Breaking the Silence

Oct 26, 2017

Confession: I’ve been seeing all the posts where women are saying


I haven’t put one up.

Not because I haven’t been sexually harassed- the earliest instance I can remember happened when I was eleven- it’s just that I am too angry to talk about it right now.

I see all the posts, the women breaking silence, some, perhaps for the first time. I am proud of them, and I’m happy for them- there is liberation in speaking up, speaking out, in finding solidarity with your sisters. And I know that for every woman who has used this opportunity to do so, there may be ten more who are unable to. To those women, I say, I hear your silence. You do not owe us your story. You are not alone.

When Alyssa Milano started the #metoo hashtag, she wrote , “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem”
This isn’t a new idea: earlier versions of this hashtag, with the very same intent, have come and gone. Feminists have been working for decades, before there was twitter or facebook, or even the Internet to break the silence around the pervasive culture of sexual assault and harassment.
With good reason: disparate, lone voices, are easy to dismiss, to disbelieve. But if a million women are tweeting the same thing, sharing similar stories- well, ok, maybe you’re not lying, but you’re certainly exaggerating, being melodramatic, because


So, you think, fine. Fine. You can dismiss the first million times these stories are told, but we’ll come back and we won’t shut up, and we’ll keep talking about it, and somehow, some day, the men will listen, will believe, will do something about it.
Educate and liberate, am I right?
And every time, this conversation gathers momentum, when the ‘magnitude of the problem’- here measured in the number of victims- becomes apparent, there’ll be a whole bunch of men who are # appalled, # shocked, # heartbroken at the sheer scale of it. My god, they’ll tell you, genuinely shocked, I didn’t know.
You didn’t know?

But how will we know, they ask, turning tragic eyes on us, if you don’t tell us? Perhaps you’re right. We should tell you. We should break the silence, in our homes, in our whatsapp groups, in our reading clubs, in our regular Friday nights out.

How is it, I ask, that you, a grown man who presumably has loving, intimate relationships with women in your life: your mother, your sister, your best friend, your aunt, your wife, your daughter- your closest relationships, in fact- didn’t know.

Ignorance is not innocence, my sweetpeas.

But here’s the thing: women have been breaking the silence for decades. In public and in private. In courtrooms and bedrooms. In the safe spaces and not-so-safe spaces. That’s why we now have laws protecting victims of sexual harassment in the workplace, that’s why marital rape is a crime (not in sanskaari India of course), that’s why domestic violence can get you jailed, that’s why, if you go back far enough, we have the right to education and the vote.
Women have been doing the work.
You just haven’t been paying attention.
After all, if we’re to collect data on the ‘magnitude of the problem’ there are more ways than one to get there, right? One way is for all women who’ve ever been harassed to speak up.
And again, and again.
And then again.
Count the victims.
And again, and again.
And then again.
Speak to us, you say. Keep speaking to us. We’re listening.
But I’m exhausted with all this talking, sweethearts. I’m exhausted by having to repeat my trauma and my grief, in cycle after cycle of performance, just to- what- somehow, some day get you to see me as a -person?
So chickpeas, let me listen for a change.
You speak.
You break the silence.

And since we’re in the age of copy-paste-tweet, here’s a suggested, non-exhaustive list of things you can talk about. I’ve even included the hashtag for convenience.

  1. I have laughed at a rape joke. #metoo
  2. I have used rape as a metaphor for a sporting contest. As in, “Man, Arsenal really raped Manchester last night, huh. SOLID.” #metoo
  3. When a female friend of mine told me she was catcalled on the road, my first question was “What were you wearing?” #metoo
  4. I have catcalled/whistled at/passed a lewd comment about/ a random woman walking by. #metoo
  5. WTF, I would never do that. But when I see other men doing this, I look the other way, because it’s not my problem. #metoo
  6. I have stared at my female colleague’s boobs for longer than a minute. What, she wore that dress, and she expected me not to look? #metoo
  7. When my sister came home crying at night because some jerks on a bike were harassing her, I said, like any reasonable man would, “I told you it wasn’t safe out there after seven”. #metoo
  8. When my female colleague got a promotion, one of my male colleagues said, “we all know how she got that job” and I laughed with the rest of the guys at the water cooler. I mean, I didn’t really think that, but I didn’t tell him to shut up either. Also, she’s really kind of a flirt ok, he had a point. #metoo
  9. I have a secret mental list where I grade my female colleagues and friends on a sexiness scale of Amit Shah to Gal Gadot. #metoo
  10. It’s not a secret list, I might have shared it with my boys. With helpful pictures. Social media is so much fun! #metoo
  11. WTF, of course I would never do that. I just pretend to find it funny. Because if I said something they’d say I’m a party pooper. Or y’know….(whispering) gay. #metoo
  12. When my female friend at work told me about another male friend/colleague who was making her uncomfortable, I didn’t tell her to report it to the right authorities so his ass could be kicked out, instead I said, “I’ll talk to him. He’s just an idiot. I’ll make sure he doesn’t target you again.” #metoo
  13. Doing that made me feel good, real good. Because I had been a good friend to both people. #metoo
  14. I forward every sexist joke I ever receive on my all boys whatsapp group to everyone on my contact list, even the women. Speaking of which, women really need to learn to take a joke, na? Lighten up, chill pill, be like #metoo
  15. Joss Whedon or [Insert Favourite Male Celebrity here] has never done anything wrong in his life. #metoo
  16. I just can’t believe he would do something like that. Are you sure he meant it that way? #metoo
  17. When a married male friend said he couldn’t come to that super cool and exciting cricket match with the guys because get this, he had household chores, I was like, shaadi kyon kiya? Bai ne chutti le li kya? Some men are so henpecked no, they get married and lose their balls. #metoo
  18. When the girl I asked out said she’d rather just be friends with me, but went out with that other dude, my best friend said, “she’s a slut anyway”, and I said, yeah, fuck that bitch, friend zoning me like that. #metoo
  19. Ok, but no, seriously, what is it with women and how they just can’t take a joke? #metoo
  20. Oh, so, what, you’re a feminist now? #metoo
  21. I just think there are both sides to everything. Mind you, I’m only playing devil’s advocate here.. #metoo
    So, what say, my darling ones, my babes in the wood, my eternally innocent?

Ready to start a trend?

This article was first published on Facebook and has been shared here with author’s permission.

Priyanka Mathai

Priyanka Mathai

Bookworm, Feminist, Software Consultant.


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