Because, you know, consent is king
Men talking with about men, rather than offering their vishesh tippani on MeToo is the only way to go
One of the head honchos at a top film production house had an aspiring screenwriter drop in for a meeting in office-a cold-call of sorts-mainly to discuss job opportunities. Now whether he was suitably impressed by what he saw, or what he read, one doesn't know. He was keen though to take this meeting elsewhere-ideally not a public place.
She invited him over to hers. During the car-ride, when they'd only first met a few minutes ago, he touched her in ways that can only be described as inappropriate. They hung out at her place. She found a foot in the production-house door. He in fact encouraged her to try out acting.
What transpired between them over the following months is what was perhaps mutually assumed to be a consensual relationship. Certainly nothing about quid pro quo was formally discussed. Except this blew on his face, given that he failed her in the screen-test, and her screenwriting career wasn't quite taking shape under his wings either. She complained against the guy.
It seems like a typical case of 'casting couch'-any oxymoron, since it usually comes to light, when there is a couch all right, but the eventual casting doesn't occur. The production house had a major release coming up. Stakes were too high. They couldn't afford negative publicity. The guy was instantly kicked out of the company. It's not important whether the friend relating this version of a #MeToo story to me is a man, or woman. For no one argues for a war between sexes. This is, one hopes, a battle against harassment at workplace, regardless of gender, where the power vested between two interacting adults is undoubtedly unequal.
Pretty much every time I've been in a large gathering, ever since the #MeToo storm hit social media (nobody trusts cops, courts, for some reason), the conversations have centred on the moral, ethical codes of this spontaneous combustion-inevitably discussing folk from showbiz, since public figures form an easy pool of common, among those who don't even know each other too well.
Also, you believe the worst about showbiz, because most of it is true-if you only consider some of the private responses from the powerful that I'm aware of. A major movie star, for instance, consoled his colleague, exposed for repeated sexual harassment, with: "I don't care if you've done it. Tera l*** hai, tu jo kare!" Or this gentleman calming a fellow filmmaker, caught in the web: "Tu tharki hai? Toh kya hua? Mein bhi tharki hoon."
This is symptomatic of a film industry (very much reflecting its audience), whose top two titans once fought at a party, and never spoke to each other for years, because one shamed the other's ex (who was not even there). That was over a decade ago.
Outside of power play, one (perhaps rightly) assumes that the relationship/ease between genders depends a lot on the demand-supply curve when it comes to access/socialisation between them. This is no different for Bollywood, where up until the early 2000s, the only women you ever saw on a regular film set were the heroine, and her mother-giving cover!
Is it any different for vast masses of Indian men, seeing for the first time over generations, the highest representation of women at the workplace-having remained segregated from them otherwise, whether in neighbourhoods, public spaces, or indeed all-boys' schools, or non liberal-arts colleges (predominantly comprising men)? Online interactions, especially in small towns, operating under patriarchy's radar, I can sense, is having a positively transformational effect in that regard. But that's the future.
For now, the older you are the worse. How does one explain seriously creepy behaviour-defined as demeaning, tactless expressions of desire (cheap remarks/jokes/gestures)-whether on social media, street or office-desk; the net effect of which, as everyone knows, is not going to lead to the man ever getting laid, anyway (if that was even the intention)?
#MeToo as a movement is a response to this. Why am I unlearning its only lesson, which is to stay quiet, and listen? Because I'm talking to Indian men, and find more and more of them talk to each other, on the nuances of what's unfolding (and ought to). Of course not every Indian man is a creep. But like Muslims in the modern world, he pays the price for deviants he abhors just as much.
You know how, if you've been a young, male adult in a largely liberal, upper-crust metropolitan India, inescapably clubbed with thousands of pests, whether at a night-club, or elsewhere. No, you don't make a "move". This ain't the West. And she has ways to let you know, if she likes you. Stay calm. Eat papad. It's free. Works out better, for all. Every culture defines its own social codes. Bumble, the newest dating app, in that sense, is closest to the age-old Ramayan. Even once you match, she sends you the first message. The rest go home. That's what Sita did in her swayamvar, no?
Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14 Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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