Tuesday, October 17, 2017

#NotMyHashtag

This morning when I objected to the #metoo thing splashed all over Facebook, I was only mildly irritated on an intellectual level. Well the day has unfolded and the arguments with it, and I am now seriously angry.

1. From a social media standpoint, the hashtag is a passive one, not a call to action. All it’s asking for is a list of victims. Let’s have a mass girls’ night and share our stories of harassment, and have a good cry. (Though it must be said that if you actually do go out with your girlfriends and tell them about it, you are likely to get useful advice and active support, unlike the mass sharing.)

2. This is a serious and traumatic issue. All women deal with it in various ways. But this hashtag trivializes all that by ignoring how much work needs to be done to fix it. This hashtag still confines it to a special pink corner full of girl stuff instead of being brought front and center to a human rights level.

3. I’m told it is to spread awareness of the extent of the problem. “Awareness” is the most over-used and mishandled concept in the communications business. This hashtag is the equivalent of running an ad campaign without having the product in stores for people to buy. There is nowhere for the awareness to go. And as for the extent of the problem, as my friend said on her status update “it's wrong even if it happens to just two of us”.

4. And by the way, where are the hashtags for the women who are brave enough to file a complaint? For those who gather the grit and strength to stick through protracted, intrusive court cases? For the ones who risk exile, ostracism, career suicide and family disruption, face the additional trauma of blame and personal insults – all to ensure justice is done. They are the ones bringing the change, making the world a little safer with each protest. Every woman knows how hard this is to do. EVERY. SINGLE. WOMAN. So why are we not immortalising them for 24 hours or so?

5. For those who feel that sharing today has brought relief, that’s great. And it is helpful to remember that there IS real change out there, and it’s changing more every day. But please also remember the reason for that – the few among us who were able to take action. Everyone cannot do it, and that's all the more reason for the rest of us to acknowledge the ones who do.

Our mothers faced this too, and the actions their generation took made it a little easier for us. We in our turn have put in some work, but there is more to be done. Our daughters and nieces are going out into the world now. We have no time to mess about with hashtags and the false sense of security generated by passive awareness campaigns.

We should get behind the public cases being prosecuted, the women being persecuted for bringing things to light, and offer active and vocal support. Hashtags work well for specific, shorter-term causes – so use them in this case, freely and fearlessly.

Those of us who are managers of employees should encourage them to talk of inappropriate behavior, in casual, comfortable conversations, not just in HR-prescribed sessions. Remind them regularly that you are a safe space. Be a safe space. Manage but don’t dismiss concerns over small misbehaviours. Minor misdemeanors checked early can prevent bigger violations. This also applies to life in general.

When a colleague or a friend speaks or acts with disrespect, or is invading someone’s personal space – male or female – we need to mention it, and explain why it makes you uncomfortable. Educate and engage, not just accuse.

In a lot of schools now, little ones are being taught in a systematic and curricular fashion to respect one another, to talk about things and above all, not to keep secrets. These colourful little textbooks are useful for the rest of us too, to tell us what we need to do.

Don’t treat it as a women’s issue but as a human rights one. These are human rights violations affecting half the world’s population across cultures and socio-economic groups. This is a massive epidemic that needs to be treated like one, with the force and weight of legislators, law enforcers, parents, teachers, activists, corporations, public servants and public opinion. Do not be beguiled by hashtags into accepting a pink badge of acknowledgement and sitting down. We have no time for that. We cannot save our mothers, but our daughters and nieces are going out into the world now.

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