Prem Prakash has been a journalist for three decades. He has worked with Navbharat Times, Jansatta, Sahara Samay, Rashtriya Sahara and National Duniya. He is much discussed for his creative interventions in the criticism of Gandhian thought. He is the author of many books.
MeToo campaign is moving forward two steps every day; evidence and criticism are also being put up with conviction and strength. The interesting thing is that from the National Women’s Commission to the common person with discernment is not against it, everyone is supporting it. But if this movement has to reach a radical conclusion apart from the daily revelations and the increasing shaming of men every day, then it is necessary, to entertain great hopes from this movement would be to turn our eyes away from the decade-old history of social media and the many movements that it gave rise to. It is necessary to look at the MeToo movement in the context of similar movements and to look boldly at its past to reach a critical perspective.
Fourteen years ago, sitting in a room with a computer Mark Zuckerberg had brought the idea of Facebook into the Internet world, he was sure of its success because he had with him because along with names and addresses of people he was able to accumulate in digital form likes and dislikes, and responses to different life situations and contexts. He would then say to his friends that he is going to ride the strong and big wave of change because I am not just capable of reaching people but I am able to pry into them.
The claims of Zuckerberg who is able to influence the electoral process from America to India were turning out to be true.
There is another side to the prediction of Zuckerberg. This is connected with the many misperceptions and analyses of the Information Revolution. In reality, ever since digital revolutions had begun to dance in the open arms of market, ever since society, relationships and dealings have turned into a desire for self-expression and also a wish for instant revolution. When in 2010 Arab Spring broke out and people saw the power of social media and the change of social and political change through it, somewhere the idea was glimmering that the vocabulary of protest and leadership was undergoing a change. As the hopes that sprang from the Arab Spring faded before our eyes, in many other uprisings there was nothing more than sensation and buzz for a while. Before we discuss and understand the MeToo movement, it is necessary to grasp the decade-old developments in the social media.
The other thing to grasp in this context is the distinction that Simone de Beauvoir had made for the first time between sex and gender and placed it before the world and she put forward the powerful logical argument that at the end of it all how a woman in the context of her time and place and the situation it implies is reduced to her bodily existence, and how her physicality determines her sensibility and her activity. The logic and criticism initiated seventy years ago by Simone has shaped the women’s movement ever since and aspired for liberation from the body.
No one will deny that from the touch button of the mobile to the computer mouse the expression of the woman’s rich world that has been created in the last decade has exposed men’s thinking about, and behaviour, towards women. It can be said in an almost ritualistic way that the information revolution has helped in women expressing themselves fearlessly as never before and that they are living through the most uninhibited era ever. But it remains to be assessed how much of a difference did this uninhibited mode has made to the real life of women. It is also necessary in this context to underline certain things. The most important among these is that on the highway of markets and needs, the speed at which women began to work alongside men also meant that the working conditions of women outside the homes had become horrid.
The MeToo movement which has gained such momentum that a minister in the Government of India had to quit intends to bring to light the horridness of the position of women and to incorporate the reactions of the country and society to the situation. It is necessary to clarify here that whatever has been said and whatever clarifications and arguments have been offered with regard to the MeToo movement, there is no space in it for the painful and humiliating experience of a common woman. Even if there is space for the pain of the common women, it still remains outside the scope of the criticism that has emerged, and the hopes that have been raised by, the MeToo movement. The women who have spoken in #MeToo were either well-known personalities or the men against whom the complaints were men of established reputation. Why should this not be, because the contradiction was evident from the very beginning that only those could connect with the social empowerment that was the basis for the information revolution who have made a mark because of their education, wealth and fame and who are far ahead of others.
The beginning of the MeToo campaign is not separate from this. It was American civil rights activist Tarana Burke who had started this in 2006. It is 11 years after her speaking out that it had gone viral on the social media in 2017. Until now, from America to India, all the women who spoke out were either part of the television-cinema world or they are connected with big media corporations. Similarly, the men against whom the charges were made were big names and who were well known. It can be said that in a way the MeToo campaign has pulled down masks of people who succeeded in the society’s glamorous fields and who are considered as ideal and who are looked up to as icons, and world has been made familiar with the hidden truth.
Experience shows that it is doubtful this movement can achieve something beyond newspaper sensationalism and trial by media. The voices raised for gender equality are sure to empower society to move forward but it is not possible to achieve something beyond this if the market-information system is not committed to the self-respect of women. In the world of mouse-and-click where the issues of justice for half the world are raising new challenges and new arguments, the uninhibited self-expression of women has become a moot issue, there are tendencies present in the same universe and people who naturally – sipping milk as it were – look upon woman as an object of pleasure, and who want to keep her only to gaze at her.
Earlier too, the force of hash tag causing a social storm and transforming reality remains a mirage and one should not have much expectation this time too. If we want to take this discussion forward towards a conclusion tied to the Gandhian tenet of listening to and understanding what the last woman and the last man have to say does not become evident on the mobile screen and on the computer screen, until then the shadow of the mirage will not allow the reality of truth to emerge.