How #MeToo campaign and 'name and shame' list brought feminism at crossroads

While we have earned our feminist spurs on the back of the ideology of our older sisters, it's perhaps time to pass on the baton.

 |  5-minute read |   01-11-2017
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It is an unusual time for women: globally yes, but most definitely in India. Unusual, because you know "that" moment has come again when there is a churn, when the entire language of feminism, and the dialogue around, it is turning. A language that patented feminists are still to come to grips with. We seem to be at the precipice of that moment where recognised reference points of feminism and the rules of engagement with it are being rewritten.

An older generation's beliefs are being replaced by that of a new one. Where a 20-year-old is impatiently waiting for the baton to be passed on by the 60-year-old, literally saying, ''Thanks, you taught us well, but we'll take it from here".

Why I bring up the two age brackets here? Well, because around 35-year-old women like me are stuck in the middle. Where we have earned our feminist spurs on the back of the ideology of our older sisters, who redefined the women liberation movement in the 70's. Where we, on many occasions, have pushed the envelope, but not quite tipped it off the table.

Suddenly we find ourselves confronted with a woman a decade younger, who without a care and with a quick flick of the finger has sent the envelope flying. Leaving us - the middle order - a conflicted lot. Because not only has she done what we thought was our earned right, but she has impatiently jumped the queue, nudged the likes of us - "the next-gen flag bearers of neo-feminism" - to a corner, and with little self-regard, she is using every rule in the book to push her case, my case and your case as well, and that is disconcerting.

Gender equality at any cost, using any means, it truly is the "saam, daam, dand, bhed" moment for feminism in the country and possibly the world. Where there will be no rules and no conscience but one objective: guerrilla warfare where collateral damage be damned.

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A new order of gender equality is slowly being established, recent events stand testimony to that. Case in point: when the roll-call of Harvey Wienstien's victims was read out, rage was the usual reaction to the cesspit of sexism. What wasn't usual was the new wave of feminism, where denial was just not an option anymore. Where the new women, shaped and fed up by the status quo on gender justice, snapped.

Social media campaigns like #MeToo were born. Many might call the backlash a case of misguided vigilantism, or mere social media activism with little change on ground, but it did come to be the rallying cry of women against sexual abuse. The whiplash was felt back home as well, with the latest "name and shame" list being released by a young woman, supported by hundreds of others across the country, calling out sexual predators and sexual misconduct in academic institutions.

The list, as I write, is getting longer, with #MeToo now turning to #HimToo. Are there ethical issues to it? Yes, there are. How does one actually check its authenticity? How do you call out the fakes? Old seasoned champions of women's rights have openly criticised it as being irresponsible but it's there and it's growing. Women candidly naming professors who assaulted them, recounting incidents that are decades old.

Should there be an unauthenticated list of "sexual predators" floating about for public consumption? Debatable, certainly; but it's there, with additions being made every hour. With ME TOO now turning into HIM TOO, the new brand of feminism is moving fast, deliberating, recalculating and reinventing. Shifting the focus from me to him. The name and shame list is just one of the many weapons yet to be unleashed.

With the language changing, so is the processing. Women today openly question sexism embedded in daily lives. Ten years ago, when Kareena Kapoor asked for pay parity with Shah Rukh Khan for a Karan Johar movie, the world - including Johar - scoffed. Today, when a Priyanka Chopra says the same, people listen.

I too find myself conflicted. Certain jokes that I would have possibly laughed at a few years ago, today make me question my brand of feminism. What do you filter, and by how much? Steer clear of hyper-feminism? Is there something called "hyper-feminism" after all? Questions that women today are asking themselves, answers to which were a given a few years ago, today no longer apply. Not entirely, at least.

A throwback to the Varnika Kundu sexual harassment case, the same story would have played out very differently five years back. Yes, there was character assassination; yes there were attempts to shift the blame onto Varnika; but neither did the spunky Varnika play the victim, and nor was she perceived as one. With every attack made on Varnika, there were 10 women who had her back - both on social media platforms and outside her house in Panchkula.

So, yes to quote a cliché, the writing is on the wall. The older feminist lot who have fought the "good" fight till now, are possibly horrified with the text. Us in the middle order, a little uneasy. Nobody quite knows what turn this will take. There has always been uncertainty attached to any progressive movement - part fragmented, part irresponsible, part directionless.

But what is certain is that there is little time. The bandwagon with this new robust, antsy, persuasive, cunning, scheming self-assured lot, has started to roll. The baton has to be handed over: the 60-year-old, who burnt her bra while her mother stood shocked, needs to give.

And, us lot? Ultimately, it's the "sisterhood" that matters, that wins. Because, when it comes to the feminist movement, there is only one side of history you want to be on.

Also read: Responding to Partha Chatterjee's response is essential to maintain the integrity of the list

Writer

Preeti Choudhry Preeti Choudhry @preetichoudhry

The writer is a journalist with India Today TV.

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