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Sunday, 19 March 2017

Why we need to stop defending abusive men and how to support women who speak up

Indian Twitter over the past one week has displayed an unsurprising ineptitude for handling stories on sexual harassment. And that’s when there are not one, but at least 5 different women who have spoken out about the sexual harassment they endured at the hands of Arunabh Kumar, CEO and Founder of The Viral Fever.

I’ve seen people Tweet on everything from the veracity of an anonymous blog post to whether or not this is a conspiracy by All India Backchod to defame a competitor.

I’ve also seen people trying to have a conversation about anything but what we need to be talking about right now.

Unlike Animisha, the collective consciousness often called the ‘Indian Twitterati’ will talk about anything but how men in power behave. And which side of the net the benefit of the doubt should fall on.

We Silence Women When They Speak Up
In case you didn’t read the meta-text in the above article, here it is again:
When a woman says she’s been harassed we want evidence to back that claim. A man says she’s lying, and that’s good enough for us.

When you don’t give the benefit of the doubt to a sexual harassment victim who comes out about their harassment, you not only trivialize their suffering but you reinforce the idea that speaking out doesn’t help. You also ignore the fact that speaking out is often dangerous.

We Forget What Lengths Powerful Men Can Go To
In a series of Tweets, Vália Babycats talked about how she was harassed at her workplace and how, when she complained, she was methodically silenced.

Not only did her harasser get away, she was forced to write a letter of apology for speaking out in the first place.
The idea of forcing an apology out of someone who speaks out is as much a symbolic move as a strategic one. It’s your oppressor forcing you to acknowledge their power over you.

We Celebrate Abusive Men
The idea that successfully investigating and exposing powerful, abusive men will lead to them being punished is a common idea, reinforced by calls to follow what the Twitterati believes is proper decorum — report the abuser to the police.

Sadly, there’s no basis for this. Historically, powerful men get away with it.

Abusive men have lifted Oscars. They can be considered Godmen. They can be politically righteous (or ‘brocialist’). They can be ‘woke’. One even sits in the Oval Office, in Washington DC, where he is scrutinized intensely for his political acumen or lack thereof.

We Confuse Our Ignorance for Innocence
You’re only excusable for your ignorance if you don’t know better. That’s according to Aristotle, from more than 2000 years ago. But today, that scenario is the exception rather than the rule. As Henry Rollins puts it:

“Now that you can watch people die on Facebook, your evaluation of the facts and the sheer amount of information you want to deal with is up to you. But you can no longer say you don’t know what’s going on.”

In other words, you can always know better. And when it comes to sexual harassment, your lack of awareness is likely down to apathy, not ignorance.

We Forget that Empathy is a Choice
Empathizing with these women is a choice. One that the powerful are shown to be less likely to make. One that you should be making every time it’s presented to you.

Have you ever tried asking a woman about sexual harassment? And have you listened without judgement, without interruption?

We Ignore Statistics
Not only do we turn a blind eye when harassment or abuse happens around us, but we doubt the veracity of complaints even though statistics say sexual harassment is incredibly common.

In a 2010 survey, the Center for Transforming India found that 88% of women experienced some form of sexual harassment at work.

About a quarter of the 3840 women responding to a 2012 online survey by Times of India had been groped or molested by men.

Instead of these statistics playing any role in our decision making process, people make up fake statistics on rape that then have to be refuted methodically before women can talk about sexual assault as a problem again.

How is it possible that the observable reality of so many entitled men on Twitter leads them to doubt the accuser rather than the accused?

Arunabh Kumar

We Don’t Even Care About the Facts
Facts don’t change our minds because narratives do. We don’t believe these women because we don’t want to help them. It’s also why people are more likely to believe and propagate the made-up statistics than the real ones.

Another piece on the same phenomenon had this to say:

When you take Mercier and Sperber’s theory to heart you understand that narratives, ideas, and ideologies are what fuel the world, not facts.

We Help Create an Environment Where Men Get Away with Abuse
In the Times of India survey mentioned above, 90% of the incidents involved bystanders who didn’t help the women. And 95% of the respondents who approached the authorities were not satisfied with the police response they got.

Even the people in your workplace who are supposed to have your back, don’t.

Do we still want women to stay off Twitter and Facebook unless they approach the authorities first? Why is our faith in the authorities unfailing when we ask someone else to go to them?

We Suddenly Become Champions for Legal Process
Apparently, when one doesn’t approach the authorities all complaints are invalid. Below is just one of many posts that make that claim.

Powerful, abusive men thrive in an environment that makes abuse easy. Bystanders who are unwilling to speak out are an integral part of that environment. Victims not going through due process is a result of that environment.

Nearly half the women (44.2%) that HT spoke to, in this article, said they were threatened prior to filing an FIR. Still wondering why the women won’t come forward and pursue their charges?

Sure, ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is undeniably a part of the legal process. But if you see someone being stabbed right in front of you, would you wait for the legal process to take its course before declaring that the person was stabbed?

How about a dozen or more unconnected women calling out the same person for harassment?

We Remain Silent
That last sentence from Aditi Mittal’s Tweet is telling. What’s even more telling is the attention it hasn’t gotten. When someone from the comedy scene says this is an open secret, do you still need legal proceedings to run their course before taking up the cause of the victims?

What does it take for you to speak up?

We can stay happy by just ignoring anything negative that pops up in front of us. But as Sara Ahmed puts it:

“If our happiness depends on turning away from violence, our happiness is violence.”

Abusive men are thriving in a system where abuse is systematically executed and covered up. Whereas their victims stand against a wall of faceless observers who will wait for nothing short of perfect conditions to turn against the abuser.

We need to start listening to the women in our lives about how they feel at offices.

We need to start listening to the women at our offices about what’s okay and what isn’t.

We need to not interrupt women when they talk about this.

We need to give women the benefit of the doubt when they tell us they’re being harassed.

We need to get rid of the bystander effect that gives these men their infallible protection.

We need to stand up for women when we see harassment happen.

We need to make an environment that’s unsafe for harassers and safe for women.

Speak up against powerful, abusive men. Don’t cover for them, even if they’re mentors, family members, colleagues, or friends.

They don’t need your support. Their victims do.

(Source: The Ladies Finger)

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