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Me Too movement gives us reasons to celebrate Women’s Day

The Me Too movement travelled across the globe and hit India to become a phenomenon after women brought forth their survival stories.

Priya Hazra | New Delhi |

In one of her journals, poet Sylvia Plath once wrote: “Being born a woman is my awful tragedy.” And it would be inexact to say that I never felt the same way as Plath did. I cannot speak for every woman, but the conversations I have had with some of the women in my life do give me the impression that they nurture same thoughts, though the reason may vary.

Plath also wrote: “I want to be able to sleep in an open field, to travel west, to walk freely at night.” This journal was published in 1982. It’s 2019 now, and honestly, I too long for the freedom Plath had described in her journal. It would be deceiving to say that the circumstances haven’t changed at all over the years but a certain fear hovers around us constantly.

Today, the world is celebrating woman and womanhood, dedicating a day to her achievements observed as International Women’s Day. Initially, this day was celebrated as International Working Women’s Day.

The year 2018 unveiled grievous ordeal of workplace harassment for women. The Me Too movement, founded by civil rights activist Taran Burke in 2006 giving a ray of hope to women, finally gained momentum in India. The international campaign against sexual harassment at workplace began in Hollywood after actress Alyssa Milano raised her voice against her culprit, producer Harvey Weinstein. Multiple women came forward afterwards to tell their ordeal, which took the tainted producer to court.

If nothing, this revolution gave a platform to the topic of sexual harassment and strength to women to stand against it. Actress Emma Thompson led by example as she quit the film, Luck, after Skydance got John Lasseter, an American animator, on board for the project. Former Disney-Pixar chief John Lasseter, who was accused of sexual misconduct, collaborating with the company made the actress furious.

In her resignation letter to Skydance, Thompson wrote, “If a man has been touching women inappropriately for decades, why would a woman want to work for him if the only reason he’s not touching them inappropriately now is that it says in his contract that he must behave ‘professionally’?”

The Me Too movement travelled across the globe and hit India to become a phenomenon after women brought forth their survival stories.

The offshoot of the campaign gained prominence in the country after Bollywood actress Tanushree Dutta reignited the discussion on an incident that took place in 2009 when her co-actor Nana Patekar allegedly sexually harassed her. Though the veteran actor kept denying the allegations against him, Dutta’s courage surely gave voice to the silenced stories of other women. Suddenly, the movement was unstoppable and inescapable with women outing their abusers on social media and people coming together to support the victims.

The grip of the movement fastened on the entertainment industry as the names of directors, producers, and actors cropped up. Veteran actor Alok Nath was accused of rape by writer Vinta Nanda in a social media post, wherein she narrated the horrendous incident that took place almost 20 years ago. Eventually, more of such incident came to light. Women in the industry spoke up, supported each other. Not to forget, several men stood by their side in this fight. The impact was quite visible as the accused were dropped from projects. From comedians to Bollywood biggies, many came under the fire.

In the wake of the allegations against a few prominent personalities of the Hindi film industry, 11 female figures signed a note declaring that they wouldn’t work with “proven sexual offenders”.

The impact of Me Too stepped up when former editor MJ Akbar, the then Minister of State for External Affairs, was accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women. Journalist Priya Ramani in an article titled “To the Harvey Weinstein of the world” revealed Akbar’s inappropriate behaviour, which led to his resignation from the cabinet. Akbar has filed a defamation case against the journalist post accusations, and the matter is sub judice.

In India, laws against defamation lead to the prosecution of defendants with a maximum jail term of two years, if unable to prove the allegations. In the USA, the first amendment protects such rights.

The fight against sexual harassment and assault is definitely going to be a long one, but I feel the Me Too movement appears to be the light at the end of the tunnel.

This movement has given me a reason to say Women’s Day this year is worth celebrating. Each year, on this day dedicated to womanhood, one thought crosses my mind – do we genuinely celebrate women? The growing rate of crime against them suggests otherwise.

The social media platforms today is flooded with wishes addressing women. However, the same platform is used to slut shame opinionated women.

The question does arise whether Women’s Day holds any significance or not.

The year 2018, however, gave some hope, which makes me say yes to the celebration.

The world saw some steps taken towards empowering women.

In June 2018, Saudi Arabian women were given the official right to drive, and racing car driver Aseel al-Hamad was able to drive in her home country for the first time. Following the Me Too movement, the actresses of Hollywood launched the anti-harassment plan and legal fund. Despite a ban, Iranian women watched the World Cup in a sports stadium in decades.

Back home, Me Too reaching the Indian shores gave a voice to many women, and their unheard stories of struggles came out in the open. And this could be called a worthy motive to actually celebrate Women’s Day.