Monday, March 20, 2023

#MeToo: Missing justice in hashtag activism

The #MeToo movement, a volcanic eruption of long-suppressed pain and rage from victims of abuse, was a global revolution that sought to smoke out offenders, expose their deeds and mete out punishment. Many survivors found the courage to come forward, name and shame offenders, shed the baggage 

of trauma, and facilitate healing. Some of the perpetrators were prosecuted or cancelled outright, victims received financial aid, workplace and educational institutions framed policies to safeguard women, the statute of limitation for reporting abuse became elasticised and some of us dared to dream of a world where women were not treated as sexual toys. But that was always a foolish hope.

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For, in the real world, far away from social media, consequences were far more severe for victims. They won in the court of public opinion, but mostly lost in actual courts, where decisions in these sensitive cases are based on hard-to-prove facts and near-nonexistent evidence. Consequently, many bravehearts have been countersued for defamation, slut-shamed, and suffered professional setbacks. Meanwhile, the likes of Sajid Khan find themselves in the news, having capitalised on their notoriety. 

This is hardly surprising since hashtag activism inevitably putters to a standstill. All it takes is celebs dropping pics of their weddings, baby showers, unclothed selves or funny videos of pampered pets to divert public attention. Moreover, social media trials often generate sympathy for aggressors since folks who haven’t had their brains woke-washed invariably feel that justice was not served as due process was ignored, never mind that the lame-duck legal system has repeatedly let down the injured party. 

The upshot is that #MeToo seems committed to fanning public outrage and populist pandering, which saw it accused of diluting the menace of sex crimes by lumping everything from flirtation in the workplace to sexual assault together, resulting in the doling out of punishment that is both disproportionate as well as inadequate, enabling some to manipulate it for their own ends. Meanwhile, the movement did not do enough to change deeply entrenched patriarchal mindsets and cultural beliefs that expect women to shut up and put up.

The solution, thus, lies not in vigilante-style justice meted out by a moralistic mob on internet forums, but in fixing a broken justice system and prioritising the rights of women. Prevention is still key. We need to implement rules that guarantee safe spaces for women. Mostly, the battle for gender equality, sensitisation and inclusion of LGBTQ is going to be a long-drawn-out, painful process, which demands that we fight the good fight with dedication, humanity and mindfulness rather than twiddling our thumbs, Twitterati style. 

This article originally appeared in The New Indian Express Magazine.

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