Powerful men are so convinced of their entitlement to bodies of women under them that it never occurred to them that one day they could be held accountable for it.
NIDA FATIMA | Caravan Daily
ALMOST all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test their character give them power. I can’t help but think again and again of this quote by Abraham Lincoln as fresh revelations of sexual harassment by powerful men come to light each day.
It’s been ten days. Each day a new name crops up in the #MeToo movement. So far the movement has touched the sphere of sexual harassment only tangently, limiting itself to Bollywood and journalism. Sexual harassment of course is not limited to these. Nor does it come in a standard package.
It is all so pervasive and has so many shades that they cannot be numbered. How many versions from among the innumerable versions of sexual harassment a woman faces depends on her place and status in society.
However, what is common between a top class journalist preying on young girls and a small town shoe salesman of a sexual predator is that they both hold a position of power over the victim. These two and all classes of sexually abusive men between the two believe that they are entitled to exploit the victim by virtue of their position and power. They exploit because they can.
Their behaviour rides on the victims’ fears and insecurities and sense of shame. Everything and everyone who reinforces the victims’ insecurities and sense of shame validates the harasser’s behaviour. This unfortunately includes other women too.
In fact, the powerful men are so convinced of their entitlement to bodies of women under them that it never occurred to them that one day they could be held accountable for it.
What else if not an absolute unflinching belief in their personal power allowed people like M J Akbar, Alok Nath or Sajid Khan to become serial predators? Could it ever have occurred to someone like Akbar that one day his assiduously built reputation will come crashing down because of testimonies of women he had once considered as mere objects for his cheap thrills? No. Of course not. The deluge of #MeToo was unforeseen, unpredicted.
The undoing of these powerful men is extremely gratifying. Most of us have the experience of being in vicinity of such men. I have had it too although none of it has been a quarter as awful and devastating as experienced by those who have narrated their ordeals recently. But men have tried and tested the extent of power they can have over me. None succeeded because I never worked under any of them. I never had a career depending on the pleasure or displeasure of any man.
I shiver to think how things would have turned and how I would have dealt with them had I worked under someone like that gentleman of an editor who called me ‘jaan’ when I was all of eighteen and he was in his forties. I was discussing an article on disarmament with him. Today, I could deal with a man like that effectively but that day I had simply put the phone down and never called him again.
It had taken me weeks to overcome the lecherousness with which the four lettered word was spoken. Thanks to my father I had never been physically alone with the editor although I visited his office several times.
It is only now, as the #MeToo stories come pouring out that I realise how close to the edge I had been. The only thing that sanctioned his liberty with me was that he had the power of publishing or not publishing my writings.
By putting the phone down and never submitting to that paper again I took away that power from him. The cost was of course entirely mine to bear. Thankfully it was cost I could afford unlike many other girls who could not afford the cost of disempowering their harassers.
I hope the #MeToo movement continues to surge and engulfs as many perpetrators as it can. Each fall is a victory for every woman.
This I say against hope because an all-compassing successful revolution is unlikely in a society fraught with injustice and exploitation at every level.