Picked up widely only a couple of years ago, the #metoo movement was a bold step to bring up, seldom long past, encounters of sexual misconduct borne by women. From a social media hashtag to a worldwide campaign, the #metoo spread like wildfire. With each brave coming out by one woman after another, soon it turned into a global movement. Bringing back to life the long-buried scars is an affair of no less courage. Once the movement was ignited, more and more women started to bring to light the injustices inflicted on them which they had been hiding within for years, sometimes for decades.
Started in the West, the movement soon found itself sprawling the widths and breaths of other continents where women hid injuries that were no different than those in the West, if not worse. From India to Japan, and from France to the States; from the music industry to the sports and from showbiz to office workplaces; from adults to school-goers; #metoo infused voice into the mute. A voice to name shame the perpetrators who had been walking scot-free for their horrendous transgressions.
The success of this global movement owes its greatest debt to the fearless women who decided to break silence over the tormenting stories of sexual misconduct, committed mostly by men of influence and status. As a result of their struggle the world witnessed a plethora of court cases, policy changes and tightening of work-place regulations to further safeguard the women against sexual assaults and harassment.
Although essentially a women-majority stage, for all the right reasons, the movement did encourage a parallel #himtoo movement to fairly sympathize with the male victims of sexual harassment. Yes! That’s a real thing. A great number of men showed the gallantry of sharing their own sufferings; scars they had been suppressing for long. On that, a Pakistani film-director Jami Mahmood who has come out recently with his victimization sage of sexual harassment thirteen years ago by a Pakistani media giant. Talking to media he said:
“I froze. Not sure why. Yes, it really happens and happened to me. Till this day, 13 years have passed and I curse myself why I didn’t take his eyes out, But I was so close to this guy, a friend, doing his mega shoots for his mega high-end books and museum launches, maybe that’s why my system shut down.”
He shared that to this day his torment has remained a matter of laughing stock by the handful of friends he confided in. Jami’s coming forward and deciding to break the silence is a brave move. His action deserves all the support and will encourage other victims to speak up and shame the names of their perpetrators.
Jami’s coming out now after thirteen years of suffering seems to have been sparked by the story of M.A.O College Lahore lecturer Mohammad Afzal Mehmood, which made headlines in October, who was not able to deal with the stress of a false harassment accusation by one of his female students.
“We found that Afzal had turned down the girl’s request to improve her marks which led her to write an application accusing him of harassment.”
the inquiry officer handling the lecturer’s sexual assault case revealed.
In a letter written to the same inquiry officer, Afzal mentioned that his family life was affected by the accusations leading to his wife leaving him, proclaiming him a man with no morals. Talking to media, the inquiry officer said the accusations on the lecturer were flimsy and he was vindicated. The acquittal, however, came too late. Afzal’s death note read:
“I leave this matter in the court of Allah”.
His suicide begs us the attention which the misuse of #metoo demands.
For a matter of such sensitivity slight misappropriation would bring disproportionate consequences, as they did for lecturer Afzal and his family. The spirit of this valiant movement does seem to be getting compromised at the hands of the false accusations made against upright men. The trauma of a false accusation of sexual harassment is equally distressing as that of sexual misconduct kept repressed. Cases of women wrongly accusing their fellow men of sexual misconduct have begun to float with equal frequency. Sometimes used as an instrument by women to gain attention to other times where it is manufactured into a collaborative move to tarnish the repute of dignified men, #metoo has, somewhere, somehow, gone wrong too. Media stars have wrongly accused their co-stars of sexual misconduct resultantly sullying not only the careers but also the personal lives of the accused. Earlier in 2019, Pakistani musician Mesha Shafi accused the actor and singer Ali Zafar of inappropriate sexual conduct. Ali categorically refuted the allegations, while Mesha remained staunch at her stance. The case went to court where it hinges to date. The misconduct of sexual assault itself followed by its tormenting memories wage a heavy burden on the emotional and mental wellbeing of their victims. Equally nerve-racking are false allegations on innocent men.
Above-suspicion academics have been trapped in fabricated allegations of sexual misconduct. Rather than them going from one lecture hall to another, they have been cornered into the countless courtroom visits only to prove their innocence. A professor in Pakistani art college was entwined in a similar plot by the higher-ups of his institution for he was exposing their financial misconduct. He was forced to accept early retirement and to date remains knotted in court visits. A career cut short, a hefty trauma on top.
What do we make up of #metoo then?
As much as it is important to safeguard both men and women from sexual misconduct, it is equally important to ensure that this movement is not misused by the hijackers. The movement which was intended to be the voice of the unheard is also sliding into becoming a lethal weapon that holds the potential of cutting short lives, characters, and careers. The sexual harassment cases need to be scrutinized with utmost attention and care while at the same time maintaining the ease of process so that the victims are not discouraged from speaking up. Proportionate punishments should be decreed on both the perpetrators and those misusing the movement. The perpetrators of sexual offences must be brought to book. So should be held accountable those who make false accusations. #Metoo is a bold movement. Its spirit should not be compromised.