The Dark Side of #MeToo – A Powerful Weapon being Blunted by Misuse!

[HEADNOTE]

The Dark Side of #MeToo – A Powerful Weapon being Blunted by Misuse!

by Shuvashree Chowdhury

I am a staunch supporter of the #MeToo movement, especially as a woman. I laud the movement for the challenge it has posed to norms of male behaviour and the exposure of some real demons. However, I am also very disturbed by how it is being diluted and misused by certain set of women.

If you’ve ever worked with me or been reading me for over a decade in various platforms, you would easily relate to this by now. I do not see how we can trivialize what we women have gone through forever — and many of us have been fighting against that lifelong, with everything we have to give, through raising our voice, by simply joining an anonymous brigade that so easily says #MeToo for anything and everything.

If a man looks at me for a few seconds more than I like, should I react with a #MeToo? No! — If he flirts or proposes but politely backs off if I am uninterested, would I also say #Metoo? No! — If he runs me down at work and compels me to leave my job that I have aspired to be at the top of, I would definitely complain against him officially, but will I also say #MeToo? No! — If he ‘flashes’ at me in a public place or attempts to ‘sexually harass’, ‘molest’ or ‘rape’ me — of course, yes, I would categorise these latter four under #MeToo!

What I’m really trying to highlight here, is the increasingly rampant misuse of the #MeToo campaign. That almost any attention, which a woman has deemed unwelcome at any stage in her life, is being passed off as “sexual harassment” — and that is grossly damaging and slanderous. It is flung around on Twitter and other social media with names of the “perpetrators” in tow.  The second noticeable aspect of #MeToo is that the man is denied a voice unless he has “proof.” The allegation is the verdict.

The media houses will not only happily publish your write-up, if you can stitch one together yourself, or air your wet tear-drenched towel of words for days and weeks on any news channel that could get them viewership — till everyone’s well-dried, tired and bored of that topic or that person.

If you’ve been keeping abreast of the current social dredging exercises, in the name of the #MeToo campaign which I support for the right reasons only, you would easily recognize that I’m implying here to all the stories that surfaced recently on Chetan Bhagat — and one in particular, written by the writer Ira Trivedi in the Outlook magazine. And what is Bhagat’s primary fault — he just happens to be one of the most commercially successful Indian authors, whether or not the elite reading class feel he deserves it. While those making the allegations in frustration — after they could not get him to get them any public attention let alone bestseller status, even after a decade’s friendship, Trivedi is using his reputation as a weapon to go and grab the limelight herself.

And this — however warped your narrative reads or sounds to a logical and analytical mind — might even construe you having led the man on with your words or actions, into believing you were seeking favours yourself — sexual or otherwise: considering after that you remained friends with him for a decade, to now coming out with your beautifully written pieces — smearing his lifetime’s hard earned reputation.

Many, if not the majority of the cases that have been much publicised in the Indian media, are similar to that like Chetan Bhagat, whose name I’m only using here as an example to make my point, like I did with Sudeep Sen in the write up below.

But if you try to voice your views in support of any man, try to speak up for his character or innocence that has been maligned by those who spend more time politically plotting their career graph — rather than conscientiously working on the plots of their pieces of writing, or the intricacies and nuances of any other craft they might wish to earn fame out of, then you’d rather not nurse any hope of getting it published or aired.

I had submitted the write-up below for publication to The Scroll, The Wire and The Indian Express. Just last month when the second wave of #MeToo erupted in India — on October 27th & 28th respectively, I submitted the write-up that follows this for publication to the following magazines/persons: at The Scroll to Mr Naresh Fernandes (Chief Editor) & Ms Aarefa Johari (the correspondent who wrote the article in the first place). To The Wire to: Mr Sidhartha Vardarajan & Sidhartha Bhatia (co-editors). I received an immediate knee-jerk acknowledgement email from Mr Bhatia that he cannot carry the piece (no reasons given whatsoever): “regret that we will be unable to use this.” And finally, I sent to The Indian Express to: Mr Raj Kamal Jha (Chief Editor) & Pratik Kanjilal (Books Editor). Other than the one-line response from Mr Bhatia of The Wire, there has just been total silence from all the others. It is clear the media houses only seem to be interested in sensational unverified stories to raise their TRP ratings and not concerned with a balanced truth — either through directly contacting the allegedly accused to get both sides of the story, or in third party unbiased voices.

