#MeToo: Time for Men to Shut Up and Listen

12 Oct,2018

 

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

It’s been barely a week since the #MeToo campaign took off in India. Over the last week, accounts from various women have poured in, implicating senior members of the organisations or productions they worked in. While the initial accounts have largely come from the media and entertainment sector, including advertising and journalism, the flow of #MeToo posts from other sectors has gained some momentum in the last couple of days. We are nowhere close to saturation here. I believe this will go on for another week or two, if not more, and a lot more names, across diverse industries, will be out in the open.

 

For those involved with the media & entertainment sector over the years, none of what has come out is even remotely surprising. One has grown in this industry hearing such accounts repeatedly. But thus far, they fell in the hearsay category. ‘Did you know that so-and-so did this to so-and-so’. The #MeToo campaign is significant because here, the victims are speaking up directly. So, the talk shifts from being ‘gossipy’ in nature to credible, and hence, a lot more purposeful.

 

As a male member of the industry for almost 20 years now, I have read each such account with a sense of disappointment. Disappointment that this happened, and also at the fact that I’m not even surprised that this happened. I have repeatedly questioned over the last week if many of us, who have seen or heard about such incidents from close quarters, have encouraged it because of our silence over the years. Perhaps yes. But it’s also true that one needs to respect the victim’s choice of coming out in the open about what happened to her. It’s her prerogative, including the prerogative of choosing her timing. And I’m glad it’s happening now. That’s the silver lining on the disappointment. The feeling that something good will come out of this.

 

In the first decade of my career (and I intentionally refrain from being specific about the exact year here), I witnessed (‘heard about’ will be more apt) sexual harassment at workplace first hand. At one of the organisations I was working for, a new batch of management trainees joined. A very senior resource in the organisation was known to make his choices. He picked on one (some said two) of the girls in the batch. One day, he walked past her desk and threw a chit of paper at her. The chit had his ‘Personal Mobile Number’ (it explicitly used the word ‘Personal’ I’m told, lest there should be any confusion). There was no communication, just the throw of the chit. But this happened in full public view apparently.

 

The man was at least four levels upstream the girl in hierarchy. The girl apparently complained to her boss, who happened to be a woman. Helplessness seemed to be the dominant emotion. Everyone came to know of the incident, but no one quite knew what to do with it. Remember, this was in the decade of the 2000s. The courage to speak up was nowhere close to where it is today.

 

The girl didn’t call the number. Thankfully, no second attempt was made. But the girl, probably disillusioned by this early tryst with unwanted male attention in her career, quit within six months to move on to another job. The story was buried and forgotten much before that anyway.

 

But the stories that are coming out now won’t be buried. And that’s why, we men should shut up for a while and let the women do all the talking. It’s their moment. And they have waited for years for this.

 

 

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