. #AskAMalayali.)
But why do I say we are a highly intelligent culture? All week, as woman after woman put forth extremely credible allegations of assault and harassment, they were met often with wonderment and doubts. This disbelief would have seemed more natural in a society where nobody is thinking of rape as an everyday occurrence. Where even this week, a group of schoolgirls, some as young as 10, in Bihar were beaten with sticks and iron rods by adults for resisting the sexual harassment of boys. Even this week when the Catholic church in Kerala is trying to render homeless a group of nuns who have supported a fellow nun, who says the former bishop of Jalandhar diocese raped her. So in this rape-friendly, rape-aware world that we live in, these responses of shock and disbelief sound very much like, ‘What’s that? Your boss attacked you with a strain of bubonic plague from below the Tundra? You must be lying/ exaggerating/ mistaken/ wanting to be on television.’ Really?
And here is the second thing that interests me. It even makes me smile. In this vast and unsavoury buffet of allegations, you can find everything from well-documented instances of sexual assault to sexual advances on WhatsApp from men in positions of power. Now some people don’t like their chutney to touch their sambhar. When an
erotica writer complained with screenshots of a conversation with a big-name writer, lots of people jumped on her to say this wasn’t harassment. What they were missing is that her rage (evident even in the texts) came from realising that she thought she was having a warm conversation with a peer, but the male writer was trying at every turn to push her into sexting. She was obviously not a prude, but she was clearly furious that he thought her literary interests meant that she would automatically want to service his sexual fantasies. Other women talked about boyfriends and former boyfriends who have behaved badly during and after relationships. These women, like the erotica writer, have often got the ‘Don’t make #MeToo impure. Real women file FIRs. Don’t bring your personal issues here’ treatment.
I want to hug all these people and say: prepare for the apocalypse, brothers and sisters. Women (of a particular class-caste background) have got an opportunity to air the connections between various male behaviour—men who rape, men who belittle their colleagues, men who make the work of women invisible, men who treat their lovers and wives like property, men who write books to have access to women. Now the ice caps have broken and there is no going back to a place where Only Real Women Report Rape, and Only Rape. These other complaints about patriarchy are not leaving the building. They can and will demand a receipt.
As the Trump administration’s Environment Protection Agency recently said, a little radiation is good for you. The Ladies Finger