As I am no longer hoping to find my article being accepted for publication — I am hereby posting the submitted article verbatim — so that it may at least go down in history for registering my strong protest of this bigoted campaign. The true thrust of the #MeToo campaign that ought to focus on the real perpetrators is being diluted and misused by some groups of city-based priviledged relatively-empowered women with access to English-language social media, who have personal axes to grind and gain frivolous instant public attention — which is shameful and slanderous.

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PS: Chetan Bhagat and Sudeep Sen please excuse me for raking up these circumstances … but I felt compelled to your examples to raise my voice against what’s going on here and the wrongs of movement.

*

[ARTICLE]

Raising a Voice Against Misuse and Misguided Use of the #MeToo Campaign

by Shuvashree Chowdhury

In my view, #MeToo is an impactful tool for women to stand up with, against all the atrocities committed against us for centuries. But it is a sharper tool in the western world, where there is a clearer distinction in people’s minds on what harassment really construes. In our country — the same tool can get misused and thus sideline the gravity of the issues it ought to address, as I believe is the case right now, with the barrage of misleading and dubious accusations doing the rounds.

This is perhaps due to the inability to determine and understand or acknowledge the difference between brash power play, bullying, aggressive attention seeking, and the sheer over friendliness or attentiveness of a colleague that you don’t fancy or find attractive. I say this, after two decades of corporate assignments including a top-of-the-line airline, bank, hotel, three lifestyle retailers, and an international head hunting firm, having started out as a corporate sales executive with a large tour company at 23 years of age. All of these experiences now go into my fiction writing, which fairly analyses issues like those brought up in the #MeToo campaign.

Earlier this year, I had been shaken to read an article on Sudeep Sen in the Scroll which reported allegations against him by a poet. As a result of the allegations, some other poets — many of who he has been rather kind to — were opting out of an anthology for young poets that he had been working on. I had reached out to Sudeep immediately on reading this article.  He told me that he had learnt of the accusations. He had been shocked to learn of them. And though they were blatantly false, he had written a polite letter to the accusing writer directly, requesting for a meeting in the company of people they mutually trusted to discuss the matter. Needless to say, he never heard back from the writer. I lent him my unequivocal support. This was based on my first hand experiences of, at first, dealing with him in a professional capacity, even though we have remained friends since then.   I also spoke to people we knew in common, young poets whose work is also featured in this upcoming anthology. I shared my story with them so that they may also know the experiences that I’m now about to share with you, just as vividly as I did with them at the time, to add a fair perspective to all that was/is being said about Sudeep by some of these poets/ writers on mere hearsay.

I first met Sudeep Sen in October 2012, over a couple of official dinners, when he had come to Chennai with a group of train-traveling Australian and Indian writers as part of Bookwallah, an Indo-Australian literary event. After a brief conversation over dinner and exchange of email addresses, we stayed in touch by email, totally by my initiation.

After I had read his book of poems, Rain and Ladakh, which I liked very much and I even went on to review them in my blog. I also shared with him two poems I had written on Pondicherry, where he was headed to with the group, and his appreciation of them gave me the confidence to take up writing poetry more seriously than I did so far.  I had discussed the then ready-manuscript of my debut novel ‘Across Borders’ with the group of writers at the roundtable of the restaurant over dinner, on their curiosity, but Sudeep had not joined us by then. So he did not know that I was a writer too. However, I wrote to him about it and requested for a blurb.

