A lot of walls have come crashing down in the last few weeks. The high and mighty of the movie industry have been falling like there’s no tomorrow. It started over a month ago when one of Hollywood’s most powerful producers, Harvey Weinstein, was accused of sexual harassment by over a dozen women. Then, Kevin Spacey was accused of sexually harassing dozens of young, sometimes underage, men, and he did a huge disservice to the gay community by coming out the moment he was named and shamed. As I write this, news is pouring in about comedian Louis CK’s sexual misconduct with at least five women.
While Louis CK is the one I was most fond of in this ever-growing list, I cannot say I am shocked. Harassing women at the workplace in any industry is not a myth. Being a woman, I can assure you that I speak from experience. Closer to home, female comedian Mallika Dua recently wrote a note on what she faced at a reality comedy contest with one of the biggest superstars of India.
In 2016, the CEO of The Viral Fever (TVF), one of India’s most successful start-ups in online entertainment content, was accused of sexual harassment by a former employee on an anonymously written post on Medium. The piece went viral and Indians were outraged until the CEO, Arunabh Kumar, was made to give up his place in the organization he co-founded. There are other high-profile sexual harassment or assault cases that are ongoing as well, and reputations have been destroyed.
Even so, none of this is new. While I scroll the endless newsfeed on my phone informing me of the same thing, only with different men involved, I can think of several instances I and my friends or colleagues have gone through that qualify as sexual harassment. From being asked to get some drinks as soon as one of us women are promoted, to physical boundaries being violated, we have innumerable stories. It doesn’t matter what industry we work in, sexual predators are everywhere.
But what is incredible right now is that from one woman speaking out to a hundred, a can of worms has opened up. People are waking up to know that the biggest stars in the world have erred. That they can err. The men who cried hoarsely that "not all men" are perpetrators have been silenced. Today, they have had to believe that maybe not all men have harassed, but all women have experienced harassment.
It is astounding that some men still believe that a woman’s life is a big reality TV show and she is out to get votes by "playing the victim card." Maybe it is unimaginable for this category of men, but my bet is that women who are speaking out are not doing it for publicity. As an aquaintance powerfully summarized, "A woman gets to live the rest of her life knowing that people will remember her name for being abused." And that isn’t a great thing.
So here is what I think is the right answer – that women speak out so that there is a future environment where there is no need to. The fact that they have been sexually harassed is a reality they have to live with. And yet, they continue to be strong enough to work and live in an ecosystem that will always have males, some of who will be of the wrong kind.
So speaking out is courageous as hell. It is mortifying knowing what it can do to one’s career and yet being able to say it out loud is supremely brave. Men have seldom had to do it but it is laudable when they have. Every person who is able to speak out about their darkest encounter deserves not just our awe but also our immediate action.
Which is why actors being dropped from their shows is good. Comedians getting their specials dumped is good. This is action.
One day, women will not have to speak out anymore because thanks to such heroic women, sexual predators will not dare violate a woman’s space ever again. If not out of respect for a fellow human being, then purely out of fear of the repercussions.
In my debut book, titled Your Truth, My Truth: Stories Of New Age Relationships, I have explored the subject of workplace harassment in one of the short stories. Called "Outrage over Nothing," the story revolves around an Indian woman, Lekha, who is a successful corporate communications manager and cares for the gender hierarchy even less than armchair activism. WHile her friend and colleague Vijay constantly rages on Twitter about serious matters like workplace harassment without actually doing anything, Lekha takes charge of her own life when that very thing happens to her.
Fiction is mostly inspired from reality, and this short story (along with others in the book that deal with subjects like mental health, divorce, sexism) seems to resonate even more in these times. So go ahead. Name them and shame them. Free yourself of the guilt and let them bear the brunt of it. Let the list grow longer and our patience shorter.
Top photo: Flickr Creative Commons/Nick Stepowjy
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Runa Mukherjee Parikh is an independent journalist and author of the book Your Truth, My Truth: Stories of New Age Relationships. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.