#MeToo: Breaking the culture of silence?

Debjanee Ganguly

The social media is flooding with metoo (me too) hashtags. Sexual assault survivors are using this hashtag to call out on the cancer-like spread of sexual crime in our society. This is a consequence of the disclosure of Hollywood’s larger than life (nay, God?) figure Harvey Weinstein’s sexual predatoriness . More and more actresses have publicly stated their harassment at the hands of Weinstien. There was call for all women to tweet if they have faced sexual harassment, with the hashtag me too. The response has been overwhelming to say the least.

Social media is a tiny cross section of the people that face these crimes every day. This voicing of harassment is breaking the internet. Can you imagine how deep the rot is in reality? But this did not happen overnight.

Between victims of sexual assault, and the vile assaulter, lies a dense fog of the silent witnesses of assault that block out these accounts of harassment from daylight almost completely. The crucial channel of communication of one’s terrifying experience gets cut off by those who laugh it off or tell the person to take it in their stride or just pretend they saw/heard nothing. There are multiple cases where men and women think it is more important to keep up the bro-code rather than do the right thing. This bro-code is possibly more shattering than the assault itself. Or an assault within the family circle is hushed up for sake of honour of the family. Sometimes assaults are silenced because witnesses find it easier to carry on as if nothing happened, specially if it involves powerful god-men/women or politicians. It is these ‘reasons’ that make for the prevalent culture of rape and everyday sexism. It is this deafening silence that needs to be broken if we are serious about challenging patriarchy.

Silence acts like the catalyst. The silence of the survivor is not because they wish it away. Silence is imposed on them through fear and the normalization of such instances. Their silence is because they did not have enough support around them to be heard.

The silence of the witnesses actually perpetuates patriarchy. Their complicit-ness is in their silence. Their silence has echoes of abuses they have been passively responsible for by not speaking up. It is this silence that needs shattering.

If we are done with putting the burden of doing something about the rot onto the ‘victims’, we may move on to this lot of passive enablers of abuse. Not being an abuser, it is easy to support this vocal group of survivors who speak up in #metoo. But ask yourself, are you a passive enabler or have you ever been one? Own up to it. Your silence has as much a role to play in the turning of the wheel sexual abuse for over centuries. If the juggernaut has to stop in its tracks, the spade has to be called a spade. For a starter maybe one can begin with an ikeptshut hashtag. #ikeptshut. Let’s see how well that trends. It probably won’t. It is easier to ask the assaulter to stop dead on its tracks (on the internet in a generalized hashtag maybe). An empty threat. Responsibility for the prevalent sexist culture must lie even with those who choose to look away.

But hey, I did not do anything to own up.

In this terribly powerful and patriarchal world, keeping silent also is a privilege and you become a passive enabler of crime. Owning up to this privilege is the least one can do. By owning up we may begin unpacking the casual sexism around us, rape culture in religious gatherings, the idea of honour or izzat that is so very important to Indian families especially and question bro-codes of sexist conduct. Breaking the silence of mute spectators is imperative to break the chain of patriarchy that enables Harvey Weinsteins and Ram Rahims to flourish.

Debjanee is a research scholar at the Centre for Political Studies in JNU.