Of damsels in action and knights in distress

When I first started writing this weeks ago, the article was meant to be an agonized call of frustration at the lack of substantive action raised through the #metoo movement. It was an outpouring of my confusion at how, although time and time again women have exposed their most vulnerable and insecure moments in hopes of closure, the answer had always been the same.

Radio silence.

After the events of the past week, I stand corrected. #metoo wasn’t the passing shallow ripple I had thought it to be what with Time’s naming each and every person who had added their story to #metoo a Person of the Year and Doug Jones beating Roy Moore in the very Red state of Alabama. But that brings about the question: why had #metoo received so much more attention than other female rights social media movements before? What had it done differently?

I guess this is where I explain my initial suspicions about #metoo. #metoo requires women to step forward to publicly reveal their most vulnerable and insecure moments — instances where they might have been physically violated, questioned their self-worth and failed to gain closure from society. With movements such as #metoo, these scabs are painfully ripped open once more and used as necessary currency to highlight a problem that is so blatantly ingrained in society. There is definitely something cathartic about knowing you’re not alone in the struggle yet at the heart of their message is the level of pain the victim endured and rarely the action called for. For the movement to be effective it needed to go beyond naming and shaming the perpetrators to focus on how the everyday male walking down the street had a responsibility to bear for the behaviour of others as well. It had to show how supposedly harmless jokes about boobs and butts eventually snowball to the objectification of women on a subconscious level. But most of all, I guess what ticked me off the most was how #metoo was another movement that placed the burden on women to justify why the hurt they’ve been facing all these years was an issue that required attention. Looking at the stories posted by close friends and family, I recalled the countless occasions where I had brushed off catcalls, pretending they were directed elsewhere because it wasn’t worth the effort to confront. Besides, there are a dozen worse violations that have been set against women haven’t there? Without realizing it, we often shrug off the smaller transgressions and pretend it’s acceptable to avoid the more serious violations. #metoo highlighted that even though it should go without saying that such behaviour is demeaning, women still had to spell out exactly how it attacked their identity and self-worth.

I suppose that was exactly what I had gotten wrong about my initial misgivings regarding the movement. #metoo was never about creating conversation with the perpetrators and their behaviour. Instead, it was a call on women to finally act on the years of injustice they’ve faced and to take action into their own hands. Every victim that had the courage to step forward to speak out against powerful and well-liked personalities like Al Franken was putting their own credibility on the line. Each story added pressure and volume to the claims being made, substantiating and exposing the gory core of the affair. What more, it empowered women on the streets, leading regular 9-5 jobs, giving them the belief that their voices mattered and it could make a difference. For proof of this, let’s look at Doug Jones’ victory in the recent Alabama elections. Party politics aside, there was an overwhelming turnout of black voters and in particular female, black voters at the ballots. Even among white voters, far fewer female white voters than expected voted along party lines. Regardless of whether the Democrats’ win in Alabama was in part due to women acting on their own values, it definitely succeeded in creating the optics of such an outcome.

As the movement continues to evolve and progress, it will continue to rouse women both in positions of power and on the ground to speak up against their aggressors and the oppressive culture that has stymied them till now. That said, we need to continue believing the stories coming to light and treat the claims brought forth by the victims fairly. Questioning and dismissing the claims before they’re even looked into would perpetuate the image of #metoo being the witch-hunt it was never meant to be. It would allow those guilty to return to their comfortable bubble, consoling and justifying to themselves that their actions are being exaggerated. For the movement to continue gaining traction, women need to continue supporting the victims by acting on their stories within their capacities.

#metoo is more than just a platform to air grievances. It’s a rallying cry that reminds women of what they’re capable of and how much they’ve been tolerating till now. This is what #metoo succeeded in achieving where other campaigns had failed.

And this is why I’ve never been prouder to say #metoo.

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