At first, Sudeep categorically replied, “I will read … but give my comments, only if I like the writing.” There was no other condition attached to it and I gladly consented, forwarding the manuscript by email. I did not get a reply for several months, but though disheartened, I respected his decision not to give his comments and did not write to him again.

It was when I posted the cover photo of my book with a few other author comments on Facebook that Sudeep wrote to me, saying “I would like to send in my comments too. I just got delayed due to a lot of personal issues. Would you like me to send it now, or is it too late?”

A couple of months back then, I had seen from his Facebook posts — that Sudeep had lost his mother, and thus understanding that my book would hardly be in his line of priority at the time, I requested him to send his comments now. It went on the back of my debut historical fiction book, and is going as a foreward on the republished version of it again — and in three other new books including a novel, a collection of short stories, and a poetry volume.

I firmly believe in his inability to ‘harass/molest’ a woman, let alone force unwilling women for sexual favours however minimal — in spite of his overtly warm, gregarious, and sociable demeanour, sometimes even with strangers. In my view, his jovial behaviour may seem arrogant at times to those who don’t know him well, and I have pointed this out to him a few times over the years — but it is never offensive.

My confidence in Sudeep is from my first-hand experience with him in a professional capacity then, on the eve of the launch of my book in Delhi in December 2013, details of which are in the link: https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/between-the-lines/article5508192.ece#

I had travelled to Delhi from Chennai the morning before the event and was staying at a hotel close to Sudeep’s house. On hearing of this, he had kindly asked me to stay at his place, in his son’s room — if I’d like and save the cost of a hotel room. I declined, but agreed to come and have a meal with him. I did not construe his well-intentioned invitation as a sexual advance as another woman in my place might have. I walked over to his house, from my hotel, with minute directions from him and he greeted me warmly with a light hug, insisting I take off my shoes outside the door (a practice he insists with all his guests). After I was seated and we chatted for a while, he brought out a cake saying “Congratulations on your book launch” and a bottle of red wine. It pleased me so much, especially after the years of struggle to reach this stage, that in my emotional state, I would gladly have gone and hugged him, but he made no such move. He had already invited to take me to his friend’s (a very attractive American woman I was to find) coffee table book launch (on dance/fabrics) by Penguin.

As I sat in his house, he asked me, “Would you like to have dinner at home, or with friends of my friend whose book-launch we will be going to now?” — as if to remind me that we had better leave. “I’m fine with dinner anywhere” I replied. “But yes, I’d like some wine first, as I’m freezing — look at my red nose! I’m just not used to the cold in Delhi anymore, even though I went to college at Delhi University.”

So after a glass of wine, Sudeep called a taxi and we went to the book event at Select Citywalk mall’s Good Earth store. There were so many gorgeous and well-dressed people and very gregarious at that, and having come over that morning from Chennai where people are generally reserved and shy, also after having lived there for the last eight years — I felt conscious and at unease with the Delhi crowd. But Sudeep looked me up every now and then, to ensure I was fine. He was socializing with almost everyone who he seemed to know and many of who warmly joked and pulled his leg, making me ease out on my stiff and reserved attitude so far with him.

“Pick up something to eat and drink … you’ll be a fool to be shy here” he’d say, or something similar, each time he walked over, often signalling the waiter to hand me a drink or a snack. “Also invite people to your book launch tomorrow. That’s how you circulate.”

After the event, Sudeep asked me, “Would you like to go home or have dinner with these people?… I’ll go with whatever you decide.” I’d had enough of socializing for one evening (and truly, for many evenings to come) and had managed to invite not a single person yet to my book-launch the next day — so I said, “Let’s just go and have dinner at your home.”

We took an auto back to his place —  I was only too glad, after the stress of socializing, that I was no longer used to. Sudeep quickly laid out all that his maid had cooked on the kitchen table. While he ate quickly and quietly, I spoke nonstop in sheer nervousness of the event the next day, propelled by the unsuccessful effort I’d made to socialize this evening.

