​Ranjona Banerji: Many ‘shitty’ men in media?!

27 Oct,2017

By ​Ranjona Banerji​


The Harvey Weinstein sexual assault/harassment scandal in Hollywood has had a cascading domino effect across the world. Women enthusiastically joined the “#MeToo” campaign across social media either to show solidarity with those who had been raped, assaulted, groped, harassed, humiliated or to say that they had gone through the same thing, one way or another.

The conversation has moved on from the film and glamour industries. Academia has been exposed and now a former US president, George Bush Sr, has had to apologise for his behaviour. The media has reported on these aspects and accusations of sexual harassment most conscientiously. Various opinions have been put forth – some in support of the women who are “naming and shaming” predatory men, some pointing out that “naming and shaming” is a sort of an unjust hit and run tactic, men have tried to say they are sorry or that they are not all bad.

A particular list of Indian academics who have preyed on women has been made public. Author and Pakistan expert C Christine Fair wrote a detailed and painful account of how she has been abused and harassed through her life, which Huffington Post published and then took down from its site, although it is available on her own blog. US-based academic and activist Raya Sarkar who put up a list of abusive Indian academics has created an enormous controversy which has roiled people tremendously. Her Facebook profile was even suspended, although it has since been restored.

A list of “Shitty Media Men” in the US has created its own problems, with same accusations of justice and unsubstantiated allegations.

And this is where we reach the crux of our own media problem: the media itself. Across the world, regardless of the number of women who now work in the media, the story of predatory men is largely left unspoken and “tolerated”. Men who are greatly “admired” for the journalism often have a horrific reputation of targeting and abusing women who report to them. The Tarun Tejpal case is a rarity, where a young journalist had the courage to actually make him accountable and demand a court case. You will recall the amount of support that poured in for Tejpal from his colleagues – some female – and one notably dangerous piece written by a man from the point of view of the elevator where the abuse happened.

Although we write about gender abuse elsewhere, we in the media would rather not tackle it. This is in spite of any number of instances which are reported within media organisations. The whole debate over Visakha guidelines has died down now. The stories continue. Although the Indian media has more women in leadership positions than its counterparts elsewhere, the top job is still most likely to go to a man. The old prejudices of “features” for women continues, although much less. Verbal abuse is tolerated as “banter”.

Some older women, who identify as feminists and have fought for the cause, however have been acclimatised over the years to try and “be fair” and also see the “man’s point of view”. In a sense, without knowing it, they have been co-opted into old patriarchal systems. Like those cliched women who will swear their daughters-in-law’s main roles are to produce male children and make round chapathis.

The argument also gets lost into the “not all men are bad” territory which in fact is nothing but a diversion to let the men who do get away with murder, off the hook.

It is heartening to see that today’s younger feminists are breaking some old rules and shibboleths and becoming more aggressive. I would argue that although their actions are neither “fair” nor “just”, they speak to the decades of change that have not happened. Perhaps in fighting to ensure that women get plum assignments or are allowed to work the night shift, some harassment was brushed under the carpet, or this battle was chosen over that.

It looks like we have reached another crossroads. If “name and shame” is unfair, the media has to find some other effective method to deal with the demons within. If not, all these exposes and follow-ups are nothing but a hypocritical sham.


​Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. The views here are her own.



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One response to “​Ranjona Banerji: Many ‘shitty’ men in media?!”

  1. Jayant Jaipal Singh says:

    What is the remedy if the name and shame route is used to avenge a slight?