Misusing laws or campaigns that are meant to safeguard the interests of women will only harm women in the long run
Power is a dangerous thing. No wonder we have ourselves the adage: 'With great power comes great responsibility'. Last year's viral #MeToo campaign has publicly named and shamed many habitual perpetrators of sexual assault and violence; and, rightly so. Men who prey upon women, exploiting their office of authority, must have their comeuppance. It came as no surprise when the #MeToo campaign spread like wildfire engulfing perpetrators across the world. It became a unified protest by women across nations, professions, and social standing. It united us against a common enemy, who, over the years, may have targeted various women with promises of jobs and opportunities.
But the recent case of Indian-American comedian Aziz Ansari has opened a new can of worms. The alleged victim's narration seems less of sexual assault and more of a bad date. It was the woman's expectations of how the date should have panned out as against the overtures of an over-eager and perhaps 'bad in bed' man. Leaving the nitty gritty of the case aside, the question that dawns upon us is, has the #MeToo campaign moved into an uncontrolled realm where any and everything can amount to sexual assault? Or are these canards, which when in the wrong hands, making a victim of hapless men?
Think of the power that lies in our hands. While we can today call out a habitual perpetrator and win emotional support, we also have the ability to crush lives. A wrong allegation, an improper reading of facts and an urgency to brand everyone as a degenerate, are enough to ruin someone's life forever. Through the penning of a few lines and chosen social media posts, women can tarnish a man's reputation and career, even if it is undeserved.
At the cost of sounding anti-feminist, I cannot condone hurried ultra-feminism. The more we have incidents that question another person's, even a man's, right to privacy, we dilute the legitimacy of the #MeToo campaign. Also, to be argued is the concept of consent and coercion between a man and a woman. The more that we give weightage to bogus cases, the more will people stop taking allegations of sexual assault seriously. Therefore, all the momentum that this worldwide campaign gained stands to wither away with a whimper.
Men will be wary to engage with women or work with them for the fear of false cases. Over multiple men have confided the same to me. At a work appointment, a gent of a leading corporate in Delhi pointed out to me that he had three CCTV cameras in his private office so that no female colleague can even think of accusing him of sexual misconduct. Another man belonging to one India's top companies recently joked that fewer women are being considered for corporate positions for fear of reverse harassment. A senior editor made it clear that his choice of venue for meetings was always public and he would make sure that one or more people were also present. All these claims may be slightly hyperbolic but it proves that a fear has set in. It is a welcome change in cases where the person is a habitual perpetrator. But for men looking to genuinely work with women while maintaining personal boundaries and respect, flimsy cases and hefty monetary settlements only prove to be deterrents for professionally engaging women.
Closer home, look at the fallout of stricter laws meant to protect women against domestic violence, rape, dowry, etc. There have been so many fake cases that it prompted the Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi to direct the National Commission for Women (NCW) to "provide a window" to such men. "I have been receiving a large number of complaints from men who claim that they have been falsely implicated in cases of domestic violence, dowry, rape etc. I am particularly concerned with the fact that this voice has become more and more loud in the last few months," she wrote.
Misusing laws or campaigns that are meant to safeguard the interests of women, will only harm us in the long run. The ones to lose out will be genuine victims of sexual harassment, rape, domestic violence and dowry. Just to settle scores with a man, we cannot weaken the rest of us.