After dinner, I sat around at Sudeep’s study, and then at his sitting room, while he sat at a distance from wherever I sat, as if to reassure me to relax and be comfortable. He showed me around his house, trailing me from a distance, not entering any of the rooms with me. I was happy to spend time with all his books that are no less a collection than one might find at a public library — and I showed no sign of wanting to leave.

All evening, he did not come and try to sit close, leave alone lay a remote finger on me, as he could have — to take advantage or exploit my circumstance, perhaps in entitlement for his launching my book the next day at IIC for which all invitations and preparations had been made — and I might have been stuck in a corner and forced to relent to his advances. Also I didn’t know anyone in the city that night, and there was not a soul in his house but the two of us.

After a long chat, mostly over the struggles I had to face till reaching this stage with the book, Sudeep said: “Now please don’t utter any of this [my struggles] at the book-launch tomorrow or ever again to anyone, people will just misquote such weaknesses. Cholo, get up, let me walk you back to your hotel. It’s rather late.”

“Yes it’s late.” I replied, looking at my watch marking past midnight. “So tomorrow would you like to join us on our drive to the IIC from here? Or would you come on your own?” Then jovially, also at ease with him by now, I added, “There are two really pretty women joining me, whose company you might just like.” He replied saying that he would make his own way to the India International Centre (IIC).

As we walked, through the deserted lanes of that Delhi winter’s night, Sudeep walked several steps ahead of me. Though he would turn back every now and then, to see I was following him. It was like he was keeping a safe distance, so that I would not even imagine he might be making any designs on me and feel uncomfortable as a result, or have neighbours imagine anything. At the hotel’s entrance he shook my hand lightly, said ‘good night’ and simply walked away — even as I kept looking at his receding form in gratitude for having been a perfect gentleman, while I had been so anxious all evening.

After my book launch the next evening at the IIC (and the official dinner at the Oberoi Hotel that my publisher had hosted), Sudeep dropped me in front of my hotel along with my friend. As he was leaving us (with two of my male friends he was taking over for drinks to his place), he gave me a hug congratulating me in the presence of everyone. Anyone in that group, if they had been petty or immature, might have construed his hug to be a sexual innuendo if they’d wanted to. But neither did they — and in any case, it was the last thing I might have imagined after the civil experience of the night before.

As I said, Sudeep had even gone to the IIC by himself (and wasn’t tempted by my invitation to have the company of two other pretty women on the ride, which a compulsive flirt or womaniser might have found the need to).  And believe me, as a woman I know when anyone touches me inappropriately — and I am totally on the side of all the women whose spaces have been non-consensually violated. But to have misread Sudeep would have been grossly wrong and unfair.

After this, Sudeep and I kept in touch and have met as friends, several times in Chennai over a poetry festival where I also read and in Calcutta over his book events. But my views here of him, are formed of the time before we became friends, and had met in a completely professional capacity.

Sudeep continues to be one of our best known English language poets with rewards and recognition from across the world. He is still the official editor for the Sahitya Academi anthology wherein 75 poets have their work represented. I know also that there are many writers, artists, academics and others — both men and women — who have affirmed their faith in Sudeep, personally, quietly, unobtrusively without fanfare or media attention. I hope they will now be more vocal about their stance.

All of the above was over six months ago. But with the resurgence of the #MeToo campaign — and a couple of slanderous, misguided, unproven Tweets by two women (whose books Sudeep Sen had not reviewed) —  I feel compelled to write this on behalf of those of my male friends who I believe have been wronged and misjudged.

In today’s environment any woman can make any accusing comment on a man, cast any aspersion to a man’s motive, share any interpretation of a man’s behaviour, extend any half-truth, she can even lie — and she will be believed, in honour of all the women who have genuinely suffered at the hands of men. Today, therefore, if a woman has spoken, then the man is guilty — no questions asked. And this is being accepted, being celebrated even, by a section of society as a way of compensation for the trials of women over the years. One injustice replaced by another.

I have bought this up now to raise the pertinent questions that we need to raise regarding the frivolous and gossipy space that the #MeToo campaign is becoming, thus rendering blunt a powerful weapon that should be used to slay the real demons like sexual-harassers, molesters, rapists in our society. My fellow women (and men) — please, focus on the real offenders — otherwise this movement will be diluted by misusers and misguided-users, as it has begun to happen.

*

Shuvashree Chowdhury — a senior professional in the Indian and international corporate sector for nearly 25 years — is the author of two novels (Across Borders, and Entwined Lives), a book of short stories (Existences), and a volume of poetry (Fragments).

*

Also as a reference to my debut novel ‘Across Borders’, I’m sharing below my interview (2013) in the Indian Express by Mr Yogesh Vajpei, in this link:

http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/c/1927216?fb_action_ids=10152083698974974&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_source=aggregation&fb_aggregation_id=288381481237582

 

All other media reviews, including the photos and coverage of the Delhi launch by Sudeep Sen is in this link  https://shuvashreeghosh.wordpress.com/2013/09/13/the-telegraph-reviews-my-book-across-borders/

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I’m also adding this story link here, on Chetan Bhagat, with all the proofs attached to it, to substantiate my point: https://www.outlookindia.com/website/amp/chetan-bhagat-hits-back-at-ira-trivedi-says-dont-harm-metoo-movement-with-your-false-charges/318313

****

Adding this link below along with my facebook post just a few weeks later, on 6/12/18:

This is precisely what most logical women like me – who’ve fought our way through the corporate world would have deduced happening and also why I didn’t support this regressive campaign, in spite of my heightened (everything I write about) feminist streak: “…men are adopting controversial strategies for the #MeToo era and, in the process, making life even harder for women.”

https://m.timesofindia.com/…/w…/amp_articleshow/66931492.cms

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14 thoughts on “The Dark Side of #MeToo – A Powerful Weapon being Blunted by Misuse!

  1. Exactly my perspective but the so called feminists have lost it and the media is totally ruining

    Sent using two thumbs …. Please excuse any typos

    • That’s a great comment, thank you. This is how it should really be. Finally there are people, sensible women, who believe in the other side for a balanced view — thankfully! Let us hope that sanity prevails and innocent men are not falsely accused or bloodied for revenge purposes by some women acting out their own selfish personal vendettas! Let the tide turn, one hopes!

    • Thank you! What gives me much hope, and strength in what I’ve had to say, considering I might be a lone voice, really is…that this link was shared with you by your teacher…and you also found it convincing.
      It’s just so easy to flow in the direction in which the wind blows and often impossible to inspire others to even look back and look that wind in the face – especially one that they are so convinced is the positive winds of change. But then, someone’s got to harness the wind..And this is my humble attempt. 😊Thank you!
      Warmly,
      Shuvashree

  2. Lately there’s been too much of discussion about #MeToo movement… I am happy that u have pointed out the darker side of it “ A powerful weapon being blunted by misuse” well written… kudos

  3. I strongly support the #MeToo movement. It was about time. However, it seems that in India such a powerful campaign has been reduced to a (1) Social Media based kangaroo court and (2) strongly gravitating towards bashing men in general. Every complain should at the least be narrated in person to someone of repute and/or journalistic credibility and not just through a post on social media. The movement is a far far powerful tool for the ladies to bring about a paradigm change in every professional field. I would appeal to the ladies to keep it powerful and not misuse it, because when I have a woman from my circle of loved ones stepping out to go to work, I would like her to have the shield of a very strong and powerful movement called #MeToo. and not a trivial kangaroo court or a pseudo feminist approach to bash men in general.

  4. A very pertinent article shuvashree. It’s scary how a movement that was aimed at protecting women against abuse can turn into a weapon to inflict similar abuse at men. It would be absolutely horrific if the that was done baselessly or with some hidden agenda. It’s unforgivable that someone who is innocent might have to suffer- whether man or woman.

    • Thank you, for your comment Vinita! Coming from a woman and a poet (I clicked your profile) at that, it’s a source of some moral support to me right now. It’s very easy to go with the current wave as most women, especially in the media and literary world, just to be on the safe side of the sea of allegations, so their budding careers don’t get washed over. But to take a stance and write to all these media houses who are propagating such toxic negativity and encouraging women to misuse this campaign has been very emotionally overwhelming…considering I’ve just set out on my literary journey myself.
      Warmly,
      Shuvashree.

  5. #MeToo is a very important opportunity for putting out disclosures one has held close as a deep dark secret for a very long time. Its a release that many of us women are feeling. And I support it. But should it become an unofficial sex offenders registry where public naming and shaming and lead to social medialynching? I am struggling with this myself. As someone has said rightly in a comment above, it must not turn into a weapon to inflict violence through shaming and destruction of reputation. Yes, its tue when a storm comes, it takes down many. This is such a storm…but there are some individuals who may be destroyed as colateral damage…we need to spare a thought for them. They may not deserve this onslaught!

    • Thank you so much Enakshi for commenting. The irony is that those who have had the voice, strength of their pen and several opportunities to speak strongly over a lifetime, seem to be making the most noise now. I really still don’t hear the voice of those who are real victims. And I know of many such women. Then for the younger brigade, life is far too easy now as compared to when we slogged our way up daunting career paths, to inculcate a respect for those who have reached positions of superiority. The youngsters now just want what they want and with the cut throat competetive streak they have, will destroy anyone without a thought to the repercussions. Since I’ve given the instance of Chetan Bhagat and Sudeep Sen, let me continue with their examples: I barely write my first book, or am twenty years or more junior as a poet – however successful, or let’s say have written a couple of poems and been invited to my local litfest…Will I have the stupidity to go and think I’m a novelist like Chetan and a poet like Sudeep who’ve put in years to reach where they are. Should I think that they are friendly with me, so I just forget how senior they are and not respect them for it?Sheer lack of self esteem and self respect creates such over confident bulldozers who’ve misused this campaign. More people should stand up against this nonsense. What gives strength to my voice now is decades of being a corporate trainer, but I respect all the writers who’ve been in the literary space before me. Can I just add up my total experience and think I deserve to be an overnight sensation?
      Sorry about the long response…I’m just so exasperated…having closely seen all this for years now.
      Warm regards,
      Shuvashree.

  6. I could be pilloried for this, but I will say it anyway: Unscrupulousness knows no Gender. So if there are men who are taking advantage of their position or a situation, there are also women who are doing it. That is not to say that every case of #Me Too is concocted or exaggerated, and hence unjustified. All it means is that condemning an accused to the personal and professional gallows on the basis of an unsubstantiated complaint is neither reasonable nor defensible. It would only be fair, and in the interests of justice, to give people like Sudeep Sen and Chetan Bhagat a chance to present their side of the story before jumping to conclusions about them. Lady Justice is, and must remain, blindfolded, and not wear a mere eyepatch.

    • I unequivocally agree with you Mr Thukral, that “Unscrupulousness knows no Gender.” But the problem most self proclaimed, steel willed and high pitched feminists face – is the inability to account for the very essence of feminism as meaning equality. Women, for all the patriarchy we’ve been crying hoarse about, are not willing to give up on the privileges – it’s dying will entail, as we’re so used to the ‘weaker sex’ persona. So isn’t it just so much easier for us, to go out there with word batons and beat down every man in sight, for the sheer satisfaction of having asserted our rights. Why don’t we find a way to be stronger, less needy of protection and more independent, even if it’s more for the cause of upholding the traditional notion of romance? Instead of trying to threaten and cow down men. We still like the traditional shy, coy, feminine viles we tend to put out and get upset with the confused reactions we get for it.

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